reviews\ Nov 17, 2011 at 10:00 am

Need For Speed: The Run Review


Say what you will about how the quality of Need For Speed games have wavered over the years, the series is back on an upswing.  Though Shift 2: Unleashed didn’t really do many favors with its too-aggressive AI, there was no question it brought out the best in skilled drivers.  Whatever players didn’t get into that obviously could do major coasting in Criterion’s awesome Hot Pursuit.  Now we have The Run, the latest from the local Need For Speed vets, Black Box.  It focuses more on the intensity of the races itself, and even though there are snags that keep it from being a smooth running ride, it has enough heart-pounding racing moments to coast by.

In the game, you’re playing as a racer who’s gotten himself in a spot of trouble lately.  When The Run starts, you’re actually trapped in a trash compactor, with your vehicle getting crushed.  You’ll barely escape with your life and then take part in a high-speed pursuit, trying to shake gun-toting mobsters that aren’t too pleased with you.

Turns out this protagonist owes them some money, but a mysterious girl offers a solution.  An illegal nationwide race is about to kick off, with $25 million going to the one that wins it all.  Your job is simple – come in first.  Well, either that or drive to Mexico and start your new life as Jose.  Yeah, we’ll stick with the competition, thanks.

Need For Speed: The Run features 70 different events, but the main game is divided into ten quarters, where you race across the United States and pass a certain number of opponents to assure you stay in first place.  It’s not quite that easy, as the AI is quite aggressive (not super aggressive like Unleashed, but pretty damn close) and everyone from stupid pedestrians to angry cops try to get in your way.  The whole thing plays out like a chase film, and when the game stays behind the wheel it keeps this energy going, with plenty of high-octane stunts (the San Francisco bridge jump looks way more believable here than in Gone In 60 Seconds) and beautiful car wrecks.

However, not all is easygoing with this ride.  Aside from the somewhat-ruthless AI, you’ll also have to watch out for passerby traffic acting ridiculously idiotic.  Who swerves in front of a speeding vehicle, anyway?  What’s more, environmental effects and unneeded crash replays can get in the way, throwing off your rhythm and possibly leading to your own costly collision.  Then there are the quick-time event sequences, where you get out of the car and run on foot.  Hit the buttons in the right order, or your ride is over.  These are pretty tiring, and happen more often than we’d prefer.  Black Box should’ve cut these out entirely.  (Didn’t they learn anything from Driver 2 at all?)

Furthermore, why does the game’s story take itself so seriously?  Look at how ludicrously fun The Cannonball Run was when it came out – and it focused on a sea-to-shining-sea race as well.  Granted, that game had Burt Reynolds while this one has, well, not Burt Reynolds, so take that for what you will.  But Black Box should’ve buried tongue firmly in cheek with this one and put more humor into the game, rather than go the all-too-familiar Michael Bay route.

OK, now that the negative stuff is out of the way, let’s get back to the positive.  Along with a (mostly) great single-player set-up, there are a huge variety of cars available, as well as side challenges that will keep your foot firmly on the gas pedal as you clean up and unlock new content.  Furthermore, there’s online play, with plenty of heated competition to take on and the return of Autolog, so you can track your racing progress and show off your best times to others.  This is always a good feature to have on hand, even if it takes a little longer than usual to load.

The Run is the first racing game to use the Frostbite 2 engine, which we previously saw at work in Battlefield 3.  While there are times where things can look a little ugly (particularly weather effects and some character models), the racing action itself runs fairly smooth, with great-looking vehicles and tracks that wind all over the place.  It’s cool how some of the environments can change, as well, including ice tracks that will put your traction to the test.  The music selections in the game are excellent, with some good movie soundtrack-like picks thrown in with some catchy rock tunes.  The sound effects are fitting as well, with authentic car engine purrs and crash sounds.  The voicework, though, ehhh…forget it.  These guys need to loosen up just as much as the scriptwriters.

If Black Box had trimmed some of the fat in Need For Speed: The Run, namely the AI quirks, QTE sequences, and too-serious story, it would’ve been as much of a joyride as Hot Pursuit.  As it stands, it’s mostly above average, thanks to the excitement generated by the racing itself and some solid online support.  The Run may not be the ultimate race, but it’s one you shouldn’t skip.  Even if you’re not too fond of the driver.

Seriously…this guy needs to be like Burt Reynolds.

[Reviewed on PlayStation 3]


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