Need for Speed: The Run PS3 Review

This year’s holiday Need for Speed (NFS) title has a lot to live up to after EA allowed the guys are Criterion Games to make the brilliant NFS: Hot Pursuit. Black Box has the task of trying to beat that, but their last NFS game was the somewhat disappointing NFS: Undercover. This time around they’ve decided to do something different by ignoring their street racing racer boy scene, and instead picked more of an adrenaline-rushing cinematic movie experience that is sometimes enjoyable, but mostly a drag.

The Run is the main feature of the game that sets you up as Jack Rourke, a dude that’s in trouble with the mafia, and needs a way to pay off his debt. It’s just his luck that Sam Harper (the NFS girl of the game) knows of a big illegal competition coming up called “The Run” which is offering a mouth-watering $25 million for the winner of this 200 plus car racing event. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to wipe everything clean from the mob, he decides to join the cannonball run event that starts in San Francisco and finishes in New York City.

As stories go you aren’t going to get anything from The Run. There’s talent from the motion-captured Christina Hendricks of Mad Men, and not so much from Sean Farris, since he has featured in films such as the King of Fighters, and some TV show with vampires that shall not be named. It almost seems a wasted effort as the developers haven’t spent time on getting emotional expressions across from these almost zombiefied polygonal versions of the actors.

Initially the idea of “The Run” mode sounds awesome. Who doesn’t want to take part in a race across America while trying to get into first place? It’s such a bummer because the start is promising. Your first task in a car is to get to the starting point of the run, and then as soon as you see the other cars the race kicks off. Explosive start would be a good word for setting up the first race as you speed and jump off the slopes of San Francisco with six other cars with the police high on your tail. After that race it disappointingly goes downhill from there.

Ten stages make up the run, with these stages having around five races in each. Now this is where the run idea starts to falter because these events inside the stages are set with different tasks. Routinely the tasks are objectives that require you to go through certain checkpoints in a mandatory amount of time, overtake a number of other racers over distance, overtake racers over time and lastly beat a rival. When you look at the design layout of the run feature you can see it’s basically a more glorified menu for a career mode in any modern racing game. The concept is then smashed apart since if you don’t complete these tasks you have to reset that race. There is no in-between to passing them, you either overtake everyone in the race or it’s restart time.

What’s funny is when the game was first shown at E3 2011 everyone one was worried or cynical about the inclusion of Quick Time Events (QTEs) in the game. They don’t happen often, and are instead used as a way to transition the player from a lower tier class of car to the next tier up. Normally it involves you crashing your car and having to escape from the cops in a Hollywood cinematic style, while you tap buttons to escape, climb, or punch some police in the face. It’s extremely low on the “what you should be worried about” when it comes to this game.

There are five tiers of cars; this doesn’t mean you have to always drive the same tier car in the run mode. Plotted around certain courses are petrol stations which allow you to swap over to another car in the same tier, just as long as you have some unlocked by competing in the game’s other single player content, Challenge mode. Challenges are split into the same stages as The Run, so you need to beat that stage in the run first before you can attempt the challenges. It’s another thing that makes The Run mode less exciting as you are constantly pulling out to switch between the two modes to gain more cars to use.

Finishing The Run won’t take you that long, there’s a track timer that lets you know your total racing time, which mine was on around the 2 hour 5 minute mark. It’s longer than that because you have to count for the cut-scenes, the QTEs and any retries/respawns you’ll use during the events. The challenges add more things to do, but once you’ve done that then you’re done. There isn’t even a quick race mode for you to simply just have a race; even online mode is locked to certain rules and cars, a huge disappointment.

Handling is such an important factor in any racing game, and with an arcade experience you want it to be simple and responsive. I have no idea if it’s to do with Black Box using the Frostbite 2 engine (the same engine that powers Battlefield 3) but it seems that handling was put on the back burner. Near enough all the cars in this game handle horribly. It doesn’t matter if you pick a car with a handling type “easy” or “expert”, each one feels sluggish and awful to drive with. It’s a one on one fight with you and the game’s car to force it to turn around a corner without slowing down too much. More often than not you’ll use one of the five respawn possibilities you have that will take you back to the last checkpoint in that race, only because you flew off an unexpected corner all due to the stiff controls. It’s frustrating, even more so after the sharp and responsive controls of NFS: Hot Pursuit.

Pair the handling with the dreadful reset mechanic is just damn infuriating at times. Plenty of stints have happened where I would simply have half of my car off the track on a corner. The game would then respawn me back at the checkpoint using up one of my respawn counters. Most of the resets make no sense as it looks like you’d be able to just turn back onto the track and carry on… but no, the game respawns you back at the last checkpoint. Bloody ridiculous.

On a plus note The Run does an excellent job in representing the different locations you visit as you race across America. Track environments have diversity such as driving through the downhill roads of San Francisco, speeding across the straights of Las Vegas and dusting the track through the desert. Scripted sequences are rare, like the race on a snowy mountain track where you have to dodge falling rocks and an avalanche as you have one on one race with a rival. This is cool in the moment of the race, but aren’t as jaw-dropping as the ones featured in games like Motorstorm Apocalypse.

Presentation is a bit of a mixed bag with The Run. Loading can be atrocious at times as it takes a while to load races; even respawns can take up to ten seconds to place you back on the track. Car models are shiny and contain a decent amount of detail, although there doesn’t seem to be any anti-aliasing as the cars have a fair amount of jaggies during a race. One thing that baffles me is the attention to detail in the cut-scenes. In one I was driving a Nissan Skyline GT-R, part of Jack’s head was going through the roof, you could see his short hair and skull popping out at the top. How they missed that is beyond me.

After you’ve experienced The Run you’ll sadly come to the conclusion that it isn’t any good. It’s a great idea compromised by poor design and handling. Excitement sometimes appears but more often than not I found myself worn-out by the experience, lengthy load times and awful respawning problems. I’ve enjoyed most of the past NFS games, but this one is the most disappointing since NFS: Pro Street. It’s really hard to recommend this game at full price, even for fans of the series.

4 out of 10