Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Need for Speed: The Run

The series Need for Speed has amassed a loyal following of fans thanks to overall, an impressive catalogue of arcade racing games. Due to different companies constantly taking the reigns for development, fans are never quite sure how the final product will pan out – will it be a more serious racer like SHIFT, or will there be a lot more arcade-action like in Hot Pursuit. Developed by Black Box, Need for Speed: The Run falls nicely in between these two titles and brings to the table some exciting racing segments across very impressive environments. Unfortunately, the blockbuster story holding the game together is horrific at best and key issues prevent this installment from being anywhere near the best the series has to offer.

The story concentrates on the unfortunate Jack Rourke who gets involved with the wrong people, which forces him to partake in a cross-country race to buy back his freedom (because all problems are solved with cross-country races). Need for Speed: The Run’s Hollywood-like tone is cheesy, cringe-worthy and a serious waste of time. The narrative does very little to help the cast and for the most part, the story fails to make any sense at all. Luckily for you, apart from an opening cut-scene and occasional timed button-press segments, you don’t really have to pay attention or get involved with the story, allowing you to simply concentrate on the racing.

As bad as the story is, we’ve come for the racing and boy will you be doing plenty of that. Need for Speed: The Run offers beautiful and varied terrain to travel across using a whole host of different muscle, sports and luxury cars. The cars drive smoothly, the action is exhilarating and more often than not, the AI does a fairly decent job at keeping races from being too easy (although this could be due to the annoying rubber band feature where cars catch up or pull back to keep cars together offering the illusion of it being an even race).

Jack’s journey from San Francisco to New York will not only let you see lots of different environments, but you’ll also have the opportunity to compete in different challenges and race modes. As you travel across America you’ll be required to avoid mobsters, avoid natural disasters, take down police officers, increase your position, beat certain racers and play against the clock – Need for Speed: The Run does an excellent job at keeping you under pressure, which is probably the only emotion you might come to share with our lead protagonist.

As exciting as the racing is, even this suffers from key issues. Your journey across America is organised in stages, with each stage holding a number of events. You actually aren’t able to access individual events should you choose to replay them, rather you are forced to play the entire stage all the way through including watching and partaking in any cut scenes, until you eventually get to the segment you wanted to tackle again. Your racing experience is also separated by checkpoints, which is where you’ll respawn should you crash or sometimes even diverge from the race track. Finally, I have to emphasize one more time just how bad the on-foot timed segments really are, they simply don’t fit into the game and provide nothing but a distraction from what the game is actually good at.

Fortunately, there are some ok multiplayer aspects that are worth checking out in Need for Speed: The Run. Online racing is as good as it has always been in Need for Speed games, variation in game modes and car-specific races dominate the online experience. You also earn experience points by doing anything in the game, which is beneficial in the beginning but you find yourself running out of cool things to unlock pretty quickly. The absolutely fantastic Autolog experience also returns to keep track of every single thing you do, spurring some nice rivalry between you and your friends as you battle for leaderboard dominance. Again however, certain technical hitches crop up every once in a while, which don’t ruin the experience but you’d hope a series so well established would have removed these kinks by now.

Ultimately it’s just a shame that a series which seems to be constantly improving, is forced to take quite a dramatic step back. Beautiful visuals thanks to the Frostbite 2 engine and detailed tracks make travelling across America in Need for Speed: The Run, a really enjoyable experience. The average game content, completely unnecessary story and poor pacing overshadow what is a very impressive environment. A racing game has to race well and unfortunately, there are better racers out on the market – so pick up a copy if you dare but in all honesty, I’d go with FORZA 4 or Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit.

7.0 | Gameplay |
Need for Speed: The Run is a good arcade racer, but it does nothing outside the box and fails to deliver any substantial content. The cars are beautiful, handle well and the racetrack designs are very impressive. A decent variety in goals throughout the racing and a good sense of constant pressure are certainly highlights in this experience.

8.0 | Presentation |
The Frostbite 2 engine certainly makes Need for Speed: The Run a beautiful looking game. The cars are gorgeous and the environments are not only developed for good racing, but also look terrific. The same can’t be said for the story cut-scenes, with character models nowhere near to the same standard with improper lip synching and poor voice acting present throughout.

5.5 | Replay Value |
Multiplayer and the brilliant Autolog system will give you reason to come back and continue racing, but it’s difficult to justify a lot of time after you’ve gone through Need for Speed: The Run’s story. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t do story mode more than once.

6.5 | Final Thoughts |
Disappointing is unfortunately my final verdict for Need for Speed: The Run. This series has been going from height to height in recent years and after thoroughly enjoying Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, I was pretty excited for this installment. From the moment I saw the first ever footage with this emphasis on a human character being able to do on-foot segments, I knew it was going to be a mess. Need for Speed: The Run does arcade racing well, but by no means the best on the market and everything else about the game is dull, unimaginative and not worth your time.

Igor Kharin.

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