Race to Survive in Need For Speed: The Run

The Need For Speed series has varied over the years, between exciting arcade action (Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit), a closer approach to simulation (Need For Speed: Shift) or an underground racing romp (Need For Speed: Underground and its sequels). But Electronic Arts will once again be shifting (mind the pun) gears in a new direction later this year when it releases Need For Speed: The Run, the latest from long-time series developer Black Box. Rather than go with just your typical street racing event, it instead turns to a nationwide tournament, one with dire consequences if you just so happen to place anything other than first.

The game focuses on a guy named Jack. He’s a down-and-out guy who’s fallen in with the wrong crowds, with both crooks and the cops tailing after him. He vows to get himself out of trouble, but the only thing he has to his credit is his driving skills, which are more than enough to escape his pursuers – until the next time, at least. Then, Jack heard about a nationwide tournament called The Run, a “Cannonball Run”-esque contest of sorts (without Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise, obviously), where racers go from San Francisco to New York in one straight shot, going as fast as possible. The first one across the finish line scores a $25 million payday, which would be more than enough to give Jack a new start.

Need For Speed: The Run is broken up into race sections, with a few quick-time events featuring Jack himself thrown in for good measure. We didn’t get to test these sections out with our recent hands-on time with the game. Instead, EA decided to give us a tour of the racing action itself, introducing us to the physics that would help us win the race – even if that means knocking a few unlikable opponents off the road. And though we’re not quite sure how the QTE events will pan out anyway (this is a racing game, right?), there’s no question that Black Box knows its car handling.

For this session, we got to try out a track somewhere in a desert town, with rock formations attempting to stand in the way of the road and several other cars, both traffic and rogue racers, trying to keep you from scoring a first place victory. The car themselves are real standout models, resembling real suave racing rides, and cornering like true beasts, even at high speeds. (They also damage moderately well, so you might want to avoid any head-on collisions that could bring your Run to an end.) Whether you’re racing inside the car or just behind it (using default camera options), you’ll find that this ride runs smoothly.

What’s more, the track has plenty of innovation behind it as well. Along with curves and twists that will keep you on your toes as you corner and brake accordingly, you’ll also have to contend with a sudden drop, which will give you a boost in air time but could also factor in an unpredictable landing, depending on where you first take off for the jump. Remember, every second counts in a race such as this, but survival is equally important. If you don’t finish the race in the proper time, then Jack finds himself in deeper trouble.

Fortunately, the game’s controls really work for you, rather than against you. We found cornering to handle quite naturally with the sports car that we got to race around with, and its acceleration feels quite natural, though there are times you can find yourself scraping against a fence if you don’t manage to pull off the drift just right. Also, you’ll need to keep a close eye on incoming cars, and try and gain an advantage over your racing competitors. They’re quite aggressive, and can easily catch back up to you if they catch a piece of your Slipstream. Likewise, you can catch theirs, giving you a chance to take the lead.

This is arcade racing, and very refined at that, at least from the track that we tried out. The final game will include other events as well, and it’ll be interesting to see how they play out, especially with police involved in the pursuit and time working against you. But that just adds to the action, making you feel the thrill of each race better than you could in other Need For Speed games. It’ll be interesting to see how the online AutoLog features pan out as well. Can you imagine competing with your friends over an entire circuit? We can.

Thanks to EA for giving us a chance to rev our engines with Need For Speed: The Run. Though there are some factors that we’re still questioning with the game (dude, stay in the damn car!), there’s no question that it still has racing pumping in its bloodstream. We’ll see how this ride pans out when the game ships on November 15 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and other game systems.