Need for Speed: The Run is something of a make-or-break game for EA Black Box, the sole developer on the Need for Speed franchise for seven years. After the Criterion-made Hot Pursuit stormed the charts last year, does Black Box have what it takes to embrace the “reboot” of the series they helped originally build for so long?
Infamously, the game will have QTE sections when the driver gets out of his car and runs somewhere. In previous trailers and demos it’s been ‘away from the fuzz,’ before climbing into a vehicle and screaming off. We covered this in a preview at E3, so today we’re not going to talk about this somewhat controversial addition. Instead, we are going to cover the country side races that make up the content between the major cities.
EA Black Box has decided to take the basics of the racing from Hot Pursuit and implant them into its own game. While there are no weapons (or at least none announced as of yet), you have the same Burnout inspired boost mechanic. This entails driving on the wrong side of the road, barely missing oncoming traffic, and drifting so hard you can see dinosaurs. All of these charge up your nitrous meter, allowing you to accelerate to top speed faster than just keeping the pedal to the floor.
In these races you usually have a target number of cars to pass. For example, in one of the Nevada desert stages, you start at 168 and have to finish the course at 158. It’s a somewhat misleading objective, as on the track there are only 11 racers, including you. This means you’re not able to overshoot your target to make it easier for yourself on the next track, and neither can you drop places from the start. While there are certain design choices at work here that will overall allow for a more coherent and focused story, it really does seem to stand out.
What also seems to stand out is the changes Black Box has made to the car handling. While it’s now running on a different engine (DICE’s much lauded Frostbite 2 engine to be exact), it’s no excuse to make the drifting feel unreliable and cumbersome. Tapping the handbrake is the only way to properly drift around corners now, and negates the difference between tapping the brake to majestically glide around a sweeping curve and using the handbrake to make a quick emergency turn on tight corners that Hot Pursuit had.
Of course, using the Frostbite 2 engine allows the game to look fantastic in motion. Playing on the Avalanche map shown at Gamescom as the mountains are blasted all around you is tense and exciting, forcing you to pay attention to what’s going as you drive around the track while jostling for position with a rival.
Taking parts of the winning formula from Hot Pursuit is definitely a smart move by EA Black Box. However, with the meddling in the controls and the aforementioned on foot sections, it’s difficult to see this topping last year’s entry.
Here’s hoping they prove us wrong.