Need for Speed: The Run marks the 18th release in the Need for Speed franchise. It also sees the return of EA’s Black Box Studio whose last game – Need for Speed: Undercover - was met with underwhelming results. Has a three year break reignited this studio to release a game that can rekindle the flame that was at its hottest back in the days of Most Wanted? Or have other developers like Criterion and Slightly Mad Studios reinvented and moved the franchise forward so much that Black Box are ‘running’ after them?
The game is split into three modes: The Run - which is the campaign, Challenge Series - This is a mode where, as the name suggests, you complete challenges that are given to you to earn medals and post times to compare with your friends, and the final mode is multiplayer - where you can show off your driving skills while racing against your friends or just randoms online.
The campaign was very much a mixed bag for me. The concept for it is fantastic; before the game was released I thought the idea of racing across America in point to point style events was a great idea. Sadly, however, the ‘story’ in this game is a huge let down. You play as a character called Jack Rourke, who I feel should be nominated for the most generic and forgettable character of 2011. His reason for entering “The Run” is very vague. Apparently he’s done something to annoy the mob and owes them a lot of money; so bad infact that you start the game in your car, inside a car crusher while two shady looking characters watch it all happen and predictably look really baffled when you manage to escape this very slow car crushing device. The pay off for “The Run” is $25 million of which Jack is informed he will only receive a ten percent cut of despite doing all of the driving!
Another part of the story I wish they had just not bothered with are the interactive cut scenes, luckily they are few and far between and don’t get in the way of the driving to much. They are the standard tap X not to die affairs and all they really served to do was remind me what a terrible character I’m controlling.
Luckily I could forget about him once I was driving. The campaign is split into ten stages with around three to five stages in each. This is where the game shines. This is pure arcade racing fun and the game knows it. One moment your driving down a busy street on the wrong side of the road and the next you are driving through the Rockies whilst an avalanche is going on all around you. This level in particular being my personal highlight of the whole game. It was just so frantic, especially when rocks start falling down onto the road and you have to react quickly to avoid them. It was like the worlds most dangerous rollercoaster; lots of fun. This is a level that really showed off the capabilities of the Frostbite 2 engine.
This game is full of awesome locations and it really helped sell me on the idea that I was travelling across America. For the most part the cars control really nicely, there are 125 cars in the game split into three categories: Muscle, Supercar and Exotic. Only a small fraction of this list is available at the start of the campaign and you won’t even unlock them all by the end of it. A lot of them are locked down until you meet certain conditions in the Challenge and Multiplayer aspects of the game. This I thought was a nice touch as it encourages you to explore all the areas of the game to get the most out of it.
The driving in this game does not go by without frustration though. This game seems far to eager to reset your car. For example I’m catching up with my next victim, driving down a very busy highway I decide that it’s far too risky to try and overtake on the left due to the amount of traffic. Instead I opt to go off-track onto the dirt to overtake…reset screen. What the hell!? That kind of restriction is just a bit too much, especially in a game that frequently reminds you during loading screens to actively seek out shortcuts. It’s almost like everything beyond the line of the road is just for show and cannot be interacted with unless it’s a designated shortcut.
The story is also over far too quickly. You’ll spend just over two hours driving and this is extended to around four to five hours when you take into account cut scenes, retries and ridiculous loading times. Driving for two hours is just far to short, how is anyone supposed to believe they have covered 3000 miles in that time. I appreciate that literally driving 3000 miles could get really boring and it would be a huge task for the game to keep you involved, but am I really supposed to believe that I averaged a speed of 1500mph throughout the entire race? If this was F-Zero I would believe it but I think the game needed to see you behind the wheel for at least six hours to get you more immersed in the experience.
Another problem with the game is how you change cars, most driving games let you choose your car before going into the race. This works, why change it? In The Run you have to look out for petrol stations while you’re racing and pull up at them to change car. I kind of wish that you started each race from the petrol stations. This I feel would have made the game flow much better and I still don’t know how every petrol station in the game just happens to have all your cars at it; but its an arcade racer so it’s something I can easily overlook.
The Challenge Series is a fun extra after you finish the main campaign, in fact I can see a lot of people spending a great deal more time in this mode. In a nutshell this is Time Trial mode. At the start of each challenge you are shown what times are required to earn medals, from bronze up to platinum. The challenges are the same tracks you ran through in the campaign although there may be different cars to choose. In the Race Challenges it’s all about finishing first, you could meet the target time required for your medal but if you don’t finish first then your time is void. Other challenges see you racing to meet checkpoints to extend the time you have to reach the next one, a staple of arcade racing that is still a lot of fun. There’s a lot of motivation to finish these challenges as doing so will unlock better cars that you can use online or even in the campaign again if you wish to improve your overall “Run” time.
The multiplayer is generally very good. I got put into games very quickly and it seemed to match me up with people that were around my own level. Each lobby can hold 16 players, this I feel is a good number although none of the games I joined reached the maximum. I still had a lot of fun though and a nice touch between races to keep you around for another race is the roulette wheel. This presents what bonuses will be awarded to either the winner or top three finishers. These range from bonus experience to cars that can only be unlocked this way and theres even one to unlock a 75G Achievement/Gold Trophy for winning the next race when it’s selected.
Overall I have to say I enjoyed my experience with Need for Speed: The Run. The story is completely throw away but when the driving is at its most frantic this game will have you on the edge of your seat. I would have liked to have a bit more freedom to be able to drive off-track a little, like in most racing games, and rubber banding is still present here which is always annoying. The game is just over far too soon, especially when compared to Hot Pursuit which was packed with content. Another problem is that there is no ability to customise your cars other than choosing between a few colours. This is a huge let down especially when you think back to games like Most Wanted again and how many customisable options were available in that game. Its fun while it lasts but sadly it’s short lived.
MLG Rating: 7/10
Platform: PS3/ Xbox 360/ PC Release Date: 18/11/2011
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a physical copy of Need for Speed: The Run for review purposes by the promoter. The title was reviewed over the course of one week on a PS3. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.