PlayStation Universe

E3 2011: Need for Speed: The Run Hands-on Preview

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on 13 June 2011

The last thing a good racing franchise needs is out-of-car quicktime events to weave together some loose narrative. That was my initial reaction when I saw a video demonstration of EA’s Need for Speed: The Run, and after some hands-on time with the game during E3, I’m still not completely convinced replacing standard scripted cutscenes with QTEs is a great idea. Despite that uncertainty, I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the actual racing aspects of the game can be, but at this point it’s unclear if the game is a traditional racer or an action-racer.

In development by Black Box, the game is something of a thrill ride as opposed to a joy ride. You play as Jack and are escaping the mob and police for reasons the development team did not divulge. The game takes you from San Francisco to New York City, with stops along the way at cities like Chicago, where the hands-on demo takes place. Running on the Frostbite 2 engine, the game looks stunning, sharp, and extremely detailed. At this point in the Need for Speed franchise, we wouldn’t expect anything less. It should be noted that Autolog returns in The Run, so when the game is released you will again compete to top the leaderboards.

The demo is a full mix of racing, QTEs, and action sequences that have you escaping a massive attack from a helicopter as you attempt to escape the city streets of Chicago. Right at the beginning your car is struck by a black sedan, which turns out to be the mob, and you must run into a new car. This sets the tone for the rest of the demo, and likely the entire game. I pressed the correct buttons to jump into a new car, and by the end of the game I was pushing the buttons as prompted to get out of a car that was in the way of a large freight train. Had I not pressed the right buttons, I can only assume Jack would die.

This idea that players would rather interact with their cutscenes is interesting. Don’t expect a more open world game where you’ll hop out of cars and find a faster ride like you would in Grand Theft Auto. The Run is very scripted and only requires you to press the right buttons to progress through the story, at least, that’s the impression I got from the demo.

The actual racing elements are top notch. If you look past all the explosions and action segments, you’ll notice there is a clock ticking away. It’s easy to forget that this is actually a racing game, so when you are behind the wheel, take advantage of your knowledge of past Need for Speed games and try to beat out your friends via Autolog. Yes, the action in The Run can be distracting, but I left the short demo encouraged at the potential for a new way to compete in a racer. The controls felt tight enough to manage the different vehicles, and the action was explosive enough to keep me excited to see what will happen next. I’m still not convinced that it’s a great idea to incorporate QTEs in a racer to tell a story, but perhaps the full game will fill out some of the less than smooth segments.