Need for Speed: The Run Review

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Posted on November 21, 2011, Phil Owen Need for Speed: The Run Review

Need for Speed: The Run
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on Xbox 360
Developer: EA Black Box
Publisher: EA
Release date: November 15, 2011
MSRP: $59.99 (consoles), $49.99 (PC)

Need for Speed: The Run has a good concept. It’s a traditional racing game, with perfectly linear tracks, but it has a story. That’s a rare thing, because pretty much any other non-open world racer will give you only context-free racing. And that’s fine, but it’s nice to have a racer with ambition.

It’s a nice idea, anyway. In execution, The Run’s story is barely there, and it’s merely an excuse to put you in races set all over the United States. Again, though, I feel like that’s probably fine. It certainly works as a travelogue, if nothing else.

The Run tells the story of a guy named Jack Rourke, who is on the the run, literally, from the mob, to whom he owes some large sum of money. Enter Sam, a woman with money, who wants to help Jack out by putting him in a cross-country race called The Run. Jack thinks this is a good idea, and so he jumps in eagerly.

I say the story is barely there, and that’s certainly true. There are like four or five cutscenes, total, in the game, and each of these lasts about maybe thirty seconds. And they aren’t all important to the story. One, for example, shows Jack getting gas and looking at a hot girl. Another has Jack walk down the street and look at some cars.

EA made a big deal about Christina Hendricks voicing Sam and Sean Faris voicing Jack, but their presence doesn’t really add much; they were probably in the studio recording their lines for an hour at most.

In addition to the regular cutscenes are some interactive ones that basically work like Heavy Rain action sequences. Things happen, and you must press a button when prompted in order to make Jack not die or get beat up by a cop. In Heavy Rain, there were stakes to these quick time events; screw up, and you have to live with the consequences. In The Run, however, screwing up means you have to go back to the checkpoint and try again. It has to work that way because this is an utterly undynamic and linear game, but it still seems pointless.

But those scenes aren’t really a big deal, as there are only three of them. What is a big deal is the racing, of which there is plenty.

The Run is broken up into four types of races. The most common is a normal race, in which you must overtake some set number of cars in order to improve your standing in The Run. There’s no room for error here, again, as the game is linear; you have to move up in the pack at the game’s pace. So if you don’t beat everyone in a given race, you must try again.

The second type of race is called “make up time.” These are basically time trials; you must drive through a few checkpoints before your timer runs out, and getting to a checkpoint will extend your timer. These races are pretty easy, by and large. You just have to watch out for traffic.

The third type of race is called battle. In these you’ll take on a few racers, but you only race them one at a time. You have a timer, and you must be ahead of your opponent when the timer runs out. This is a twist on the elimination-style races.

The fourth type of race is called a rival race. Here you take on one or a couple story characters. The loading screen will tell you about the person or persons you’re racing against, and you must beat them to the end of the area. These are basically regular races, but with fewer opponents.

While these races are happening, often you’ll also have to deal with police interceptors trying to shut you and the other racers down. This is a nice touch, and roadblocks add an element of challenge to the proceedings. It’s definitely better for having police intervention, even though the police don’t do anything more elaborate than ram or roadblock you. Hot Pursuit it ain’t. Too, the mob guys after Jack will occasionally show up, and sometimes they have a helicopter with them. This, too, is a nice addition.

As I said previously, the game works nicely as a travelogue. You’ll cover all sorts of ground in The Run, and it’s almost all cool to look at. The highlight is the Rocky Mountains, where you’ll have to drive through an area where folks are blasting rocks and knocking debris into the road. This is the only place something like that happens, and that gives us a window into what The Run is really missing: more scripted sequences.

In a linear, story-based racer like this, you need to shake things up with scripted sequences to make the whole thing feel bigger than just a normal racer. But aside from that one occasion, it never happens. It’s a shame.

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