Owing a lot of money to unfriendly people, Jackson “Jack” Rourke has found himself in a terrible situation. An unmentioned incident has left him indebted to the mob, who would rather seem him die than walk away without paying his large monetary dues. In fact, that’s exactly the end that they have in sight for our unlucky protagonist, as he’s sentenced to a grisly death at the beginning of Need For Speed: The Run. Thankfully, things don’t go the way of the organized crime grunts on duty, creating one of the most shocking starts to a fictional experience in a while.
Waking up with his hands tied and two large metallic walls about to close in on him, Jack is able to escape thanks to the help of some quick-time button presses from his controller-using pal. It’s close, but getting out is just that; there’s no need to worry about what could’ve happened if one or two more seconds had elapsed. Of course, the mobsters think that their job was successful, which is why it comes as a great surprise that a close-by car purrs to life and begins to speed away.
After driving away to safety, despite some unfriendly followers, Jack is still left fearing for his life. It’s at this fragile time when a seemingly close friend contacts him about a race that could change his life forever. There’s a driving contest called The Run, which is about to start. Pitting two hundred driven competitors against each other, the illegal event’s lengthy course leads from one coast (San Francisco) of the United States to the other (New York City.) A gigantic purse worth over twenty million dollars is up for grabs, but the opportunity to win that purse also comes at a price: $250,000. Luckily, Jack’s female friend is willing to put up the dough, as long as she can get quite a bit of the winnings once all is said and done. That’s a pretty hard deal for anyone near the brink of death to refuse, don’t you think?
Once the paperwork is submitted and the financial aspect is settled with the event’s criminal overseers, Need For Speed: The Run rarely ever takes its foot off of the pedal. Players are tasked with making their way from last place to first place, all in a matter of ten stages. Spread throughout different sections and states found within the large country, each stage has at least a few events to tackle. As you can expect, things are a bit different from your average racer, considering the entire game is one big race as opposed to a series of smaller ones that progressively become more important. Every chance our digital wheel man has to move up is chronicled in pedal to the metal fashion, whether it’s against one or eight racers at each time.
There are a few different event types found within The Run, with mob gunfire assaults, cop chases and roadblocks factoring in. There’s almost always some sort of a time factor, whether it’s an actual countdown or a mileage limit. Failure to complete your objective within the limit will mean a reset to a previous checkpoint or a complete restart of the race, depending on circumstances.
The difficulty chosen at the game’s onset will predict how many rewind options the player has during each event. Unfortunately, checkpoints and their associated rewinds are automated, meaning that the player must rely on the game to place the car where it wants. It would’ve been much nicer and a bit more helpful if this ability was put into the player’s hand, letting them control where to go back to.
Overtake: What players will encounter most often are timed races where an opportunity is present to overtake a set amount of competitors. Take the lead, then hold it for a certain amount of time to effectively beat one driver, then move on to the next. Some sections will have eight players to pass, while others may only have as few as three.
Duel: This one is exactly what its name suggests: A one-on-one race to the finish line. These are always against named characters who have been given text-based back stories and maybe the odd cut-scene cameo. To be honest, none of them are fleshed out much at all, removing some of the interest from this challenging event type.
Make-Up Time: In these events, Jack must make his way through several different checkpoints before time runs out. They’re very basic, but they exist in order to get the player back into the race. Occasionally, cop chases, ruined vehicles or mob member attacks will slow you down and force a quick pit-stop.
Although all of the game types are fast-paced, pulse-pounding fun, they’re nothing revolutionary. In no way does Need For Speed: The Run revolutionize the racing video game genre through its content. The Cannonball Run style storyline it uses does change things up a bit in terms of structuring, but it was disappointing to note that there weren’t one or two more interesting modes of play. Things became somewhat repetitive after a while, as the events started to feel too similar and basic. Sure, most were entertaining and somewhat challenging on normal, but they lacked notable innovation. Still, those who play these games for full throttle entertainment, probably won’t mind as much. They’ll be too busy speeding through iconic American landscapes, drifting around corners in an attempt to overtake those ahead.
Whenever Jack passes rivals, steals a new car or the player gets to a new driver level through experience points, those vehicles are added to an on the fly garage of sorts. Vehicle selection can only be changed by entering gas stations found on the road. It’s nice to have the ability to change your strategy through different types of cars that are suited for certain types of roads, but the pit stop idea can set you back if you’re indecisive. Cars will pass, occasionally making it hard to catch up before the end of the race. For the most part, these gas bars are positioned in the middle of the track or near its beginning; however, there’s one that is placed right near the end of a tough strip. It’s certainly best to avoid that one, gauging how many miles are left by the map’s numerical indicator.
One of the game’s most talked-about new features is the ability to get out of your car during scripted segments. This idea is a new one when it comes to the Need For Speed series, which made its inclusion of great interest to long-time fans of the franchise. Its developers at EA Black Box deserve credit for trying to do something new, but the couple of added on-foot segments are lacking in intensity and player control. Instead of free control, they use timed button presses of a few buttons, in order to simulate running, jumping and attacking. Without the opportunity to actually feel in control, these parts don’t really add much to or positively change the game with their mechanics. They do add a bit of story to an otherwise gameplay-focused game, however.
Though it has one of the better premises that we’ve seen in racing games as of late, Need For Speed: The Run doesn’t take advantage of it. There are minimal story sequences that do little to establish the characters, as the player is essentially just dropped into the action without much information on their avatar or his rich ally. Over the course of the game, the story’s presentation stays the same, with Jack only momentarily getting out of his vehicle to find a new car or take a quick break. He receives calls on a video screen installed in utilized cars, but they’re usually just tips about what will happen next in the race. Due to all of this, it’s tough to really care about the events unfolding on-screen, considering that our main protagonist really doesn’t speak a lot. When he does speak, Jack comes off as being arrogant and uninteresting, which are tough qualities to have when you want to endear yourself to gamers during their attempt to save your pixel-crafted life.
Everything mentioned above is over rather quickly. It doesn’t take too long to get from the coastal starting line to the industrial finish line. Approximating the campaign’s length is tough to do as retries factor in, but several hours would be an estimate that sounds right. The game’s speed wall feature tracks the player’s exact times for each event, formulating a total time for the entire shebang. When I finished and selected the finish option, my total came in at slightly over two hours, but that’s excluding the odd story segment and the timed button press scenarios. It was interesting to see how friends were doing, having the ability to check out the game’s patented Autolog feature which adds social elements into the proceedings.
Making it easier to overlook the game’s length are around 70 unique and unlockable races. These are found in the game’s additional challenge mode, which scores digital drivers based on their completion times. Challenges take place in environments lifted from the core experience, unlocking after each campaign stage is completed. Overall, you’re looking at a pretty lengthy amount of extra content with these one-off events. It’s just too bad that challenges have to be included to make up for an underwhelming campaign; especially when it had so much potential.
The aforementioned speed wall factors into online leaderboards, which are focused on comparing friends’ completion times. The person who has the best time on a stage effectively owns it and becomes king for the day. This social challenge can carry over into the actual challenge mode, where recommendations can be set for your friends to complete. Of course, scores can also be settled in online space, using one of the game’s several different modes which focus on car type choices. It’s a pretty robust mode, with created series races, profile customization, challenges and earned experience points that add to your overall driver level. It must be noted however, that there will be a couple of visual glitches to forgive, as well as some unbelievable crash physics on occasion.
Taking everything mentioned into account, Need For Speed: The Run isn’t a bad game or anywhere close to a terrible experience. It’s quite fun and somewhat interesting, but its lack of expanded story elements and likeable characters hurt it. Instead of identifying with the main character’s plight to save his life, I didn’t feel much at all, seeing the campaign as a set of missions as opposed to a dire fight for survival. Throughout this review, I’ve mentioned flaws and voiced complaints, though it needs to be mentioned that I did enjoy this game for the most part. The experience is decent and fast-paced, though not as interesting or innovative as one would hope. This was a game that many racing fans were eagerly anticipating, so it’s too bad that there wasn’t more attention paid to adding in interesting story elements and gameplay variety.
Where this game does excel is in the graphics department. Need For Speed: The Run looks great, thanks to the Frostbite 2.0 engine (made famous by DICE with Battlefield 3). It renders the American landscape in beautiful fashion, depicting some great location variety with quality detail work. Driving down an icy mountain and speeding through twisting leave-covered roads in the northeast, were the two best highlights. The experience is best-suited for its utilized country roads and freeways, as opposed to confined city streets. Thankfully, the latter ones were only used on occasion.
The smaller and more congested city streets were much more difficult because of sharp turns and tons of traffic to avoid, bringing control issues to light. Its included cars feel heavy and can be somewhat hard to drift with, making off-track detours happen on occasion. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if going off onto the unpaved shoulder for just a couple of seconds wouldn’t end up engaging the reset option. On city roads, the turns are vicious, causing occasional frustration. It’s recommended that you watch out for these deadly corners, as the direction indicators won’t stop the car from veering out of control like similar barriers normally do.
Voice acting is sparingly-used within the game’s campaign, though what is there happens to be all right. Most of the game’s soundtrack is made up of engine noises and other car-related sound effects, which do sound quite good. Music is also used sparingly, but that’s done for effect. Certain events will have music catered to them, bringing out certain themes. Sometimes the music will resemble the rival speeding away up ahead, though songs are also tied into the landscapes shown. This musical method works well in adding some style to the game, especially since its quality is quite good.
In the end, Need For Speed: The Run is a high-intensity ride from one coast to another. Unfortunately, it’s lacking in overall gameplay variety and story-related interest. Fans of the series will have fun with this one for a little while, but it doesn’t have the lasting appeal of a game like Hot Pursuit or Most Wanted. Due to that fact and aforementioned descriptors, The Run feels like a bit of a missed opportunity. However, it’s still fast, fun and frenetic. If you like speed, then this coastal contest could be up your alley.
This review is based on an Xbox 360 copy of the game which we received for review purposes.
Unfortunately, Need For Speed: The Run lacks variety. Its great premise is under-used with sparse story segments that do little to help make the player become interested in the main character's plight.