Need for Speed: The Run is the latest entry to the long-running franchise. While Slightly Mad Studios brought us a pro racer simulation in Shift 2: Unleashed earlier this year, here Black Box returns the series to being more action-packed complete with aggressive opponents, interesting courses and police cars chasing you down. All of this combines into a game that feels very alive and delivers quite an energetic experience.
Our protagonist is Jack Rourke, your typical scruffy white guy – the default player character by today’s gaming conventions – who find himself indebted to the mafia. Early on, we meet Jack’s equally boring associate Sam Harper, who informs him of “The Run” – a cross-country race from San Francisco to New York for a multi-million dollar cash prize, which will resolve Jack’s problem.
When I first played about an hour of the single-player campaign at a preview I was very impressed by the fact that it seemed to be a proper story mode tying together a series of races. However, I was expecting more of a plot as you encountered competing drivers and other characters along the way. This failed to happen. You do encounter a few of the other drivers along The Run, but their only characterization is a still image and quick bio before the race. To its credit, some story does happen in the form of obstacles. At a couple of points during the game, Jack has to deal with the Mafia or police coming after him. Oddly enough, the characters with the most dialogue end up being the police officers Jack is constantly listening to through a police scanner. This at least livens up what would otherwise be speech-less races.
When the game begins, and at a couple of the aforementioned story-driven obstacle points, you must play through some quick-time events to get Jack to survive. I can only assume this was meant to break up the long stretches of races without having to create a second set of controls for different gameplay sections. While QTEs are often frowned upon by many gamers, they are not too bad in this case. They come up at multiple points, so you do get a sense that they are part of the game and not a lone throwaway section, but I would have preferred something that gave you more actual control over your character. However, the bulk of the gameplay is obviously the actual driving and this the game does very well.
Each stage involves you racing to get ahead in The Run. Most stages either have you racing for position and give you an amount of opposing drivers you must pass up by the end of the stage or for time and do not have opposing drivers, but instead give you checkpoints you must reach within a time limit. I found these “ordinary” stages the most enjoyable since they feel very much like what a racing game should be. The “boss” stages involve you trying to outrun one of the rival drivers, sometimes accompanied by other competitors. You get a quick description of the rival, but not much else. The upside is that defeating certain rivals unlocks their car for your own use. The most tedious stages are the so-called “battles.” These fall in between conceptually. In these you have multiple opponents and a certain amount of time in which to pass up each one. There is not really anything about them that makes them battles – these are really just regular stages with multiple constraints.
The Multiplayer is mostly what one would expect. You can jump online and race against human opponents in a set of events. Here you can gain XP and unlockables as well as obtain certain trophies that are unique to the multiplayer. Autolog makes a return allowing you to keep tabs on your friends so you may challenge their times. Black Box did their best to make this mode accessible: when you crash it does not take long for the game to warp you back in line to continue and you can even join a race in progress.
As you make progress, you will unlock driver abilities, cars, icons, backgrounds and even mottos that will display to your online opponents. This game makes me think of Smash Bros. with the amount of content there is to unlock.
Unfortunately, this game is lacking some key aspects. The feeling that there might be a grand story unfolding before you intrigues you early on, but this curiosity is never satisfied. Besides that, you can tell that the developers were trying to make resetting during a race painless, but this does not quite work out correctly. There are times when you just barely go off the road or touch a nearby wall and could very easily continue, but the game automatically resets you to the previous checkpoint because it decided you were out of bounds. There are other times when you crash hard and fly into the neighboring forest and wait for a second expecting the game to reset you, but then you realize it is not going to, because that area is apparently fair play, even though it would take you a long time to get out – at least you can just press select in this case.
The Bottom Line
Need for Speed: The Run is a very enjoyable game for racing enthusiasts and casual fans alike. Once you get started the typical gamer mentality takes over and you want to keep going to see it through to the end. Once complete, however, it ends up feeling a bit light. The multiplayer, choice of many cars and ease of the campaign give the game fair replayability whether or not you are a racing fan, but this also could have benefited from some more options – I know I would play it all over again if we could play as Cesar. Ultimately, this game suffered from lack of time to really make it shine. A more fleshed out plot would have given the game more substance while polishing out the exact mechanics would have improved the overall experience significantly. The campaign is still very enjoyable, so even if you are not a fan of racing games I recommend renting this title as it may just be the one to get you a bit more excited for the genre. Hardcore racing fans will get their money’s worth from purchasing this game since they can spend months trying to beat their and their friends’ best times as well as facing each other online.
As a final note, I would just like to warn that I have heard complaints regarding the PC, Wii and 3DS versions of this game. This review refers specifically to the PS3 version, which is most likely nearly identical to the Xbox 360 version, but I recommend you do some more research before purchasing the PC, Wii or 3DS version.
Courtesy of LatinoGamer