Instead of ushering itself in with a sprint, Need for Speed
The Run began with a stumble when the first portion anyone saw when the game
was revealed at E3 was an on-foot quick-time event. Later we were assured that
these QTE moments were only 5% of the game. In fact, the QTEs make up much less
than that – this is absolutely a racing game through and through. The Run
simply adds some Hollywood crime-movie flair to raise the stakes, and it works.
We’re not saying the story is amazing – the main character
is kind of a smug douche, his partner in crime (played by Christina Hendricks)
doesn’t add much personality-wise, and the bad guys are barely present enough
for you to care what happens to them. This is a racing game, though, so we don’t
need an amazing story; in fact we want any story to get out of the way quickly
so we can go back to driving, and the devs understand this, providing brief
setup scenes to tie the driving sections together. The Run’s single-player main
mode is one monster race across the US, starting in San Francisco and ending in
New York. Of course, doing this all at once would be ridiculous from a gameplay
standpoint, so the race is broken into pieces, essentially forming a series of
events. Everything fits together nicely, though, and it continues to feel like
one big race.
At first we were thrown by The Run’s physics and controls.
We were expecting a pure arcade racer, but what we got is something of a hybrid
between sim and arcade. We wanted to make sure we weren’t crazy so we went back
and played NFS: Hot Pursuit, and it confirmed our assessments – Hot Pursuit is
much more forgiving in how you can approach turns. In Hot Pursuit you slide
around like your tires are slathered in butter and you can fling your car
full-speed into a turn and just slam the brakes to induce an easy drift. In The
Run, cars have considerably more weight and have a greater tendency to
understeer. When we first started The Run, we were frequently underestimating
how much we had to slow down and brake before reaching a turn – much more
sim-like, which is not what you’d expect from a game with such arcade
While we can’t say that The Run is overall a better game
than Hot Pursuit, we do like the driving model more because it straddles a nice
balance between realism and fun. It’s more difficult to master and therefore more
satisfying when you get into the groove of it. It also means that the big
setpieces of The Run are extra rewarding since you don’t have tons of wiggle
room to just drift your ass around the various explosions and collapsing
structures. It could result in frustration for more casual racing fans, but
then there’s always Easy mode, right?
Despite a generous rewind system that allows you to retry
failed sections of races, The Run still has some difficulty spikes in Normal
mode, and strangely early on in the game. Unlike with Hot Pursuit where you
have medals for finishing in different places and times, The Run demands
nothing less than total victory. At no point can you pass a section of the race
if you don’t get “first” place. See, the game starts you in 250th
place and you have to reach 1st place before New York. This means
that in any given section of the race, you must pass X number of competitors.
If the game didn’t ensure you were on pace to win the race by the end, you
could get far into the campaign and be screwed, so it’s a bit of a compromise.
The advantage of this structure is that events can get
incredibly tense as you round the last corner, see the “finish line” for that
leg of the journey, and the guy you must
beat is just ahead of you. It will lead to you yelling “Noooooo!” a few times,
but the victories are that much sweeter. This doesn’t mean The Run is just one
long “beat X guys in this section” string, though. Things are mixed up nicely.
Sometimes you’ll have a rival race where you have to just one “boss” car.
Sometimes you’ll have to eliminate a few racers by catching them and then
holding the lead for a set time. Sometimes you’ll be between clusters of cars,
racing to catch up – essentially a time trial mode. Finally, there are the cops
and the mob to worry about, and these setpieces make up the best parts of The
Sure, the movie-like moments are totally contrived, but can
you really complain when you’re up against a single rival boss car and you’re
both racing through a demolitions-induced avalanche? Or how about swerving to
avoid gunfire from a mob helicopter while train cars explode everywhere? We
imagine that for some players these sections could possibly get tedious if
failed repeatedly, but on Normal mode we never got to that point, and even
though we had to replay the final sequence a few times, it was one of the most
intense and exciting sections we’ve ever
played in a driving game. We won’t give away the final race because it holds
some awesome surprises.
The main campaign of The Run will take a few hours or more,
depending on how good you are, but it’s absolutely replayable. Once you
complete a section you can go back and cherry pick any part you want to replay.
We have to say that it’s refreshing to see the sprawling land of the States
represented so realistically – the opening sections re-create San Francisco’s
Embarcadero and Bay Bridge almost perfectly, and racing over the Altamont Pass
on 580, through Yosemite, and along Death Valley all feel like the real places.
There’s also the Challenge mode, were you go for medals in different sections
and compare them to your friends’ times in the now standard Autolog system.
The Run’s multiplayer is fairly no-frills, with racers
competing across sections seen in the main campaign. You don’t get some of the
cool modes where some players get to be cops as in Hot Pursuit (and it’s a bit
of a missed opportunity considering there could have been cops vs racers and
even mob vs racers). There are tons of challenges to chase even if you’re not
winning a race, giving every player something to strive for, and there’s a
bonus wheel that randomly selects rewards for races, so even if the racing
itself is straightforward, the metagame offers some interesting additional play
value. We did notice some lag issues while playing on 360, with cars
occasionally warping around, but didn’t see this on PS3. However, this was on debug
machines and only over a few hours of play, so it’s hard to say how well the
retail multiplayer will perform.
It’s possible Need for Speed The Run won’t
provide as many hours of entertainment as previous NFS games, but then it packs
in unique events and some incredibly exciting chase sequences, meaning it packs
a lot of entertainment-per-hour. It’s not very forgiving of mistakes, but then
it provides greater rewards as a result. Whereas MotorStorm: Apocalypse might
have overdone it with the setpieces, The Run balances blockbuster style with
meat-and-potatoes racing for a well-rounded mix.