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E3 2011: Need for Speed: The Run hands-on preview

So that helicopter… Here’s where the added narrative starts to make sense. Framing itself as Hollywood car porn is by no means a simple coat of popcorn paint over just another NFS game. Instead it’s introducing several gameplay aspects of death-defying intensity that you haven’t even experienced, not even in the most combative car game. The copter swoops and shines a spotlight on the dark streets below. If you don’t swerve frantically to avoid the light, the bad guys above will have no problem filling your exotic ride with high caliber slugs.

And this is all going down while you’re participating in a race. That helicopter will take down bridges above you and even ignite civilian vehicles on the road in to bombastic explosions of obstructive fire. Luckily, the expected roster of licensed chariots is up to the challenge, handling deftly with slick NFS polish. Car phsyics will vary greatly, but the developers described the overall handling as somewhere in between the arcade thrills of Hot Pursuit and the sim-focused SHIFT.

The mob can take Jack down, but almost never completely out. Right at the beginning of the race, a mobster vehicle comes out of nowhere and T-bones Jack’s pristine Mustang Shelby Super Snake out of commission. And thus begins the controversial “on-foot” missions... Perhaps it was because I saw the exact same demo several times before I finally played it for myself, but I found the cineractive events… less than remarkable. Run, dodge, grab, punch – it was all pretty standard, but at least it was over quickly and got Jack back into a vehicle. (A stolen police cruiser, no less!)

I made it a point to fail the cineractives a number of times. I’m fine with brief aside as long as the crux of the racing isn’t impacted. Fortunately, they’re by-the-numbers moments, so I can happily confirm that if you somehow manage to botch these rock stupid onscreen prompts, you restart at the on foot portion without losing any of the progress previously earned behind the wheel.

Some prompts allow for a little more branching interactivity, such as when my car flipped upside down and screeched to a halt on the tracks of an incoming train. Using the analog stick and the X button in different combinations I eventually figured out that I can only extricate Jack by first unbuckling my seatbelt (Up + X) then kicking out the driver side window (Right + X). You could call it Heavy Rain esque, but IMO, it’s more like Dragon’s Lair without the pause of a chapter-skipping Laserdisc. Diagnosis: Meh…

Ultimately, I found the out-of-car portions underwhelming, but in their defense, they’re brief, simple and certainly serve a greater purpose towards maintaining a consistent, unpredictable intensity throughout a far more thrilling take on the NFS series. There’s so much gameplay potential within these action elements, it’d be a shame if the naysayers allowed those brief “Press A to Win” bridging sequences spoil one the franchise’s most uniquely fun departures in recent years. Dude, it’s a pulse-pounding race to win and STAY ALIVE: A Need for Speed mixed with a Need to Breathe!

Jun 17, 2011