1st January 2005
I've been playing this the last couple days, there are some pros and cons I'll go through contained within a rather extensive categorized review. I've not completed it quite yet. I've progressed to Chicago so far, with all Challenge Series races up to that point completed as well.
Controls I'm playing on mere KB, and while it is challenging, it's also forgiving. The reaction is pretty responsive, yet not overly twitchy. On KB it utilizes the hold to arc a turn method vs radily tapping keys. In the past I've had issues with the hold to arc method usually being too slow to react, but here it seems perfect. Best hold to arc controls in a race game I've seen yet. The steering is FAR more responsive than in their last title Hot Pursuit (2010), where the steering lag often got quite frustrating, even on a fast response device like a wired KB. It's very arcade though, so like in HP, there's no advanced controls for steering saturation, dead zone, etc.
Handling Handling wise, again, the game is both challenging and forgiving. The handling characteristics of cars range from Easy to Very Difficult. Those with Easy and Normal ratings are quite easy to drive, even on KB. One of the oddest quirks I've found handling wise so far has as much to do with road conditions as car selection. The wet roads actually seem to be more slick than the snowy/icy ones. Pick a car like the 370Z on the mountain passes of Colorado, and it's as if you're on dry pavement, even in hairpins. Wet roads take some finessing to drift and/or arc a turn though.
The Run does not automatically counter steer for you when drifting, so unlike Hot Pursuit, you can't just hit Handbrake at the right time, and slam a turn with speed. Hairpins will require the right amount of Handbrake, and tight bends the right amount of counter steering. Without finesse in counter steering you'll fishtail. Gradual, fast bends can be taken fairly easily, even on KB, by just holding down the key to arc a turn and going full throttle. Acceleration out of tight turns is difficult on KB, as you need to be fairly straight or the rear end will slide. This of course is mostly a concern with the Challenging to Very Difficult rated cars.
AI The AI in this game is rubber banded, although not as badly so as in some arcade racers. You CAN use shortcuts and traffic to your advantage to jump ahead or push the competition into oncoming traffic, but due to the rubber banding and reset feature (which I'll discuss later on), you have to press your speed even when in the lead a fair ways. The rubber banding also goes in reverse though. The opponents aren't all that good at avoiding traffic when they're a ways ahead, they don't seem to drive as fast or even dodge traffic as well as when they're focusing just on the player. The AI in the Challenge Series can at times be harder to beat than in The Run stages, but that can also be due to the cars (which I'll explain later). The AI are not that good at taking turns, even mild S turns, at least on lower difficulty levels anyway. Turns or places where the AI slow down to dodge traffic offer good opportunities to catch up and pass.
Gameplay Gameplay is very flowing for a race game. You don't have to spend a lot of time wading through menus, esp if you just want to keep racing stages of The Run. Loadscreen times could be better, but I've not a very fast HDD. The game always starts you well behind the rest of the racers at the beginning of a race, both in The Run and Challenge Series. There are races which involve passing X amount of opponents on stages of The Run, or getting first place in Challenge Series events. There's races where you have X amount of time to catch an opponent, then X amount of time you need to stay ahead before going on to the next opponent. The stay ahead clock does not reset if you lose your lead, nor do you fail the race if you do. You only need to be ahead by the time it expires, and once it does, the opponent you defeated is gone from the stage and/or race. There's usually no more than 4 opponents in these types of races. There's checkpoint races where you just make up time lost on other rivals in the cross country race. These are like typical checkpoint races where it's just you against the clock. You have X amount of time to get to the next checkpoint, and bonus time is added for the next one according to how well you do. There's one on one races, often involving lots of switchbacks using exotic cars.
The Challenge Series has the same type races as The Run, except it also has a few night races, rally and/or country road races, and a few where you have no choice but to drive a car that's hard to handle. Some of these can be fairly difficult at first to win. In Challenge Series races you HAVE to finish first, but they also award X amount of XP points for the time you finish in via a medal system ranging from Bronze to Platinum.
Both The Run and Challenge Series races can involve cops. The cops aren't all too difficult to deal with, even though they focus mostly on the player. They can easily be bumped off road or wrecked into traffic or structures, and they're not the greatest at driving. The Challenge Series races that involve cops are easy because they allot quite a bit of time and resets should you need them. It's not too hard to get Gold or Platinum on them.
Despite being about a race with a $25 million purse, there is no monetary system in The Run. Everything is done via XP points. The XP system unlocks cars and upgrades. Both clean and dirty passes of opponents will award you points, but clean much more so. You also get points for jumps, drifts and drafting. Points can also be awarded for cop takedowns or pushing rivals off the road or into traffic. To keep within the race for your life fast flowing theme of the game, cars can be swapped by pulling up to a gas station during a race, vs only via the menu. While this seems contrived at first, it can benefit in some ways. It gives you a chance to change cars as road conditions change and/or without having to exit a race, and can act like a pit stop to get a fresh car if yours is damaged, though the damage seems only cosmetic. It also keeps the race more dynamic, as you can at times lose the position you had by stopping at stations, even though it pauses the race.
The game has a reset system. This is not the typical boom and you're reset method of getting you back in the action either, there's an annoying countdown timer that ticks anywhere from 3 to several seconds while you stare at a mock up of a rewind button. There are a set number of resets allowed per event. The car will be reset automatically in the event of a wreck, going off course, not reaching a checkpoint within time, or passing/staying ahead of an opponent within the allotted time. You can also manually reset if you spin out, miss a shortcut, etc. Resets always reset you to the last checkpoint you crossed, and they're rather conveniently placed, like before major shortcuts or difficult road sections.
Cars, Upgrades & Customizing There are 120 licensed cars in The Run ranging from classics to economy to muscle to exotic. I found it rather frustrating that none of the exotics offer anything better than Challenging handling, despite many in real life having very good handling. The best cars with no worse than Normal handling I've seen so far are the Mits Evo Lancer, BMW M3, and Nissan GTR, and 370Z, the latter being ridiculously grippy on snow and ice. I was literally making turns you'd expect to be accompanied by the screech of rubber on dry pavement. Sorry EA, but you shouldn't be able to powerslide ANY of these cars at speed on snow and ice.
Upgrades (more like upgrade in the singular tense) are minimal. Performance wise it's mainly nitro, size of nitro tank, and duration of it's use. Visually you also get paint and a few preset body kits for tuning options, that's it.
Presentation Here The Run delivers in some ways, but feels very contrived and cheesy in others. There are a few QT on foot segments that really fail to bring trepidation or even drama to the story. Instead they have you focusing more on the sequence of button mashing required, than any cinematic fluff in the cutscenes. That said, the cutscenes are very high res and do add a sense of realism. There's also not a huge amount of them to interrupt the flow. There are also some cinematic moments during races, like outrunning avalanches triggered by the local highway maintence crews of Colorado, and lightning storms in the Midwest. The latter sadly involves no dodging of lightning struck telephone poles or tornadoes though. The lightning storms are mostly for looks, though there is one race stage I've encountered where the combination of the near dusk sky combined with the flash of lightning added a bit more challenge to the visual aspects of driving at speed. There are also some desert races that involve sand storms making it harder to see. None of these storms are anywhere NEAR as severe as those in FUEL though, which has some that make it extremely hard to see. There's also no real blizzard conditions in the snow stages, just light snowfall at most. For a game that seems to highlight it's story mode as if the main draw, it's very short in duration and weak on content both in and out of the story. If you don't do the Challenge Series I could see some players breezing through it in a few hours or less of actual race time.
Graphics As you'd expect, running off DICE's new Frostbite 2 engine, the graphics are pretty good. Maybe not quite as good as I'd hoped though, especially distant terrain and foliage. So far that of DiRT 3 seems better. You DO however get pretty good sight of oncoming cars due to Frostbite 2's bright HID headlights though. The sunlight and it's reflection off the road is also nicely done. Advanced graphics options are a bit disappointing though. Unlike BF3, there's no AA option.
Audio Audio is fairly good in everything from cars, to terrain to weather to voices, but the music I didn't care for and sounds tinny, as if playing through really crappy car speakers.
Story The story is certainly nothing to write home about and not very well told. You're thrust right into it at the beginning with little to no explanation of the events leading up to it. There's not much point to the mob continually going to the effort and expense of trying to take you out, when you're clearly producing good results throughout the race. It would make far more sense were they to wait and see if you win, or even try and HELP you win, then either take the $25 million from you or kill you at the end of the race. There are points along the story where via menu screens they introduce you silently via text to new opponents that have, like you, some desperate reason for needing to win. They never have any dialog or tangible involvement in the story other than to crash into you or exchange glances at a gas station via a race intro cutscene. Once the race starts you have no sense that they're any different from any of the other AI.
Performance & Bugs Performance wise the game runs pretty well. There is said to be a 30 FPS cap, but I've yet to check the actual frame rates I'm getting. I never notice any lag or stutter though, and I'm using the same settings I do on BF3. There are some problems with controls remapping to the defaults and crashing that many have experienced, mostly controls reverting to defaults. I've had a few crashes, but LOTS of control reverting. I also can't exit the Challenge Series screen via the [Esc]Back key after I've entered a CS event. My work around is to do all the events in a given Challenge Series, then Quit to Menu when the option comes up after an event, then go back to The Run until I complete another stage, which unlocks another Challenge Series.
Summary This game is a mixed bag. While it's better in ways than Criterion's Hot Pursuit (2010), it's also a bit overly scripted, cheesy, and buggy. The handling model is also better in some ways, but worse in others. That makes this one hard to rate, esp since I've not quite finished yet. The offline play is fairly short on content, so most of the replay value sp wise will be in going through the various difficulty levels and/or trying to improve your results. Since the pros and cons are such a mixed bag and can vary depending on what you prioritize, I will just say that I'll range it anywhere from 7.5/10 to 8.5/10.