Need for Speed: The Run Review
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit was a great arcade racer with solid control, physics, and balance. It kept you coming back for more on a routine basis, and the introduction of the Autolog increased friendly competition amongst all your buddies. But while this year’s NFS entry has its moments and remains a competent racer, it seems less balanced, less invigorating, and less satisfying. In some ways, it’s plenty addicting but in others, it’s frustrating and even unfair.
The Frostbite 2 engine is in full effect in The Run, but unfortunately, we’re only getting a significant graphical boost in the backdrops and environments. It’s certainly true that the landscapes are prettier and more detailed, but the actual gameplay doesn’t look that much better than Hot Pursuit. This new installation really excels when it comes to the backgrounds, the set pieces, and the crash effects (which aren’t a major part of the experience, but still). However, you really only feel impressed when you aren’t racing.
The sound is decent thanks to a wide selection of music tracks and some better-than-average driving effects. The voice acting isn’t too terrible, either, but there aren’t as many lines of dialogue as you may have been led to believe. More on that in a minute. Overall, most of the cars sound great, and the explosive impacts, thrilling nitrous, and involving tire squealing enhances the experience. It’s nothing new for the franchise, but it’s nice to see that we still have some of that patented NFS audio. A few of those tracks are questionable, though.
At first, Need for Speed: The Run feels a lot like Hot Pursuit. It has the same default view, the same mix of arcade-style and simulation physics (although leaning towards arcade, of course), and very similar – albeit challenging and even lengthy – circuits. The Autolog is back, as expected, and the addition of Challenges adds even more to the competition. You can try to top your best performance by getting a better medal, compare yourself with your friends, and earn valuable experience for your driver level.
The first scene starts out promising. If you remember the opening sequence of “Gone in 60 Seconds,” where Memphis’ younger brother Kip is being crushed in a car, I don’t need to explain any further. In this scenario, though, the dude in the car is the main character, and you have to escape, obviously. You do so with a series of button-presses that won’t be unfamiliar to any avid gamer, although seeing them in a racer is a little strange. The instant you’re out, you’re in a car and running from the mob. Gripping, no?
You’re in some trouble, and a certain woman has a way out: just be the first of 200 of the world’s best racers to get from San Francisco to New York. The purse is $25 million; she has promised you 10% if you win…obviously, it’ll take the rest of the prize money to get you out of the mess you’re in. So yeah, sounds good. But you know, two things happen after the first few hours of play: 1. you realize this is nowhere near as story-driven as you might’ve thought, and 2. the gameplay has a few surprising drawbacks.
The first thing you’ll realize is that it really doesn’t matter what car you drive. The AI is designed to be competitive no matter what so unfortunately, just because I upgraded to the Lexus LFA from the BMW M3 (with a significantly higher top speed) doesn’t mean I’ll have it any easier. The exact same opponents will magically mirror your vehicle’s capability and due to the rubber-band AI – which I absolutely despise – there’s little reward for racing well. They’ll just catch up all the time. This way, every event is competitive but it’s also insanely frustrating.
Furthermore, how you go about changing cars is just ludicrous. Once you pick a car for The Run, you’re in it until you change…at a gas station. During an event, you’ll come across gas stations; if you drive into them, you can change your car. You’ll lose a little time but you won’t be too far behind when you emerge. The problem is that with limited replays for each stage, changing your car almost feels like sacrificing a replay because you lose a little time and are therefore at a disadvantage. Of course, the computer uses the same system to switch, but even so…
Lastly, I have to say that the game is too erratic. If you go flying off a cliff, yeah, that’s a redo. But I had the game stop and send me back to a checkpoint just because I drove off into dirt. I hadn’t even spun out or hit anything; it just assumed I was done and forced me to use a replay. Not cool. I still liked the concept, though, because it kinda feels like you’re in the midst of a mad cross-country dash, and the racing locales really are excellent. El Capitan is tough but it’s a bad-ass course.
I’m also a fan of the Challenges, even if the top medals seem completely out of the realm of possibility and once again, you’re facing extreme rubber-band AI. There are several types of Challenges and because you earn experience and can rank up, it’s a great way to get ahead of the game. For example, you don’t even have nitrous right away, and you have to hit Driver Rank 4 before you’re rewarded for daring driving (i.e., close passes, driving into traffic, etc.). Plus, it’s a nice diversion from the linear progression of The Run.
The controls are pretty good, too. I actually think the cars feel heavier this time around, and more prone to spinning out. Drifting seems more difficult and the cars that have either Challenging or Expert handling feel almost more simulated than arcade-y. Personally, I like this little shift because I’m more into simulation, anyway. But it still fits the NFS atmosphere; Black Box isn’t adopting a SHIFT mentality, so don’t worry about that. It’s still unrealistic but with a trace of authenticity, if that makes any sense.
But in the end, I was a little disappointed with Need for Speed: The Run. I really liked Hot Pursuit a lot but there are few more problems here. All this hype about a story-driven racing game was unwarranted; with a few small exceptions, this still feels very much like any other racer you’ve played. On top of which, when it never seems to matter what car you choose (more in terms of speed and less in regards to handling), and the AI just sticks to your side no matter what, you never feel as if you’re accomplishing much.
More like just beating your head against the wall and trying to eke out your competitors at the finish line. Competition is great. But this is silly.
The Good: Great-looking backgrounds. Extremely well designed tracks. Lots of awesome cars. Challenges add a change of pace. Concept is solid. Control remains challenging yet accessible.
The Bad: Gameplay visuals don’t seem as impressive as environmental graphics. Rubber-band AI is too extreme. Cars seem way too similar. Isn’t the “story-driven racer” we were expecting.
The Ugly: “The stats say this car is faster…and yet, here you all are on my tail again.”
11/15/2011 Ben Dutka