November 27, 2011
Having a storyline in a Need for Speed game isn't a new concept, but with Need for Speed: The Run the developers tried to make it much more integral. You take on the role of Jack Rourke, a low life street racer who's not having the best of times, as he attempts to win a race across the United States worth $25 million. The tricky part of this, is that there are 249 other drivers that have the same objective and there are no prizes for second place.
The main problem here, is that very little actually happens throughout the game. There's the illusion of a story there, but in reality, it's all very flimsy. You might get a few cutscenes and quick-time events as you play through the story, but that's the most you can hope for. Given the nature of the game is to follow Jack's journey as he struggles to win this race and effectively save his life, it's quite surprising that very little was done to capitalise on this.
It's even so bland as to give you a short info-sheet of a driver before you enter into a rivalry race with them - they don't even bother with any proper back story or lead-in. This could have been intentional, after all, you're in a race with 249 other drivers - chances are you have no idea who they are. However, little is done to flesh out Jack's character either, so it feels more like an oversight.
With the differing format for the story, the gameplay has a rather different feel to it as well. And this is where the concept starts to shine a little.
Due to it being one massive long race, you're given objectives to accomplish as you race to New York. This might be to try and gain a certain number of places in a set distance, or it might be to take out a rival. Either way, it feels very contextual and promotes the feeling of a massive road rally.
The problems come with its depth. Outside of the occasional grand set piece race, there are only a few variations of race type that appear in the entire game. The only thing that ever changes is the location you're racing in. It's nice that not all of the stages are time intensive and the overall concept of "total time" is also welcome, but that doesn't stop it from becoming boring.
The gameplay doesn't do itself justice either. In the lead-up to the game, EA were proud to announce that the Frostbite 2.0 engine would be used, but it's difficult to see how it enhanced the game in any way as the driving mechanics feel quite stodgy.
In many ways, it's just a typical driving experience, with everything being rather standard. But something feels odd about how the different cars handle. It's as if they're too heavy on the road and they all seem to have a bit of over steer. Yes, each car does have a different difficulty rating, but some of the tougher cars are more frustrating than anything else. They aren't even that wild in hardcore simulation racers, let alone a game which is supposed to be more on the arcade side.
It just highlights something which is a perennial problem for Need for Speed: The Run - everything feels underdeveloped. This applies to the deliverance of what's a strong concept, but also holds through to the gameplay and almost every aspect of the game's presentation. The game design even saw some short-cuts, with penalties being incurred for going slightly off road. It's very frustrating to swing out of a corner, and for the game to then decide you went "out of bounds", making you use one of your continues despite being well ahead of the competition. There are also other deficiencies due to the "scripted" races. You can be 10-15 seconds ahead of an opponent, but because there's an event coming up, they will then catch you up almost instantly, defying the laws of physics entirely. It's just shoddy.
The game's cutscenes look like they were made quite a few years ago and they serve as a fine example of the issues the game has. Not only do the character models look quite poor, but they didn't even bother to animate the steering wheels in the cars. This might have been acceptable many years ago, but times have changed. Watching an intense cutscene through the windscreen only to see the guy turning something which is static, it just ruins the illusion.
On the positive side, the game does offer a decent amount of replay value. There will of course be the autolog battles, where you'll fight against your friends to get the best times across the game's various stages. But there are also challenges and online races which can keep you occupied for quite a while. Don't worry too much about the game's length either. It's very short in comparison to other racing games, but compared to the typical first-person shooter, it's not too different. Your "in-game" time might clock around two hours, but this is just a running total of your stage times. In terms of actual time, it'll probably take around 4-5 hours to run through it on the game's normal difficulty.
Need for Speed: The Run serves as a perfect example of why it's a bad idea to pump out so many games in such a short space of time - the franchise is suffering from fatigue. The Run has a nice concept, and the gameplay isn't too bad, but no aspect of the game excels, it's all very average at best. If EA wish to continue releasing Need for Speed games with this frequency, they will have to re-think their strategy, because if we're going to continue getting games like The Run, they could quite easily run the franchise into the ground.
Need for Speed: The Run was reviewed on the PS3. You can read more about GamingUnion.net's scoring policy here.