STAFF REVIEW of Need for Speed: The Run (Xbox 360)

Monday, November 14, 2011.
by Adam Dileva

Need for Speed:  The Run Box art 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). I?ve 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.

It?s no secret that it?s a packed gaming holiday this year, and with Need For Speed: The Run, coming out right in the middle of the chaos, it?s bringing an arcade racing game that also has a story (you know, other than just racing). You?ll be speeding at well over 300 km/h (and yes, I?m Canadian, so I?m going to use kilometers throughout this review), and with Autolog making its return, you?ll always know how you stand up against your friends racing skills.

The game begins with Jack Rourke in some deep trouble with the mob. He?s in a massive debt to them and he?s 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, it?s 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 she?ll take care of his problem and he?ll get a ten percent cut of the purse if he wins the race. What I didn?t get is why she?s only going to give him such a small cut, why he?s ok with it, and why he?s in so much trouble with the mob in the first place. Unfortunately these questions never get answered, though it is a racing game, maybe I?m caring too much.

While the plot has been done before, it?s interesting enough to keep you motived to keep playing the campaign to finish and you?ll race in many different areas like Vegas, steep mountain sides, the plains, and more in your journey across the country. You?ll need to make a specific ranking by the time you get to each major area to continue on in the race and you?ll have people trying to stop you along the way. Sadly, there?s an opportunity lost here to have some great driving rivalries (like Most Wanted), but instead you?ll get a quick loading screen when you?re about to race a ?boss? enemy, and that?s it. There?s a recurring character, Marcus Blackwell, which you?ll run into a few times, but because there?s no interaction with these characters, you simply won?t care about anyone but Jack himself.

The Run?s campaign will have you racing coast to coast but it?s done so in small bite sized racing chunks. You?ll 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. It?s not as easy as it sounds, as cops aren?t the biggest fans of street racers. They?ll use their entire backup to try and shut down you and this race. Don?t fret though, these aren?t the cops from the past few Need For Speed titles, as they don?t have EMP?s, road spikes, and choppers to try and stop you; they?ll 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 aren?t 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 it?s the last one kilometer of race, they?ll 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 you?re ?supposed? to pass them and win. Once you figure this out, there?s not always a need to drive like a maniac until the last section of the race (this isn?t as true for the Challenge Series, as you?ll 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 anyone?s 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 it?s the car?s fault and not your driving skill, then you?re 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 it?s not always possible on every race either. The race pauses as you choose, but why it?s done in this manner, I don?t know, as it feels very clunky and awkward (not even including trying to pull in during a race). You gain access to any rival?s car that you?ve beaten and there are even some amazing signature edition cars that are performance tuned and look completely badass. Unfortunately you?re unable to paint and tune your own cars, but there?s 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 he?s 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 don?t 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 it?s infrequent enough to not be bothersome. The biggest downfall of the campaign though, is that you?ll 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, QTE?s, and a whole lot of loading screens (which is supposed to be better with a retail disc apparently).

As you finish races you?ll earn driver experience points. You?ll work towards leveling your driver skills and with each level usually comes a bonus of some sorts. You?ll notice right away that you don?t have any nitro for your cars, that?s 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 don?t 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 you?ll be earning medals, unlocking more challenges, and trying to beat your friend?s times via Autolog. Challenges unlock as you progress through campaign, so I suggest finishing that first (it won?t take you long anyway) as you?ll gain access to new challenges like out running cops, 1 vs 1 battles, and more. I?m 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 friend?s 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 wouldn?t be the same if you weren?t able to race directly with your friends and others, so now in multiplayer there?s 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 didn?t really feel like there was much performance difference in the cars either. Regardless of what car you choose, you?ll 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 didn?t 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 campaign?s shortcomings. Challenges and multiplayer is what?s 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.

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.0 / 10


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