Run Forest, Run!
Posted 1 year ago By - Rory Young
When one thinks of long-standing franchises, some obvious ones come to mind: Castlevania, Mario Bros., Zelda. Halo is the most recent franchise to enter the Decade club with its anniversary this year. One tends to forget that the Need for Speed series has been around since 1994, when “The Need for Speed” was released for the 3DO. That’s almost 18 years of arcade racing goodness. Publisher Electronic Arts has one of those formulas that has enjoyed sustained success. This year’s Need for Speed: The Run is the sixteenth title in the series. But is Need for Speed still relevant in a saturated racing-game market?
The previous two Need for Speed games ran the spectrum of review rankings: Hot Pursuit, developed by Criterion Games, was so well-received that it won a few awards during E3 2010, including Best Racing Game. It has gone on to sell over 8.5 million copies. Hot Pursuit introduced the Autolog feature to the series, giving racing fans a whole new way of playing online. The next Need for Speed release, Shift 2 Unleashed, added more polish to the racing experience and once again included Autolog, although its critical reception wasn’t quite the same as Hot Pursuit.
With the critical rise of the Need for Speed franchise, beginning with 2010’s Hot Pursuit, EA Black Box had their work cut out for them to continue the ascent with The Run. The premise is simple, and though done before in other games, it is fresh to the series: You’re Jack Rourke, a guy who has gotten in trouble with the mob. His friend Sam, played by Mad Men’s lovely Christina Hendricks, promises that his troubles will disappear if he can win a race from San Francisco, California to New York City. First one there gets $1 million. On the way, drama ensues and the plot is delivered via cutscenes and dialogue, which are largely contrived and contribute very little to the enjoyment of the actual game. The facial animations are sub-par at best. The lip movements rarely match the words coming out of their mouths. EA has also added the much-ballyhooed on-foot sequences, which are set up as quick-time events. I’d go so far to say that the cut-scenes, and moreso the QTE’s, are disruptive to the experience. It’s a positive thing that EA felt the need to progress the series by adding a new single-player element to the franchise, but it falls flat here, and it is difficult to care about the protagonist’s plight.
"It is not the most perfect game in a technical sense, and although the plot does give it a bit of a twist, it’s certainly not enough to hold the attention of regular fans of the franchise."
Despite the flawed non-racing aspect, Need for Speed The Run is still, of course, a racing game, and it really isn’t too bad at its core. The events are varied as you race across the country. Along with racing against others, later events have police involvement in the forms of roadblocks and chases, helicopters, and mafia gunfire. The checkpoint system is somewhat frustrating as well. If you happen to slide off the course, or crash, you return to the previous checkpoint, at the exact time that you crossed it. It’s yet another disruption in the hotly contested races. After playing Hot Pursuit for the past couple of years, it’s hard to get used to a story-based racer with so many interruptions. In fact, I never DID get used to it, and I bolted into the multiplayer during numerous play sessions out of sheer frustration.
As mentioned above, Need for Speed’s Autolog feature has revolutionized, and single-handedly revitalized, the franchise. Starting with 2010’s Hot Pursuit and continuing with NFS Shift 2 Unleashed and Burnout Crash!, Autolog is somewhat of a persistent online leaderboard watchdog. All of your race times are recorded and updated in real time so that your friends can see which events they need to beat you in. Gamers can send Autolog Challenges to each other for each event, photos of crashes and favorite cars, and even trash talk. When Hot Pursuit was the game de rigeur back in 2010, I used to scramble to the Xbox 360 every morning to see if any of my times were beaten the previous day. While the freshness of the Autolog feature kept Hot Pursuit’s online community buzzing, alas, the same cannot be said for The Run. Of the 97 people on my friends list, only one other person had times to beat on The Run’s leaderboards. That same sense of competition just simply wasn’t there.
Even the online multiplayer community was scant. Going online at peak times normally means higher involvement, but not in this case. I found it difficult to get more than four people into an online race at any given time. Just to experiment a little bit, I popped Hot Pursuit in shortly after I finished a race with The Run, and I found more people playing HP than there were for the newer title. I don’t know if that speaks to the continuing popularity of Hot Pursuit, or to the relative non-interest in The Run. Either way, it’s not a good sign. The Need for Speed franchise needs to continue to move forward, but with the Run, it’s hit a wall, and stumbled backwards.
However impossible it may seem, The Run has even taken a step back in the graphics department. The backdrops and the cars themselves look fuzzy around the edges, and the cutscenes aren’t near as crisp as they could be. On my 5.1 surround sound setup, the audio is good, but I felt that there could have been a bit more refinement. Of course, with a game like Need for Speed, looks and sound aren’t everything. The game’s mechanic’s and controls also left a lot to be desired. In particular, the controls that allow you to drift around corners were poorly executed, and not nearly as clean as Hot Pursuit. It bordered on feeling laggy, as if I were playing the single-player portion, online.
The Need for Speed franchise has taken a hit to the jaw with The Run. It is not the most perfect game in a technical sense, and although the plot does give it a bit of a twist, it’s certainly not enough to hold the attention of regular fans of the franchise. More polish could have been given to The Run in all aspects, although the Autolog feature need not be tinkered with. It’s near perfect as it is. A $30 price tag would be justified in this case.
+ Autolog makes things better
- Inactive online community
- Not enough polish
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Release Date : 2011/11/15
System : Xbox 360
Publisher : Electronic Arts
Developer : EA Black Box
Category : Racing
ESRB : T
7.0 / 10
8.5 / 10
8.0 / 10
8.7 / 10