Review: Need for Speed: The Run

by Steven Williamson on 2 December 2011, 11:22 2.5

Tags: Electronic Arts (NASDAQ:EA)

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The storyline blues

At night, the impressive lighting - powered by DICE's Frostbite 2 engine - in very easy on the eye. As well as its signature dirty lens effect in cut-scenes, a more realistic and subtle lens flare is used in sunny locations. At night, lightning will realistically light up the terrain, and oncoming headlights are reminiscent of the tactical light in Battlefield 3, albeit less annoying. However, the destruction elements built into the engine are very rarely used. Still, it runs at a respectable frame rate with little slow down.

Along with the races, there are two other game types in The Run. Battles are similar to the regular races, however instead of a pack of ten cars to pass, there are only three. Each one needs to be defeated by the end of the allotted time, and you need to have gained a position in the pack. Simple, but focused, and it does surprisingly well at breaking up the monotony of the regular races.

Elsewhere, there are the time attack challenges, with strict time requirements to make checkpoints with the absence of meddling racers. These are billed in the story as sections to make up time, but again because of the disconnection to the race as a whole, they seem arbitrary at best.

Speaking of the story, for most of the game no reference is made to it at all. EA made a big deal about Mad Men’s Christina Hendricks playing the secondary character, but it looks like they could only afford her for a half-an-hour recording session. Instead of giving out driving tips or making banter with the main character, you’ll hear a single line to the effect of “hey, you better get a move on” at the start of a few events. From a game that is supposed to be somewhat story-driven, the constant silence from your ever-present assistant just seems odd.

Throughout the race there are only a handful of very short cut-scenes, most of them with no voice-overs or explanations. Granted, they all seamlessly flow into the beginning of that particular race, but again they do little to portray the bigger picture of this enormous race.

Of course, there are the QTE (quick time event) parts. Debuting the feature in the Downtown Chicago level, Black Box caught a lot of flak from fans and journos alike for even thinking about having sections outside of a car. In the final product, about three of these fairly brief sections take place and act like interactive cut-scenes. They’re extremely simplistic, only asking for the occasional hammering of ‘X ‘between the odd ‘square,’ ‘triangle,’ and ‘circle’ presses.

Whether the developer toned this down after the backlash or not we don’t know, but the simplicity of these sequences, combined with the overarching lack of story, makes these sections practically pointless. They mainly serve to force a change in car, denoting a move up to the next of six car tiers. This can be quickly reversed, with the odd petrol station along the way serving as a place to change and customise your cars. However, unlike previous Need for Speed games, you can only choose pre-determined colours and body kits.

These problems soon add-up to hamper the overall experience of the single player. The incredibly short tracks, the severe lack of story, and the absence of tension divorce you from what should be an epic race for your life against countless others over many miles. They even try to throw in “rivals”, who boil down to being regular racers with slightly better AI and a character portrait in the prior loading screen. It’s disappointing, especially in the wake of last year's stellar Hot Pursuit.