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Need for Speed: The Run hands-on preview

After its big reveal at this year’s E3, long time Need for Speed fans were a little baffled by The Run’s E3 trailer. After only a brief taste of the racing, the main character Jack Rourke leapt from his vehicle and took off on foot. The ensuing QTE segment violently divided early opinion, but rest assured, this is still a NFS game, and the racing comes first. Our recent demo was 100% in-car, and we’re glad to report it feels just as good as Hot Pursuit.

The demo dropped us right into a rolling start race behind the wheel of a Porsche 911 GT3 RS 4.0. The distinctive exhaust barked out of the speakers and we were immediately racing across what looked like Nevada/Arizona, surrounded by desert tundra and scrub brush. Hurtling past general traffic, an objective appeared: pass 10 rival cars before crossing the finish line. Cars defended their territory but weren’t overly aggressive, and passing them was mostly a matter of making sure your line through the turn didn’t intersect with a minvan or brick wall. Easier said than done at 150 MPH.

An off-road shortcut appeared about midway through the race, letting us cut a straight line through a wide turn. The dirt side road was littered with debris, including a wagon wheel and a mine cart, though we barely noticed as we soared past, nitrous on full blast. A huge jump at the end of the course did a great job of showing off the game’s new rewind feature, as we promptly slammed the Porsche into a telephone pole after an unstable landing.

The Run offers a unique take on rewinding by offering checkpoints during the course of a race. During the race the game periodically saved so that if we wrecked we’d be automatically get a rolling start from the last checkpoint; this goes a long way to keeping the feeling of speed up. The number of rewinds the player has adjusts depending on the difficulty, so wrap your car around a telephone pole one time too many and you’ll have to restart. The player also has the ability to manually rewind a poor section in the interest of getting a better time, though you’re confined to the checkpoint locations.

Eschewing tracks and open world courses for straight point to point sprints is The Run’s most unique aspect, though you’ll occasionally be asked to do a little more than just keep the throttle down and the car pointed straight ahead. Cop Pursuit races will be familiar to any NFS fan, aggressive cops attempt to take you out and it’s up to you to escape. Time Attack is also familiar, removing rival drivers and allowing you to focus on posting the fastest possible lap times on technical sections. In the course of a 200 man intercontinental race you’re liable to make a few enemies, and the Rival Battle races pit you against an angry AI opponent who’s had his aggression cranked to 11. Fortunately, there’s some continuity at play, and once a rival has been eliminated, they’re out of the race for good.

Survival mode is likely to be the sticking point, as it’s where you’ll find the game’s QTE sequences. While we didn’t get to see any of these sequences during the demo, a quick snippet in the trailer showed a car narrowly avoiding an avalanche on a mountain road. The intent of these scenes is to add a cinematic flair to the game, and from what we understand this is where the game’s usage of the Frostbite 2 engine will be most apparent. 

From a gameplay standpoint, The Run feels a lot like Hot Pursuit, arcade-y and more forgiving than a sim, but challenging at higher speeds. Nitrous and drafting play a major role in getting around your opponents, and the N2O recharges faster the more aggressively you drive. The desert track we raced on was a good introduction to the game’s physics, relying mostly on long banked straights with only one or two technical 180 switchbacks. The Porsche was stable at speed, though you’ll either have to brake or drift through the tighter/longer turns. While a short hands-on demo isn’t enough time to get a true feeling of the game’s handling, we feel confident that anyone that enjoyed Hot Pursuit’s handling will be comfortable with The Run.

Racing fans who like their games with a little touch of realism will be happy to know that The Run will feature both manual shifting and steering wheel support. Car selection will vary from course to course, with certain vehicles being recommended by the game over others, but Grimbley said that The Run won’t restrict players from using whatever unlocked vehicle they prefer. While it wasn’t active in the demo, The Run will incorporate an experience system that unlocks additional vehicles as you progress.

From desert roads and snowy mountains, to Midwest plains highways, Black Box Producer Alex Grimbley explained that The Run will try to accurately represent each region of the United States as you blast through it at 200 MPH. With over 168 miles of in-game track, The Run has set a new record for the NFS franchise. The coast to coast run will be punctuated with quick blasts through some of the US’s major cities, all of which have been desigined to be immediately recognizable.

Still, the Run’s biggest draw is its non-standard style of point to point racing and the addition of a plot. While we’ve yet to see specifics on John Rourke’s story, we’re all for traditionally gameplay focused games getting a little story to motivate you through the single player, a la Fight Night Champion. Even in its early state, NFS: The Run definitely has the high level of polish we’ve come to expect from the franchise, and looks like it’ll offer Black Box’s rebuttal to the excellent Hot Pursuit.

Jul 27, 2011

5 comments

  • MassSaber - July 28, 2011 8:11 a.m.

    Looks like Outrun... good
  • QWERTYCommander - July 28, 2011 4:47 a.m.

    Just hand the series over to Criterion. They seem to know what they're doing with it.
  • seattleguy1966 - July 27, 2011 10:45 p.m.

    whats wrong with hot pursuit! ya play cod every year whats changed in that? I love racing games like this perfect hit of sim and Arcade racing
  • Xifihas - July 27, 2011 10:28 p.m.

    It's Hot Pursuit with a story and QTEs tacked on to it. Give it a miss.
  • BigWillis - July 27, 2011 8:53 p.m.

    It's amazing that they really seemed to be getting it together with Hor Pursuit, but then pissed it up the wall again with such a rediculous and uneccessary gimmick.

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