Driving cross country in America is an experience many dream to undertake but few will ever attempt. Driving cross country while avoiding the mafia and cops, and racing against hundreds of other competitors for a large chunk of change is something no one will ever experience, except in a movie or in a videogame. Enter Need for Speed: The Run, Black Box's latest adrenaline-inspired offering in the longstanding Need for Speed franchise. With a small fleet of developers taking the wheel of development, Black Box has taken the latest entry in more narrative-driven direction, but this high stakes cross country trek is, without a doubt, at best played strictly for the action on the road.
The Run follows the story of Jack Rourke, some superstar driver who accepts the challenge of racing from San Francisco to New York City for the promise of his fair share of coin. Outside of the intro and initial escape from San Francisco, the story is only occasionally held together through cutscenes with odd quick time events, and story-inspired races. The poor plot and the general lack of attention paid to its development is a disappointment, but it does set the stage for one of the game's strengths - the environments.
Since this is a cross country race, you'll drive through recognizable locations like Yosemite National Park, Las Vegas, even the New Jersey Turnpike. These stages offer great diversity and generally beautiful backdrops for the white-knuckle speeds to unfold, and it's this diversity and desire to see the next area of America that helps push you from race to race. But it's not just the beautiful rolling mountains or forests that make The Run so attractive, but it's also the environmental hazards like avalanches, downpours, and approaching storms that takes the typical post-grad school cross country joyride to a two hour all-out-thrash through the U.S.
The stages are broken up into different types of races. Since the game is an all out race to arrive at NYC first, just about each level asks you to overtake positions or makeup lost time The story starts to fall apart from the moment you escape San Francisco. Without spoiling anything, and really there isn't much to spoil, you'll face rivals and undertake some battle races. This is all fine, but the rival races never truly develop, and all you really get to see of each is a basic cutscene and a couple sentences explaining their story. It's a bit lazy.
Police play a fairly important role in The Run, but they never offer a truly difficult obstacle. While they'll try to ram you or set up barricades, they generally leave your fellow competitors alone, which just looks odd. You have access to their radio, so you can always tell when they are setting up road blocks, and all it takes is a simple tap of the nitrous to get around them.
There is a great variety of vehicles in The Run, but outside the sheer joy of gawking at pretty cars, The Run takes an awkward approach to picking your vehicle. There are some situations following cutscenes where you'll need to pick a new car, but between these limited sections you'll have to look for gas stations (for some reason) to swap your ride. The problem is they are not on every race, and as any good racing game, different situations often call for different vehicles.
The good news is the cars drive quite well and definitely according to their category. Black Box made some truly exhilarating levels, and there is good old fashioned fun to be found here. Whether you are driving on wide open highways at 200 mph, screaming around corners on tight dirt roads, or deftly avoiding traffic in city streets, The Run definitely nails the diverse driving experience. There are some races, however, that just don't make sense. For example, when you have to strictly avoid cops, or strictly avoid bullets from the mafia, these simply fall short. Luckily they are few. But there's no simple way to back track in your progress. Instead, you have to play through the stage again.
At its core, The Run is a solid racing game, but Black Box made some odd decisions that keep this from being a great racing game. For example, the rewind system, which allows you to backtrack to the last checkpoint, doesn't work very well. It takes quite a while to actually rewind the game, and when you add this to the long load times, there is an awful lot of time spent waiting to play The Run. The system mostly works well when you crash, but if you happen to drive off the course a bit in the wrong area, the game punishes by sending you first to that long load screen and then back to the last checkpoint. In addition, it sets you up at the exact spot you crossed the checkpoint line, meaning if you happened to cross that line from the dirt, well, let's just say good luck at not crashing.
One of the game's biggest flaws is its most touted feature, the quick-time events. Games like God of War used QTEs well, largely because it was completely natural, but to take a break from racing to tap your buttons just doesn't work, luckily you don't have to do it all that often.
The competitive and online component is solid. Autolog returns and allows you to track your progress against your friends. This works well, but don't expect to really compete for times after you finish the game as there isn't an easy way to pick single races. There are additional challenges you'll unlock throughout the game via experience points, so you will have something to keep you busy after the short two to three hour campaign (that's strictly driving time, not including cutscenes and load times). Online puts you in different playlists. You'll earn points depending on your placement and racing against human opponents is always far superior to the mediocre A.I. While it's asking a lot, a game that puts you in a cross country race would have done well with a big open driving world, but that's just not here.
Need for Speed: The Run tries very hard to be a story-driven racing game, but the function of telling the story is where the game falls apart. There is a solid racing game here, and if you can look past the flaws, you can certainly enjoy the cross country race. It's a bit of a disappointment that the story components got in the way of an otherwise decent game.
-The Final Word-
Need for Speed: The Run takes players on a cross country competition for the promise of rich rewards, but ultimately the function of delivering the narrative hinders an otherwise decent driving game.
|Platforms reviewed : PlayStation 3|