Sunday, July 29, 2012

need for speed: the run

RELEASE: 11/2011 | PLATFORM: PS3 | DEV: Black Box | PUB: EA | ESRB: T for Teen

Need for Speed: The Run was developed by the franchise’s primary developer EA Black Box, who are responsible for six of the sixteen large Need for Speed (NFS) games. “The Run” for which this game is named is an underground street-racing spectacle. Jack Rourke, our main character, will join top racers heading from San Francisco to New York City with a $25,000,000 payout to whoever gets there first. I really like the idea of having a specific destination to race towards; thinking back, I can't remember a racing game quite like this. This race is more like an actual road trip rather than just getting through checkpoints or marked spots on a map. This is the first game in NFS history to feature quick time events, where the player actually exits their car and travels on foot.

This game may be hard for novice racers, definitely not a realistic driving simulation like Forza but it’s no kart racer either. Need for Speed: The Run isn’t supposed to be realistic, the game is about going absurdly fast and driving in a manner that is anything but safe. Let go of realism and just focus on navigating the road and quickly approaching traffic ahead. The Run follows a linear path, traditional for racing games, rather than the sandbox-style of other racing games made popular by developers like Criterion. The cross-country race is divided into 10 stages, each with a number of different challenge courses. The courses start off moderately fast but fairly soon into the race they get faster and faster. Traveling across country makes for a scenic ride with variations in weather and road conditions along the way. Types of courses range from your standard of passing cars to making up time by passing through gates, others will have you face off against a particular rival. Some of the more twisting, winding tracks will require a large amount of finesse and patience to get through.

Experience with previous NFS games or the Burnout franchise is a plus here. The basics are the same and will give you an leg up on the learning curve. As with all racing games you will adjust to the handling and eventually memorize the tracks. While most players will opt for the, default, third person perspective the first person perspective is available as well.

One distinction that Need for Speed has always had over the competition is real world cars. There is a large range of brand named vehicles. The usual mix of muscle cars, street racers and refined exotics. The long list of manufacturers include Audi, BMW, NIssan, Volkswagen, Chevy, Dodge, Ford, Mazda, Pontiac, Toyota, Mitsubishi, and Subaru. The exotics include Lamborghini, Lotus, Porsche, Alfa Romeo and Austin Martin. I’ve probably missed a few, the list seems endless. As you may expect the better cars are unlockable in game while some “supercars” are part of a limited edition version of the release.

Crashing is hard and fast. While not nearly as detailed and long as Burnout crashes, they definitely stop you in your tracks. There are some fun angles the designers chose; my favorite being the camera view out the windshield after a crash. The other side of crashes would be taking out other drivers, The Run slows down and pauses the clock to allow a look back at your car flipping handy work.

NFS Autolog returns, a feature that has been present since its debut in NFS: Hot Pursuit. Autolog tracks player progressions and statistics compared to other players and recommends events in order for you to test your skills. Autolog also has social media type entries, which allow players to post pictures and (limited) comments. The game also features a “rewind” option to allow you to restart an event to the last checkpoint. This is a great way to get back in the race for a small (or devastating) mistake. Rewind opportunities are limited and using them will negatively impact your overall score.

The game’s cut-scenes are where the “out of the car” moments occur. There is a plot woven in between the racing stages. And while the plot is about as deep as the TV series Prison Break it is also fun in the same way. The quicktime events, which consist of pushing the right button at the exact right time you are prompted, will keep you focused on the scene. I welcome this attempt at instituting a narrative into the racing game. While not 100% successful, it does make The Run stand out from other racing games. With a better narrative, a game could draw in new players that would normally pass on a racing title. The plot is at its best when Jack is captured by the police and has to bust a few heads to escape.

The multiplayer option is online only. Broken up into sessions that you join with other online racers. The current leader picks a selection of tracks referred to as the playlist. Playlists offer distinct experiences by mixing different locations, vehicles and performance tiers. Other racers can out vote the leader in picking the playlist. They are mostly head to head races with a few cooperative challenges thrown in. Bonuses include unlocking new cars and avatar icons as well as experience points toward your ultimate score.

I wish the map shown during the load screens was a bit more accurate, showing where you are on the path, rather than highlighting your last checkpoint. Even more confusing is the map graphic is overlaid onto a separate image of the United States. The overlay is tilted so it looks like you heading toward Florida rather than NYC. Really not an issue in a linear game like this, more a stylistic choice that kinda bugs me. While on a track, you also have a small in-game map, that I’ve truly never seen because you can’t take our eyes of the road long enough to look at it. Supposedly, it can help you find shortcuts in the route ahead.

I don’t have too many complaints about this game. In fact, I’m surprised at some of the low scores it has received. The Run is a great time, it has a good soundtrack and is perfect for racing game fans old and new. I did experience some glitches: awkward passing and miracle moments will jostle the third person to first person shift, not great. The story mode isn’t long but I wouldn’t refer to it as short either. Although, I must say, what is with these unlockable profile icons? Either let me use my own or don’t do it. I enjoyed having the added narrative to the game and hopefully this will inspire some better attempts at incorporating a story into future racing games.

Cars, I got covered
Michael Bay teaser trailer that spoils most of the game:

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