The last few years has seen the Need for Speed series turn something of a corner. After spending much of the last five years stalling with seemingly indistinguishable instalments (hands up who can tell the difference between Underground and Undercover), thankfully EA has been spending the past few years placing innovation high above convention.
Last year’s Hot Pursuit introduced the Autolog system, an innovative social hub that keeps the competitive spirit roaring long after you’ve hopped offline (and has subsequently been used in each new game since), and earlier this year Shift 2: Unleashed changed the in-car perspective with helmet cam, turning the action into a realistic blur of dizzying intensity. So it shouldn’t really come as much surprise then that the fourteenth title to fall under the Need for Speed banner, Need for Speed: The Run, is taking risks and shaping up to possibly be the boldest step the series has taken to date.
You might remember that the footage showcased earlier this year at E3 focused intently on introducing fans to the notion of out-of-car on-foot segments, which offer a fresh, cinematic blast of action between all that wheel-gripping high-octane driving. These segments rely on a precisely-timed sequence of button mashing; punchy quick-time events that cause the protagonist, Jack, to leap, punch and jump his way around the US in Hollywood style. It’s certainly basic in gameplay terms, but there’s no doubt it propels the action and narrative in a way that twists the Need for Speed formula unlike anything that has come before. It’s intrinsic to the game, but it only makes for roughly 10 percent of the action – so it’s about time we had some hands-on time with the driving.
‘The Run’ of the title refers to the high-stakes race across the US, where Jack Roark is competing for a $25million prize, while the nefarious mob hunt him down. The first of the two levels we play plonks us down as the action hits the rocky, dust-swirling canyons of Desert Hills along Route 66. It’s evident from the off that the Canadian team at BlackBox have stuck close to the blueprints laid down by the developers behind Hot Pursuit, Criterion Games (also responsible for the pulse-pounding carnage that is the Burnout franchise). Each muscle car flies across the scenery; weighty and nuanced. Drifting around corners is difficult to master and the right amount of nitro boost often saves our precious Porsche RS 40 from spilling over the edge and into the sandy abyss (and gaining a dent or two, no doubt). The action has the crisp visual detail of Forza, mixed with the thrills that come from any arcade racer you’ve leapt into over the years.
It won’t feel hugely unfamiliar to anyone who has rollicked through the cat-and-mouse gameplay of Hot Pursuit – cars handle similarly and the AI is as frustratingly dogged as before – but the diversity of the desert track helps maintain an exhilarating pace, with breathless jumps and sneaky hidden pathways scattered throughout.
The second track mixes things up quite significantly. The winding roads across snowy peaks of Independence Pass are tough to master. We’re racing just one opponent, who persistently stays ahead for much of the chase. The slippery slopes cause our car to career off the track on numerous occasions, spinning down the mountainside. Uniquely, The Run features a rewind feature that backtracks the action to the last checkpoint, resetting the game Sands-of-Time style. It creates a trial-and-error approach to the racing. It can feel jarring, breaking the pace of the race, but when used correctly (and there are a limited amount of uses) it can make all the difference between first and last.
Continuing around the wintery mountain and the cinematic ethos behind the game shows its true colours. Avalanches cascade onto the track, burying the car if you fall too far behind. Boulders create sudden obstacles to screech around and ramps the intensity – impressive, but damn annoying when you’re on the brink of clinching the lead. But it’s a welcome spectacle and sets The Run apart from any of its franchise brethren. So, it’s familiar enough to just jump straight into, but bold enough to set it apart from anything else. Well, that sounds just like another Need for Speed to us.
cahoopuk Posted on Friday September 9, 2011, 12:34
Need for speed underground 2 was the best, awesome soundtrack, awesome gameplay and awesome customization options. Obviously the controls and response aren't exactly realistic, but it never pretended to be in the realm of gran turismo and for an entertaining racing game which can be picked up and put down at will, there is still no better. All the NFS games since have been a bit bland in my eyes, same sh!t different title and I'm not going to hold my breath for this one either
mrbennstep Posted on Thursday September 15, 2011, 12:52
"Uniquely, The Run features a rewind feature that backtracks the action to the last checkpoint, resetting the game Sands-of-Time style."
Not that unique. Race Driver: Grid had that in 2008, as does Forza 3.