I remember the day when I loved to play the Need For Speed games, but recently I will admit to finding them dull, monotonous and immediately forgettable. When I was asked to review ‘The Run’ I winced inwardly at the prospect of having to sit through hours and hours of racing through various boring sections of a generic world map. Surprisingly ‘The Run’ is the first racing game Electronic Arts have released in years, that I have actually enjoyed, it has problems however.
The Run caught my attention when I found out that it was a ‘drive across America’ concept. No more driving from garage to garage, or finding a new icon to start a specific style of race. It may not appeal as much to the ‘tuner freaks’ out there, but I feel the change in pace has really helped to make this game more fun to play.
You take control of a guy who owes a lot of cash to unsavory people, the plan is to pay off the huge debt by racing hundreds of other people from San Francisco to New York. Surprisingly, this game plays more like a story based racer, rather than an ‘open world’ free for all mash up. The cut scenes are very high production quality and set the tone for race section to section, as you interact with other racers and your pretty female partner. The developer has also incorporated some ‘quick time’ events to vary the content. These are not great fun to play (at all), but they are an entertaining viewing experience. A little like ‘Dragon’s Lair’ meets Need For Speed.
Your race starts at the back of the pack as you try to escape San Francisco, and end up traveling across the glorious and diverse plains of America. I particularly enjoyed the Colorado Rockies, as driving on icy roads proved a challenge. We admire the scenery changes, because EA clearly had a goal in mind to vary the landscapes as much as possible. The underworld roads of Chicago for instance look completely different to the narrowing undulating streets of Yosemite.
Graphically, the game is stunning. They are using the same class leading Frostbite 2 engine which was so successfully incorporated into Battlefield 3. It works incredibly well in the confines of a racing game, and I was very impressed with the falling rocks during one of the mountain pass stages. On my GTX580 the game ran beautifully at 1080p, as smooth as silk with all the settings cranked. There is no doubt that the Frostbite 2 engine is one of 2011′s crowning technological moments.
I played this game for 3 straight hours when I got it from the Electronic Arts store, enjoying the idea that I was traveling across America, passing 200+ other racers on the journey. Some of the sections pit you against a very small field of skilled opponents as you try and battle to take their position. These are actually very challenging, especially as a wrong turn can put you right at the back of the group again.
The developer has tried to diversify the objectives, as well as the scenery. There are one off events, such as a duel with a star racer and to make matters more complex the police can make an appearance to try and ram you off the road for an arrest. The police are actually one of the most annoying aspects of the game. The only negative I would say is that their cars can often accelerate past the quickest race cars in the game, even when flat out. Its a minor point, but noticeable, especially later in the game. Even the first Need For Speed games eons ago, understood that the police had a ‘maximum’ speed, and they would drop behind when outpaced. This really does need addressed in future titles.
The biggest problem with the game is the length of the single player game. As I said earlier, I played it for 3 hours in the first sitting and then found that there was only about 45 more minutes before it was beaten. Annoyingly, the load times are rather sluggish even with the game stored on a fast Solid State Drive. I would hate to try it out on a console, unless they have optimised the code to compensate for the slower storage medium.
Once the single player campaign is beaten there are ‘challenge’ options offered which are based around events from the main ‘Run’ campaign. You can unlock medals, and play against other racers online. Progress in these modes enhances the XP level for the driver meaning you can unlock various goodies as you progress.
Another problem I had with the game was that some of the levels are designed to be almost ‘scripted’. An example would be when you have to overtake 10 racers by the end of the specific road. I was in 4th position and crashed, putting me back in 11th position. I noticed that the game was applying an algorithm to slow some of the racers down, so I could make it back to the front of the pack. It isn’t that noticeable all the time, but if you pay attention you can see it happening. This helps to balance the ‘reset’ options I guess, which are handed out sparingly each race. If you crash out 4 or 5 times then you lose the option to try again and are forced back to the last checkpoint. The steering controls are slightly difficult to master and I recommend an Xbox 360 controller for the PC as it is terrible to play via the keyboard.
Nitrous plays a big part in the game, as it can often allow you to catch other racers on a straight, right up to the finish line. The police seem to have nitrous on tap, because they can pass any car in the game during a chase, trying to knock you back for an arrest. It isn’t very realistic as I would expect a $350,000 sports model to outclass a cop car flat out even if they have had the fleet tuned.
The voice acting is a little less impressive than other games in the series however, which surprised me as EA titles are normally exceptional. The actors seem to be just going through the paces, rather than trying to invigorate the scenes and storyline. Engine sounds are great however, and there are many ambient and background effects to generate a real feeling of racing on exciting roads.
Overall, Need For Speed: The Run was enjoyable for me. I found it more appealing than the recent releases in the last couple of years as the concept of racing across America is such a great idea. Sadly, it is over very fast and I lost interest after beating the single player campaign, which took under 4 hours. There are many little quirks with the game which may annoy a wide audience and you really do need an Xbox 360 controller as it is terrible to play with the keyboard. Its not a ‘stand out’ title and it proves rather expensive for the single player game time, however I have to admit to enjoying it more than any of the other titles in recent years.