Need for Speed: The Run review

The Need for Speed series has been kicking around in various guises since the last millennium. Now pretty much an annual affair, coming up with original approaches must be an increasingly challenging business. However, this time round some bright spark has pitched the idea of a race from San Francisco to New York, and it somehow made it from beer mat to shop shelf.  

Thankfully you don’t have to do the entire 3000 odd miles in one sitting, and furthermore we couldn’t swear that the roads are replicated from GPS data. Instead what you get is bite-sized, challenge-based sections in which you gradually plough your way through the field of 250 cars.

Those challenges comprise such tasks as overtaking ten cars, beating off a specific rival, or simply arcade-­style extended time checkpoint affairs.

Mob Rule

Obviously you can’t just have a race for the sake of it, and there is an obligatory back story to justify this extravagant escapade. You slip into the driving gloves of a bloke called Jack who has found himself in a touch of bother with the mob. It would appear to be serious bother, given that you begin the game cuffed to the wheel of your car, which is being gently squeezed in a crusher. It’s a scenario that offers the first taste of the game’s preposterous QuickTime Events, whereby you batter a designated button in order to make a scripted event happen.

So assuming you want to continue the game, press A to slip the cuffs, B to smash the windscreen and X to run for your life. These so-called Hollywood sections pop up intermittently, and further adventures see you pressing Y to kick a cop in the throat, and X to roll out of the way of a juggernaut. (Actual buttons may differ, we’re not going back to check). Anyway, the upshot is that some sassy woman buys you into the race in return for 10% of the $25m first prize, and promises to clear your name with the mob. The Sopranos, it ain’t.

Police On My Back

As for the all-important driving, it’s an oddly leaden affair. Ironically given the name of the game, it could sometimes do with a little more pace. Subtlety is a foreign country, and it largely involves going flat out on the straights, skidding into the bends, and using a burst of nitrous on the exit.

And despite being a pioneer of the driving genre, Need for Speed is not afraid to pay homage to ideas from newer franchises; the Reset concept lets you try a bit again and is a direct steal from GRID’s rewind feature, whereas the Takedowns bear a freak resemblance to those of Burnout.

It’s not just other irresponsible racers you have to worry about, as the roads are littered with normal drivers going about their business, otherwise known as death traps. They certainly add to the peril and you do get the odd “movie moment” where you come face to face with a truck before swerving at the last second. Naturally a 250-car race across America is going to attract the attention of the authorities, and the police are all over you like a soup sandwich, attempting to barge you off the road as well as building pesky roadblocks.

Are You Xperienced?

While it can be moderately entertaining in short bursts, it’s all fairly repetitive given that between the west coast and east coast of America there is a whole lot of nothing. The scenery looks nice enough, but at 140mph Yosemite Park might as well be Hyde Park for all the difference it makes.

By way of diversity there is some inner city racing, and San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York all look vaguely recognisable. We’ve never been to Chicago so couldn’t possibly say, although we’ve just flicked over to Kojak, and it looks similar.

As well as the core goal of winning the race, you are bombarded with XP that allegedly opens up new features. It appears to be illegal to release a game without constant XP upgrades, and The Run throws it at you for the most spurious of achievements. Overtake someone cleanly – have some XP. Overtake someone dirtily – have some XP. Spot a dog with a puffy tail – have some XP, all spattered on the screen in lurid EasyJet orange font.

It’s a trait that continues in the online mode, which is its own world of moribund. In the rural races there is generally a pile-up on the start line, which is the last time you’ll see another car. As for the city races, they’re not so much races as a series of car crashes in which somebody is awarded victory.

Verdict

While The Run is not the worst driving game ever made, it’s some distance from the best, and there is a feeling that they simply phoned it in. The handling is dull, the scenery is repetitive, the music is an indistinguishable generic rock squall, and the out-of-car ‘Hollywood’ sections are risible.

Compared to a genre leader such as Forza 4, it comes across as a tawdry arcade fare. In its favour, there is no mention of the word camshaft.