Need for Speed: The Run ReviewPC
key review info
- Game: Need for Speed: The Run
- Platform: PC
- Gamepad support: Yes
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I grew up with the Need for Speed franchise, first experiencing the racing series with the stunning NFS 5: Porsche Unleashed. After that, I didn’t miss any entry in the series. Sadly, as much as I enjoyed titles like Underground 1 and 2, not to mention the stunning Most Wanted, the newer iterations, like the ill-fated Pro Street or the cheesy Undercover, almost made me abandon the franchise completely.
Thankfully, Electronic Arts managed to avoid sending the long running series down the drain, and allowed new studios longer development times and more creative freedom, which resulted in the franchise taking some rather interesting turns, like with Shift 1 or 2, made by Slightly Mad Studios, or last year’s Hot Pursuit, made by Criterion Games.
Now, the old Black Box studio, which was responsible for many of the older NFS games, is back, with Need for Speed: The Run, a return to story-based experiences that’s using a brand new engine already seen in Battlefield 3, called Frostbite 2, and promises to deliver an adrenaline-filled narrative as well as the same arcade racing experience that made the series a classic.
So, is Need for Speed: The Run miles ahead of its competition or should it pull over to let other games pass? Let’s find out.
I absolutely loved the last three games in the NFS series, Shift 1, Hot Pursuit and Shift 2, largely because they focused just on the pure driving experience, letting you forge your own professional career, in the Shift titles, or explore your cop and racer talents, in Hot Pursuit.
Still, with The Run promising to deliver a pretty interesting story of an illegal race across the U.S. in the vein of the 1980s Cannonball Run movies, the game seemed to at least try and add something meaningful to the series and offer some reason for all the racing you’ll do during its actual stages.
Sadly, The Run falls drastically short when it comes to its narrative. While there are quite a lot of intense moments and stunning set piece moments, especially once you’re in the final stages of The Run, the characters are extremely forgettable.
You play as Jack, a guy who’s in some sort of trouble with the mob, and needs money fast. Luckily, his old time partner Sam, played by Christina Hendricks, offers him the chance to enter The Run, an illegal race from San Francisco to New York.
While it’s a straightforward plot for a racing game, the characters feel lifeless, we don’t find out anything interesting about either Jack or Sam, and, even worse, Jack comes across as a bit of arrogant guy, so you might even end up rooting for the mob until the story ends.
Sadly, not even the bad guys or Jack’s competitors in The Run are detailed, save for a few loading screens with bits of text right before you go up against them in special duels. In case you don’t pay attention, you’re not losing anything significant as most of them are walking, or should I say driving stereotypes, with the likes of spoiled rich girls looking for thrills, former professional racing drivers looking to prove their worth, or a mob guy that just wants to take Jack out of the race permanently.
I don’t want a story like Mass Effect or Skyrim in a NFS game, but The Run tries to amp up its action movie plot while forgetting that its characters have the personalities of cardboard cutouts.
While the story falls short of what it could have been, the gameplay more than makes up for its shortcomings. While at first I was afraid that the Frostbite 2 engine, previously seen in the Battlefield 3 first person shooter, wouldn’t properly support a racing game, The Run proves its versatility.
While the game isn’t as arcade in its car handling like Hot Pursuit, all cars feel good and are a bit more realistic. You won’t be able to pull handbrake drifts as easily as in Hot Pursuit, but with a little bit of practice you’ll soon master most cars from its pretty large roster.
To help players out, vehicles have different handling ratings, going from Easy to Very difficult, so while at first you might be tempted to get a powerful yet difficult car, it’s sometimes better to get a less powerful yet easier to handle vehicle, especially if you need to race through tight city courses. You don’t have a dedicated tuning option, although you can choose various style packs and color options to customize your ride.
The Run’s story mode takes players through all sorts of different settings, from wide open highways to tight streets in and around cities like Las Vegas, Chicago, or New York. You won’t have that many cars to choose from during the campaign, sadly, as you unlock new ones in certain moments, and can only change between by awkwardly pulling into gas stations right in the middle of actual races.
While the campaign won’t impress you with its characters, it does have quite a lot of exciting moments, especially once you start getting close to New York city. There are some awkward design choices, however, like when you need to evade SUVs driven by the mob that keep shooting at your car (which has regenerating health, because why not?).
The first half is also a bit boring, as most of your objectives range from overtaking a certain number of cars, driving through checkpoints to make up time, or battling with other opponents. Thankfully, the police is quickly sprinkled throughout these events to make things more interesting.
Besides the story mode, which is split into chapters, there’s a long and much more flexible Challenge mode, where you go through various locations you already unlocked by playing the campaign and just race to meet certain objectives, much like in Hot Pursuit. This is where The Run really shines, as you can choose from all the cars in The Run and just put your skills to the test.
Opponents are relatively smart and even employ some dirty tricks when you try to overtake them for the first time. The game offers XP for every special move you pull, and overtakes are split into multiple categories, like dirty or clean, depending on if you touch the car in front of you. Some opponents will deliberately run into you while overtaking them so instead of 50 XP, which you get for a clean maneuver, you get just 25 XP.
The behavior of the police isn’t as aggressive or developed like in NFS: Hot Pursuit, as they mostly rely just on ramming into you, attempting 'Pit' maneuvers, driving in front of you and then stopping suddenly, or deploying roadblocks, so they won’t give you serious problems.
What’s more, if you do make mistakes, The Run has checkpoints in each of its race and a replay system that takes you back to the last one instead of forcing you to completely restart a race. This is great in longer events where you need to overtake many opponents throughout lengthy stretches of road.
As a little diversion, there are also on-foot sequences in The Run which, while certainly quite exciting, are controlled only through quick time events, so it might take a few tries before you successfully pass them. Thankfully, there are just a few of these moments, and you’ll soon be back into a vehicle.
Overall, The Run’s gameplay impresses both through fidelity and quality, improving on its arcade predecessors while adding quite a lot of set piece moments throughout the story campaign and a pretty lengthy Challenge series.
Like previous NFS games, The Run uses the Autolog system to allow players to compare their performances throughout the story and challenge series with their friends, as well as race against each other through various online modes that support up to 16 people.
The actual multiplayer matches are split into several so-called categories, like The Underground, Exotic Sprint, Supercar Challenge, NFS Edition Racing, Mixed Competition, or Muscle Car Battles. These modes just limit what kind of cars and tracks you can use but do make it harder to find matches in your preferred mode.
You can set up playlists and, before each race, there’s a special Bonus Wheel mechanic that randomly chooses what sort of bonus rewards will be given to either the winner, the top three or even all the players, ranging from extra XP to even new cars.
While the categories in the multiplayer do impose some unneeded restrictions, the online mode feels great and Autolog will no doubt make quite a lot of people go back to the campaign or challenge series to best the times set by their friends.
Visuals and Sound
Frostbite 2 impressed us in Battlefield 3 and makes another stellar representation in NFS: The Run, although a few glitches, like some low-resolution textures, may appear in certain moments. Almost all the environments through which the game takes players look great and delight through various details and fine touches. From the sunlight shining through the trees to the snow effects on mountain tracks, you’ll really be impressed by this game.
The terms of sound, The Run will continue to delight players, with another stellar soundtrack that knows when to play licensed songs, different for each location you visit, and when to stick to orchestral music, during set piece moments. The voice acting, as I’ve said, falls short, but the cars sound really good and will certainly make you feel like you’re in their cockpit.
Need for Speed: The Run is a great game, with stunning visuals, polished gameplay, and lots of variety, but disappoints through the story that could have been much more exciting if the characters felt more alive or were explored in a more detailed manner.
Still, with a decent campaign that has plenty of high points, with a top notch challenge series, and a multiplayer powered by Autolog, The Run will no doubt satisfy your virtual racing urges.