2011-11-30

Need For Speed: The Run – Some Exciting Moments, But Not Enough

by Yo Snyder

If the realistic, circuit racing of a game like Forza 4 or Gran Turismo 5 isn’t quite for you, it’s a good thing there are games like Need for Speed: The Run.
Here you don’t have worry much about tuning or taking corners properly
or following the race line accurately; you just put the pedal to the
metal and go. You might miss some of the finer nuances of what makes the
cars you’re driving so special, but that doesn’t really matter much
when all you have to do is go fast. Plus, you don’t have to put up with
going around and around the same track over and over again. The Run‘s race across the nation means the scenery and locales are constantly changing. Yeah, it’s a different experience in NFS: The Run, but not necessarily a better one.

The biggest problem I have with The Run is the attempt to
shoe-horn in a story. Granted, this game probably does a better job than
any of the past NFS titles that tried to have a plot, but that’s not
saying much. Sure it’s exciting to get chased by the mob and cops and
helicopters and have things explode and have bullets fly all around you,
but especially in a game, it all feels very shallow and contrived when
it doesn’t have any context. Why is the mob after you? Because they’re
mad about…something. The game doesn’t really tell you any of that,
just accept that you’ve made them mad enough that they’ll do just about
anything, no matter how over-the-top and ridiculous, to get you. Why do
you want to win this race? Because the money will making everything
better…somehow. No real reason why this is the case, it just is and
you just need to accept it as your motivation for winning the race.
Detailed plots and racing games often make awkward bedfellows, but this
game seems to just acknowledge it’s pointless and doesn’t bother filling
in the details; just the basic outline is all that’s necessary to give The Run “a plot”. Well, if putting plot into racing games is so pointless, why bother doing it all? Would NFS: The Run be a better game without the plot? Maybe not a better game, but certainly a more enjoyable experience.

When you aren’t dodging bullets and crashes, The Run is a pretty decent racer. Black Box makes good use of the Frostbite 2 engine from DICE (yup, the same engine from Battlefield 3).
When you crash through stuff, the destruction is impressive. The
wrecked cars themselves still don’t quite reach the level of something
like Burnout Paradise, but it’s still pretty cool. The lighting is also pretty good looking, not quite on par with the amazing lighting of Forza 4,
but certainly no slouch. While all the cars have a fairly distinct feel
to them, they’re not quite as precise or responsive as the vehicles in Forza 4.
However, this is to be expected as the game isn’t so much about
precision but speed. Still, taking some turns I missed the precise
controls of the cars in Forza 4 as opposed the more blunt controls of NFS. A combination of the two sensibilities ala NFS Shift could have made this experience even better.

As for the race locales, The Run as some of the best around.
The set up for racing across the country makes this possible as it
provide a reason (as if you really needed one) to tear through the
deserts of Nevada or the mountains of Colorado or Yosemite National
Park; all of which are absolutely gorgeous. Add in the thrill of racing
through a sandstorm or being chased by an avalanche or other crazy
events help amp up the action even more. Unfortunately, for all of these
highlights there are plenty of mundane moments as well. Racing across
the Mid-West isn’t all that thrilling, but then, how much is there in
the Mid-West to make a racing game like this more thrilling? Along with
the scenery, the race types are also constantly being mixed-up from cop
chases to rival battles to time trials and more. That’s all great, but
some of them made the progression of the “story” seem very artificial.
For instance you need to reach 150th place before Las Vegas to stay in
the race. Well, during certain races you need to pass a certain number
of cars, and that’s all carefully paced out so you’re exactly 150th
after that first leg. That’s all fine and dandy for the so-called plot,
but for a race it would have been nice to have more openness. If I’m
good, it’d be nice to have the possibility of getting further than that.
Or perhaps I’m lagging behind and therefore have that much more to
make-up. The structure of the races, despite being an “open”,
cross-country affair at times feels a little too structured and too
scripted all in the name of telling a story, but if that’s hindering the
racing experience, again, why even bother putting that in?

Going back to the story for a moment, I also wanted to mention that
the characters here aren’t all that great either. Your character, Jack,
is smug, brash, unrepentant and cocky. I know that probably spells “cool
anti-hero” for some, but here it’s really just annoying. Your friend
who sets you up in the race to help you out is improbably gorgeous to be
hanging out with a loser like this (then again, all the girls in this
game are), and truth be told, she’s not much help. She’s constantly
telling me to “Hurry up, Jack”, or “Put the pedal to the metal, Jack”, 
or “Get in the race, Jack” or so on and so forth. I got it; I’m in a
race and I need to go fast to win, you don’t need to tell me that over
and over again. I’m aware.

While most racing games like to make the cars the stars, NFS: The Run
seems content to let spectacle and shallow story take center stage
rather than the cars. Nowhere is this more apparent than in how you
switch cars. As you blaze along at high speeds, if you happen to spot a
gas station, try to dash in there to switch out your car. Sure it takes
you out of the race, sure it can be hard to spot and then make the turn
in the middle of traffic, but you want to try other cars, right? No,
with this set-up I pretty much used the same car through the whole game
because it was easier than trying to switch one out. Forza 4 has a brilliant system for getting you to want to try new vehicles and gives you incentives for doing so; NFS: The Run
seems intent on keeping you on course to see their next, crazy,
action-packed quick-time-event instead of wasting time enjoying
finely-tuned, exotic cars at high speeds.

I must give credit where credit is due; there are times when Need for Speed: The Run is a really exciting racer. Some of the racing set-pieces are truly brilliant, bringing in elements of Hot Pursuit and Split/Second.
These are the moments the game shines with some beautifully scenery and
amazing driving action. Truth be told, the attempt to tell a story
wasn’t an all bad notion either; it at least gives a different
motivation to the races other than just winning. However, the execution
of said plot is sadly lacking in development and depth, and this brings
down the rest of the experience. Plus, for every shining moment of
thrills, there are plenty of ho-hum moments of been-there, done-that.
Some decent multiplayer options and good use of Autolog are nice, but
the overall package for The Run is ultimately underwhelming.
Again, if Forza and Gran Turismo are too realistic and demanding, this
might be a good alternative. However, if you truly want an excellent
arcade racer, I’d still suggest going back to Hot Pursuit or even Burnout Paradise.

Score out of 7:

Graphics:
5 – The Frostbite 2 engine does some nice things for a racer,
especially an action packed one filled with destruction. However, there
are plenty of level designs that are too mundane to let this engine
shine. When it does, however, this game is quite the visual spectacle.

Sound:
5 – Pretty decent all around. The cars have a decent, throaty roar, the
crashes have an audible impact, and even the soundtrack for the races
add that “cruising cross country montage” feel. The voice acting is good
despite the fact everything is so cheesy.

Controls: 5 – They’re
good but not great. Certainly not as precise as Forza 4, but I didn’t
even feel they had the solid arcade feel of Hot Pursuit. However,
nothing’s broken and you won’t have any problem drifting, passing,
cornering, or slamming into opponents.

Gameplay: 4 – There are
moments when it’s really, really good, and then many more moments that
aren’t that good. The plot gets in the way and makes the races feel too
scripted, which is really my biggest complaint about the racing in this
game.

Story: 3 – There is a story, but it’s really more like a
lightly sketched outline. Why is any of this happening? Who cares, it
give you a reason to race across the country and experience crazy,
action-packed moments that are like something out of a Michael Bay
movie.

Content: 4 – Some subtly implied sensuality, some lingering
looks on all the models that populate this crazy game world, some
bloodless but intense action and some mild lyrics in some of the songs.

Final Score: 4 – In the shadow of games like Hot Pursuit and Forza 4, I understand that Need for Speed: The Run
needed to do something unique to stand out from the crowd. There are
some good ideas here, but the overall execution of them is sadly
lacking. The Run has its thrills and is a pretty decent racer, but there are better ones out there.