Need For Speed: The Run
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: EA
Release Date: Out Now
Players/Online features: 2-8 online
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So now we seem to be getting two Need For Speeds per year, but does anyone want or need that much vehicular action from EA? EA’s Black Box studio have now taken responsibility for the ‘arcade-like open road racer with a plot’ side of the franchise, and Slightly Mad studios will make the sim-based circuit racing Shift games.

Okay then, and so to The Run’s plot: Jack’s cockiness and arrogance have got him in trouble. He owes the mob big money and doesn’t have it. The solution? They keeeeell him, or he could take his acquaintance Sam’s advice, and win The Run,a road race from coast to coast, San Francisco to New York City, with a remarkable 25 million dollar purse for the winner.

Some high quality cut-scenes fill in the back story and from time to time you’ll have to get Jack out of a scrape by performing a QTE (Quick Time Event, pressing the buttons as prompted on-screen).

The stages consist of three types; a normal stage in which you just race against time, a race against the other competitors where you try to make up a defined number of places, or a rivals race. Jack also has some other distractions along the way as the mob try to end his racing days, permanently. You’ll get used to glancing at the on the mini map to spot rival vehicles, cops, roadblocks and shortcuts, which are clearly marked in orange, the awareness and avoidance of which can make the difference between winning and losing either in The Run or in online races.

The AI is certainly varied and does a good job of convincing you that you’re racing against sentient beings with limited grip and acceleration rather than opponents that stick to the perfect line and never skid or collide with anything as inhabit most other games of the ilk. This is never more apparent than in the total race times, which become important and more noticeable when you play through the “Challenge Series” (basically The Run broken down into areas and stages). In the Challenge Series times are important but first place vital, and the AI’s times vary so much that you may sometimes finish a race in a “Gold” time but finish third or even fourth in a race – meaning you have to try again. When you complete a Challenge race, win and yet finish in a slower time than you’ve previously finished third with you may simultaneously praise the AI for its variability and think that something feels a bit broken somehow.

The game has an inexplicably finicky and unrealistic “draft” mechanic that requires you to be in a car’s slipstream for a certain time before you can unleash a nitrous boost and zoom by. Why they would just have a constant draft behind each and every vehicle over say 70mph is beyond me, and makes for some frustrating moments as you work hard to build up your draft gauge only to lose it at just the wrong time because you reached a bend that you’d have already passed the car ahead by if the game had an realistic draft effect.

In The Run you get 5 “Resets” per race which cut in automatically if you crash or stray too far off the roadway or can be selected manually with the ‘Back’ button, These Resets can turn an average run into a great one if used wisely and rewind the action in a similar way to DiRT, Race Driver Grid and Forza 4 but to a re-determined checkpoint on the stage rather than roughly where you want it to, meaning sometimes they work out nicely and just remove the crash/poor turn you wanted to get rid of and sometimes go waaaay back and make you re-drive a section you performed well on.

The game also has some extremely fussy reset routines that cut in whenever you slide or get punted off the beaten track, sometimes even resetting you exactly where you were anyway! It’s like the game says to you “get back to the narrow ribbon of track that we want you to race on... whoops too late, we’ll do it for you, oh you were there anyway, oops, sorry” making the panoramic views and six-wide highways and copious shortcuts less impressive, usable and enjoyable than they should have been. We even found a few sections in which you may want to cut across the central divide to get back on the correct side of a highway only to be reset to the wrong side because that’s where your suicidal rival wants to race! Ridiculous!

The Run has three views; a bonnet/hood cam that is our personal favourite, a bumper cam that gives a tremendous sensation of speed but is too low to be useable as you can see so little of the upcoming road, and the view that I suspect most NFS regulars will be using, the chase cam, which seems closer than most games and means the car’s ass looks huge on-screen and blocks a lot of upcoming scenery. Yet again the lack of an in-car view is a disappointing omission; this is doubly weird as in-car is obviously becoming as popular if not more so than chase cam, and sometimes the crash camera will end up appearing to show a view from inside the car! A lack of a cockpit view gets even stranger when I think back to the original Need For Speed game that I played some 17 years ago on the PlayStation, which had detailed interiors for every car in the game!

The Frostbite 2 game engine does a outstanding job of drawing the most varied and believable scenery yet seen in an arcade racer, but does throw some rather speckled visuals your way when there are a lot of fences, railings or road markings. The weather effects are good and range from bright sunlight to darkness, with everything from snow and dust storms in between. The pop-up is kept to a remarkably low level but I was disappointed to see traffic just vanish on several occasions, usually at the same point in a stage.

We’ve become used to a lack of a replay mode in the arcadey NFS (and Burnout) games over the years, but its omission is a particular stinker in a game like The Run, with so much spectacular scenery and so many “Let’s See That Again” moments. I’m sure it’s due to all the “cheating” the game engine does to reshuffle and slow/boost the AI cars to make the racing close, but as cars occasionally disappear in front of your eyes anyway leaving even say a 30 second replay mode out for this reason seems daft.

The Run has some dramatic cut scenes that link the backstory to the racing action, and the character models are stunning (real swimsuit models Irina Shayk and Chrissy Teigen don’t exactly ugly the place up, and Jack looks a bit like a dark-haired version of Paul Walker from The Fast and the Furious), but WHY IS THERE TEARING IN THE CINEMATIC CUT-SCENES? Can an animator or cut scene designer please e-mail us at and let us know why this visual aberration happens in so many games, and if it does occur why it’s ever allowed past the Beta stage of development, I mean, doesn’t anyone care that it makes their game’s cinematics look crap?

The game’s post-race awards screen is painfully drawn out and unskippable, but apart from XP earned it does inform you of all the things you’ve unlocked like new cars, profile icons and backgrounds – I may be alone in this but does anyone really care about this sort of overcomplicated peripheral reward stuff?

The handling, which is arguably the most realistic ever in an open-road NFS game doesn’t actually sit all that happily alongside all the OTT action movie-style stunts and set pieces. The cars damage in a spectacular, almost Burnout way but unsurprisingly don’t really reflect the sort of damage you could expect from 150mph+ crashes. The Run is undeniably exciting but the presentation has all got a bit too similar to what the Modern Warfare series has done for first person shooters. Some people will love it, and some people will wish it was a little less “Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay” in its approach.

The integration between the game and Autolog and the Speedwall is just about as good as it gets, and the way you unlock cars for achieving seemingly minor goals both offline in The Run, during The Challenge Series or on online games is rather clever too.

Despite the sim-like steering and handling the various cars’ capabilities seem to have been wildly exaggerated so that just about every car, regardless of real-life performance, can achieve between 190 and 230Mph –even a MK 1 VW Golf! It’s also disappointing that despite the game’s claims a car’s real life attributes don’t really give it any advantage when it comes to off-road racing or tight street racing.

And talking of the cars, the lineup is undeniably impressive, especially as you can wreck all of them to the point of being smoking, crumpled hulks. Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Bugatti, Chevrolet, Dodge, Ford, Lamborghini, Lotus, Mazda, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz AMG, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Pagani, Pontiac, Porsche, Renault, Shelby, Volkswagen... There are a lot of variables and racing versions available depending on where you buy the game, and there are also DLC car packs available.

Online racing is okay but we did experience quite a bit of lag, which means opponents cars skip here and there which can be off putting. Racing online unlocks exclusive cars, some of which definitely make completing some of the tougher Challenge mode gold medals more do-able. When we think back to how addictive we’ve found certain past Need for Speed and Burnout titles to be then, in terms of online racing at least, The Run is undoubtedly a disappointment.

NFS The Run is an interesting attempt at a Fast and the Furious-style movie in game form, and works for the most part. A few rough edges, missing features and a take-it-or-leave-it online mode lower the score, but it’s still a good-looking and solid title.

Best Bits

- Gorgeous varied scenery and spectacular set pieces.
- Excellent sensation of speed.
- Loads of muscle cars and exotics to smash up.
- The most believable handling in a NFS game yet.
Worst Bits

- Spectacular yet weak, laggy online racing.
- Too many of the cars feel identical.
- Tearing in cut-scenes? YUCK!
- Still no in-car views.

by: 'Big Tony' Bolognese

Copyright © Gamecell 2012