Blackbox Studios finally makes their long awaited return to the Need For Speed series after a few years hiatus. This studio has brought us some of the best Need For Speed titles in the past such as Hot Pursuit 2, Undercover, and my favorite, Most Wanted (they are also the ones that do the Skate series among others). Ive been eagerly waiting for their next Need For Speed title, as I always seem to enjoy theirs more so than the others like Shift. Now boasting the Frostbite 2 engine (of Battlefield 3 fame), Need For Speed returns with a story driven experience coupled with a long lasting multiplayer.
Its no secret that its a packed gaming holiday this year, and with Need For Speed: The Run, coming out right in the middle of the chaos, its bringing an arcade racing game that also has a story (you know, other than just racing). Youll be speeding at well over 300 km/h (and yes, Im Canadian, so Im going to use kilometers throughout this review), and with Autolog making its return, youll always know how you stand up against your friends racing skills.
The game begins with Jack Rourke in some deep trouble with the mob. Hes in a massive debt to them and hes going to need to pay back what he owes before they kill him. He meets up with his longtime friend Sam who has got an interesting proposition for him; win a race for a cool twenty five million dollars. The catch, its a race across the country, starting in San Francisco and ending in New York against a large amount of other racers who also want the prize money. Sam tells Jack that shell take care of his problem and hell get a ten percent cut of the purse if he wins the race. What I didnt get is why shes only going to give him such a small cut, why hes ok with it, and why hes in so much trouble with the mob in the first place. Unfortunately these questions never get answered, though it is a racing game, maybe Im caring too much.
While the plot has been done before, its interesting enough to keep you motived to keep playing the campaign to finish and youll race in many different areas like Vegas, steep mountain sides, the plains, and more in your journey across the country. Youll need to make a specific ranking by the time you get to each major area to continue on in the race and youll have people trying to stop you along the way. Sadly, theres an opportunity lost here to have some great driving rivalries (like Most Wanted), but instead youll get a quick loading screen when youre about to race a boss enemy, and thats it. Theres a recurring character, Marcus Blackwell, which youll run into a few times, but because theres no interaction with these characters, you simply wont care about anyone but Jack himself.
The Runs campaign will have you racing coast to coast but its done so in small bite sized racing chunks. Youll beat one to ten racers at a time to move up the ranks, make up lost time in checkpoint races, out race rivals, and more across the ten separate stages. Its not as easy as it sounds, as cops arent the biggest fans of street racers. Theyll use their entire backup to try and shut down you and this race. Dont fret though, these arent the cops from the past few Need For Speed titles, as they dont have EMPs, road spikes, and choppers to try and stop you; theyll attempt to take you down the old fashioned way, by slamming you off the road. Aside from the occasional road block put directly in your path, the cops arent really anything to worry about.
A big flaw I found in the campaign is the AI for your competition. It seems they are heavily scripted when it came to certain spots and timing. Almost every time when its the last one kilometer of race, theyll either slow down purposely or hit a wall so that I could almost always pass them. They sometimes also intentionally run into cops and roadblocks when youre supposed to pass them and win. Once you figure this out, theres not always a need to drive like a maniac until the last section of the race (this isnt as true for the Challenge Series, as youll need to drive at your best constantly to win those).
When you crash, and you will many times, the game will rewind to the last checkpoint automatically. The last checkpoint you hit is anyones guess as it could roll you back a few seconds or even a minute or so, sometimes even in an awkward spot or right behind traffic. If you think its the cars fault and not your driving skill, then youre welcome to change your car. That is, if you keep an eye out for a gas station during a race and successfully pull into it without crashing. Thanks right, you have to pull into a gas station to change your car, and its not always possible on every race either. The race pauses as you choose, but why its done in this manner, I dont know, as it feels very clunky and awkward (not even including trying to pull in during a race). You gain access to any rivals car that youve beaten and there are even some amazing signature edition cars that are performance tuned and look completely badass. Unfortunately youre unable to paint and tune your own cars, but theres many to unlock by simply playing, leveling up, completing challenges, beating Autolog recommendations, and winning multiplayer.
Jack will have some setbacks during the race and sometimes hes going to have to get out on foot and get away from the cops. These are done with cheesy quick time events (QTE), though luckily this QTE sections are very few and far between and dont happen that often. There are also regular cutscene, but the frantic sections with lots of actions are usually done when Jack is on foot trying to get away. It does the job of pushing the pacing forward and its infrequent enough to not be bothersome. The biggest downfall of the campaign though, is that youll finish it in one sitting. My complete racing time was roughly two hours. Now keep in mind that was on the road driving and does not include cutscenes, QTEs, and a whole lot of loading screens (which is supposed to be better with a retail disc apparently).
As you finish races youll earn driver experience points. Youll work towards leveling your driver skills and with each level usually comes a bonus of some sorts. Youll notice right away that you dont have any nitro for your cars, thats because you need to unlock it by obtaining level two driver skill. The same goes for other perks like filling nitro by driving in the wrong lane and drafting. Why some of these skills come so late I dont know (I was level 10 when I finish campaign).
Once you complete the short campaign there is a plethora of Challenge Series for you to compete and unlock. These are set courses that are usually timed attacked or sprint races, and youll be earning medals, unlocking more challenges, and trying to beat your friends times via Autolog. Challenges unlock as you progress through campaign, so I suggest finishing that first (it wont take you long anyway) as youll gain access to new challenges like out running cops, 1 vs 1 battles, and more. Im normally not one to spend a lot of time in these types of modes, but with the inclusion of Autolog, I can see me spending multiple tries on specific challenges to simply beat a friends time. Now Autolog will show you in real time, your racing time vs theirs, rather than just their finish time. This makes things a little more hectic and will cause you to drive a little faster and aggressive than you might normally.
Need For Speed wouldnt be the same if you werent able to race directly with your friends and others, so now in multiplayer theres a new playlist and lobby system than I hope other games implement. Instead of sitting in an empty lobby, waiting for people to join before you start a race, you can pick a specific playlist that you want to race in and begin. The game will populate with other players automatically, this taking the fussing around with lobbies and menus between races. You can join a game mid progress, though it puts you at the back of the pack for fairness. The further back in the pack you are, the quicker your boost will refill, almost to the point of being endless, which makes for some insane driving skills needed.
Being touted as using the Frostbite 2 engine, I had very high expectations of what to expect. Sure the cars, wrecks, and environments look fantastic, but the close-ups, interiors, and very low textures (especially in cutscenes) were a letdown. I also didnt really feel like there was much performance difference in the cars either. Regardless of what car you choose, youll have no problems keeping with the Lamborghinis and porches, even though the game tells you that certain car type are suited better for different roads; I didnt find that to be the case at all.
With a driver level and an improved Autolog, The Run is a fun time regardless of the campaigns shortcomings. Challenges and multiplayer is whats going to keep The Run in your Xbox 360 during the holidays and I would suggest a purchase of the game if multiplayer is what you want to invest the majority of your time into, rather than the story.