Need For Speed The Run

I Feel The Need, The Need... To Go?

Need for Speed The Run is definitely something different, but a good kind of different?
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: November 24, 2011
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The poor folks at EA's Black Box studio up in British Columbia take a lot of guff from the Need for Speed faithful for trying to shake things up. After building the incredibly addictive Need for Speed Underground and Underground 2, things went a little off the rails, shoehorning in more story with Most Wanted, Underground and Carbon. Decent games, sure, but nothing as infectious as the Underground series and something decidedly unlike traditional Need for Speed.

Purists that still remember the days of The Need for Speed on the 3DO (to say nothing of future iterations like Hot Pursuit and Porsche Unleashed on the PC and good ol' grey PlayStation bricks) will likely balk at the focus this time around on at least a limited narrative thread that incorporates -- gasp -- quick-time event elements (of which there are a whopping three), but those with an open mind and a lot of patience will find something that at least harkens back to the old days of blistering speed and escapes from the po-po.

Make no mistake, though; this is a very different experience from the white-knuckled Criterion-developed Hot Pursuit released earlier this year. Sure, there's a sometimes staggering sense of speed, but ironically The Run has much more of a Burnout feel to it, what with dodging traffic, sticking to the oncoming lane to build up boost and the odd momentum-based takedown all before the inevitable crash that grinds things to a halt. Couple that with a variable number of retries after crashing (on the easiest level, they're unlimited, on the hardest, completely removed) and you have a game that's about going fast, avoiding collisions and little else.

It sounds like a recipe for a tried-and-true Need for Speed experience, but the reality is that things aren't quite as much of a nod to the days of yore as something that tries to capture the essence of the series while trying something new. To their credit, Black Box bends DICE's Frostbite 2.0 Engine to their will in able ways, but the issues don't lie in the graphics so much as in the overall gameplay. Rubber banding isn't just obvious, it's utterly inescapable, making clean driving a detriment rather than a reward (in fact, your only reward for making it through a particular leg of the race is a piddly amount of extra experience, which unlocks a few new cars and tons of profile customization options).

It's a shame, too, because on the surface, The Run presents a fantastic idea for the series: you're Jack Rourke (voiced by Never Back Down's Sean Faris), a guy who's managed to amass a sizeable debt to the mob, and is bailed out by Sam Harper (voiced by Mad Men and Firefly's Christina Hendricks), promising to wipe out his debt and giving him 10% of the $25 million purse for racing from San Francisco to New York. It's 3000 miles (in truth something like 300km of roads) from coast to coast, with major stops in Vegas, Detroit and Chicago, plus a plethora of windy mountain courses and flat-out plains states to speed along.
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