Review: Need For Speed: The Run
EA's at it again with The Run but can this high-octane street racer match the track majesty of its pedigree cousin Shift 2 or do we have another regrettable hit and miss on our hands?
- Worth The Time?There's some fun to be had but not enough to keep you interested
- Things LovedSome of the scripted sequences are fantastic and the exhilarating nature of each race is great. Autolog continues to be excellent in every respect. Challenge series and wide selection of cars offer some good variety in the gameplay.
- Things HatedQTE's should never have been included in the game, multiplayer is limited and bugged, PC version is a poor port, lack of attention to detail is evident. Poor game design is evident throughout and cutscenes are dreadful. The game annoys more than it challenges.
- RecommendationThis is a good title if you're looking for a bit of fun but there's ultimately not enough substance to keep you interested for more than week. It might serve as a good pick-up-and-play for casual gamers.
- Name: Need for Speed: The Run
- Genre: Racing
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: 2-16
- Platforms: PS3, Xbox 360, PC
- Developer: EA Black Box
- Publisher: EA Games
- Price: R519 (PS3, Xbox 360), R297 (PC)
- Reviewed On: PS3
EA once again bangs its head against an excruciatingly painful wall as it continues to try and restore the Need for Speed franchise to its PS2-era glory but that doesn’t mean Need for Speed: The Run is particularly bad. No, it’s just a disappointment and a letdown so let’s break it down to find out why.
If you’re reading this then you either really like my writing (which I highly doubt) or you’re here out of blind curiosity (which is entirely plausible) and you’ll more than likely be wondering why this review is exactly two months late. Well, it was going to be a month and 3 weeks late but I like round numbers and I only received The Run several weeks after it released by which point I was only a couple of weeks post-op after having major surgery so I was not in fighting form to tackle this review. Yes, pity me. Suffice to say, I’m back to maximum strength and am keen to put The Run behind me. So without further ado, Autobots roll out.
Normally I wouldn’t nitpick at the story of a racer because well, that’s like dissecting a porn star’s acting performance but The Run has it coming because of the sheer emphasis thrown on it. The game bills its single-player campaign as thrilling and action-packed. They even got Michael Bay to direct a TV commercial for the game to show just how Hollywood the whole thing was. Ultimately The Run, which is not only the name of the game but also its single-player campaign, is a bitter disappointment.
You play as Jack Rourke, a down on his luck fellow who’s run into some trouble with the mob or something and gets offered a lifeline by a contact called Sara who fronts the quarter of a million entrance fee to participate in The Run – a cross-country race from San Francisco to New York with a $250 million windfall. It’s reminiscent of the old Cannonball Baker races and comparable to the high-profile Gumball 3000. Jack has a talent for racing and so must put this to use in the race of his life. It’s not a bad premise but it never moves anywhere beyond that. For the entire hullabaloo about the single-player they could have at least thrown in a few plot twists that we’d have seen coming from a hundred miles away.
You start The Run somewhere around 200th place and must make your way to the front of the pack by the time you hit New York with certain targets that need to be met at various cities such as reaching Chicago in 50th. That’s really about the size of it, there are a few scripted sequences once you hit the cities but it doesn’t amount to anything that can be called a plot.
That said, this scripted, cinematic approach does yield some great sections of gameplay such as one race where you’re fighting off a rival racer on a closed off road when parts of the mountain you’re driving down start getting blown up and you have to swerve and dodge falling debris; or when you have to outrun the mob in Chicago. They are both high-octane sequences that typify what The Run should have been all about but bits like these are few and far between and for the most part you’ll just go from one section to another and it all begins to feel a bit too similar. Mercifully, this feeling never becomes too overwhelming because of the game’s staged layout.
There are 10 stages, each with several sections but what sets each apart is that the terrain, roads and environment are noticeably different in each. The icy roads of Colorado are very different to the flat plains of the Midwest which are even more different to the twisting mountain lanes of Yosemite National Park.
The stages are made of sections which are all one of three types of races. You’ll either have to do a standard sprint where you need to gain a certain number of positions or you’ll have to make up time in a time-trial. The third is a battle against one, two or three opponents and this is occasionally the game’s attempt at a boss fight of sorts.
Often while a battle race is loading you’ll be given a quick bio on your opponent. You’ve never met them in the game, never seen them in a cutscene but are simply told a bit about them and must immediately regard them as important. These ‘bosses’ are no more difficult to beat than any other opponent in a battle and you could do just as well without the background information. In fact, not a single one of the bio’s should give you any reason to go out of your way to beat that driver or run them off the road. Never once does it say, “This driver plans to use the prize money to build a palace for him and his 200 teen sex slaves.”
Also, Jack himself is the first actual protagonist in a Need for Speed title but he may as well be the faceless set of hands we’re used to seeing grip the steering wheel because his only real purpose seems to be for the QTE’s. That said, he still has more character than Desmond Miles despite having the shifty eyes of someone suffering from Anatidaephobia. Black Box even went through the trouble of roping in some Sports Illustrated models to play two of the ‘bosses’ who even get their own cutscene where they bend provocatively over their cars’ engine bays but they look awful and move as sensually as Cavie’s Hawke blow-up doll (Sorry Jes, you were going to find out anyway).
That said, the game still has that intense action-packed feel to it. The way the other racers are constantly at your heels or in your face and how you are always kept on your toes makes for an exhilarating experience and it’s a good thing that you can get through the game before lunch – with the single-player campaign clocking in at around 3 hours – because things start to feel a little hum drum by the two hour mark. You get tired of the same type of race sections over and over with no marked increase in difficulty since the AI never really ramps up.
Despite this, The Run is challenging, even on Normal difficulty because you are given minimal margin for error in some respects. Part of it is honest to goodness old-fashioned challenging gameplay but a lot of it is down to sloppy game design and hateful AI. It’s a good thing then that you can choose to restart from the last checkpoint up to 10 ten times in a race. For example, if you don’t brake properly or slow down dramatically on certain bends, you will oversteer and no matter what you do to correct you will run off the road and plunge 200ft to Jack’s death. There are also some frightfully narrow gaps in some of the traffic you need to race through.
Let’s be thorough here and run through everything. Cops will be coming at you and swerve to form ad-hoc road blocks which you must then slow down significantly to avoid. You can be directly behind an opponent trying to draft them and they will pull off to the side only for you to be met with a truck hurtling towards you and no time to do anything about it. The game is also sloppily designed in so many ways. You will often round a fast bend and meet head on with a car that came literally out of nowhere. Traffic also pops up out of nowhere sometimes and there are times when there are cars on both sides of the road and the gap between them is so impossible that you’d be better off trying to flip your car on its side and drive through the gap like that. The game also has a bad habit of putting traffic right on the other side of a hill crest so speeding over a hill like any self-respecting racer rewards you with a spectacular front-on-roof collision and a restart from the last checkpoint.
All of these issues mean that you cannot play The Run flat out and drifting around every corner the way you should be able to. Instead you have to use heavy-braking and caution over hills as if this were Forza 4. The only difference is that we play Forza for that sort of realistic driving whereas we play NFS for fun arcade driving. The Run’s gameplay is tending a bit too much toward simulator and I can’t fathom out why that is. All that this means is that The Run does more to frustrate and annoy than challenge you.
What about those blasted QTE’s? There aren’t many, for which I’m eternally grateful but they aren’t terrible (although QTE’s should be buried and forgotten). Instead they just feel forced as if they needed something to fill those gaps in the game. It doesn’t help that they serve virtually no purpose seeing as how there is no story to speak of and therefore they amount to nothing more than ‘shit that happens to Jack when he enters a city’.
Let’s talk cars. There are a lot of them in The Run but not a lot of them are available for the campaign. There’s a lot of variety and everything from classic rally cars to imports to hyper cars and just about everything that matters in between. They even have the original Golf GTi. A nice touch is that each car has a handling rating ranging from ‘Easy’ to ‘Difficult’ which is helpful if you’re about to race on say, the icy roads of Colorado where handling is key. During various races there are petrol stations that you can pull into to change cars if you so wish. You can also tune your car which in this game is considered to be choosing the paint colour and maybe one of three or four body kits. I don’t recommend making a stop for pure aesthetics though because pit stops like these will cause you to drop a few places or lose time.
Most of the cars are only available in the challenge series or online (provided you’ve unlocked them). Besides the respective performance tiers, there are three classes of car in The Run: stock, NFS Edition which is a tuned version in NFS livery and Signature Edition which is basically the ultimate version of the car with some stupid name to go with it like Eleanor. Each car feels very different and the handling differences are markedly noticeable. Special mention must go to the Lamborghini Aventador for being completely absent from the standard game. I was sorely looking forward to giving it the beans only to discover that it is only available if you pre-ordered the game or got the collector’s edition or something. I’d understand a special version of a car being a pre-order bonus or something but to do that with a car like the Aventador is simply wrong #dickmove.
I have to say though, The Run definitely makes good use of Frostbite 2 and the game looks great, which demonstrates just how versatile the engine is but surely it could look better. There’s a stark lack of attention to detail on most of the cars and even the environments should look better. Most of it is backdrop so surely it should actually look photo-realistic. I’m not even going to get srated on how hideous some of the cutscenes are for a game that’s been made with Frostbite 2, especially considering that they used facial capture technology. Most of the cars do look great though and crashes are a spectacle to behold. There are however several recurring glitches such as cars in traffic flipping over or disappearing when you reset and the frame-rate chugging when things get hectic on-screen in multiplayer.
The Run works on your typical XP system in which you earn points to level up and subsequently unlock items etc but the way you gain XP is strange. You start off with the basics i.e. gaining XP for overtaking, winning and near misses but have to unlock the ability to gain XP for taking down cops or driving through a roadblock or even just drifting round a bend. It’s a system that makes little sense in this form and is just one of many idiosyncrasies within The Run’s game design.
As for the online multiplayer, it’s much like the single-player in that it has so much potential but is let down by poor execution. Instead of choosing a specific course to race on, you choose from playlists which each have specific theme to them such as muscle cars in the Yosemite national park or sports cars in the city at night. These playlists comprise a series of races which form a race session. Once you’ve chosen playlist, you players can vote to determine other variables such as which class of car must be used etc. New playlists can be unlocked by completing various multiplayer objectives. After you’ve tailored your game magical bonus wheel appears and will spin until it eventually slows and stops on a reward which will go to the winner. This is often a rare car or buckets of XP so there’s plenty of incentive to win.
You can also create a playgroup for you and your buddies which opens you up to unique objectives which will require you to work together in races. A great feature is that you don’t have to wait in a lobby for a game to be created, you can jump straight into a race session and probably won’t finish top since you’ll be placed at the back of the pack but it sure beats the hell out of waiting and some XP earned is better than no XP earned. The issue with this seemingly good multiplayer is that it’s very limited and there’s probably not enough variety to keep you coming back. There are also a few control hiccups that only occur in multiplayer and usually result in you being unable to use your nitrous or brake properly and of course the aforementioned chugging frame-rate.
The challenge series is perhaps the best part of The Run’s single-player and comprises a number of sections each made up of five challenges. There’s a lot of variety here and if you play through the entire thing, you’ll have traversed the full breadth of The Run’s inventory of cars. This is part of what makes it so great, each challenge has certain parameters for example you can only use Nissan’s or Tier 2 muscle cars etc. Unfortunately, the challenge series suffers from the same gameplay issues as the rest of the single-player minus the QTE’s.
The Autolog just keeps getting better and in addition to everything it all already had going for it, it now recommends specific sections of The Run or the challenge series for you to do if a friend has just bested your time and you can receive real-time feeds to show what your fastest friend’s split-time was at that specific checkpoint in a race. You’ll be treated to a more detailed breakdown after the race along with what I assume is supposed to be the sound of screeching tires but sounds more like your car turning transforming into a giant robot. I hate that sound.
If you’re a PC gamer, and I know many of you are, then you should probably avoid The Run because all indications suggest it’s a very poor port. Like most games these days, it was designed for console and so it’s fine there but generally the PC version isn’t too bad, with this game it evidently is. There’s some sort of mic issue when playing online so that you can hear everything from any opponent’s open mic. WTF does not even begin to describe something like that. The QTE’s also don’t properly show the keys that need to be pressed and there seem to be a special set of bugs saved just for the PC version which are particularly annoying. There have also been reports of issues with the controls when using a keyboard that you don’t get if you have a game pad or steering wheel.
Ultimately, The Run had great premise but poor execution in nearly every aspect. The gameplay was lacking, the hyped-up campaign was nothing special and the multiplayer isn’t likely to win many fans. It’s riddled with the stench of lazy or plainly stupid game design in areas and they didn’t let me drive my Aventador.