Review: Need for Speed: The Run (PS3)

Need for Speed: The Run Review

Title: Need for Speed: The Run
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PlayStation Network Download (9.2 GB)
Release Date: November 15, 2011 (US) / November 17, 2011 (AU) / November 18, 2011 (EU) / December 8, 2011 (JP)
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Black Box
Original MSRP: $39.99 (Blu-ray Disc) / $29.99 (PSN)
ESRB Rating: T
Need For Speed: The Run is also available on Xbox 360, Wii, PC and Nintendo 3DS.
The PlayStation 3 version was used for this review.

Over the past few years, the Need for Speed name has slowly been reinventing itself, rising from the ashes after a string of lackluster hits in the mid 2000s. In order to revitalize the franchise, EA decided to outsource some of its Need for Speed games to other in-house developers, such as Criterion Games and Slightly Mad Studios. Now the original developer, EA Black Box, is back after releasing the somewhat disappointing Need for Speed: Undercover. Though not as polished and refined as Hot Pursuit or Shift 2: Unleashed, The Run is a solid entry in this long standing racing franchise.

Gameplay:
The premise of The Run is simple: race from San Francisco to New York as quickly as possible. Along the way, you’ll be racing in checkpoint time trials, overcome multiple rivals in heated races, and battle against some of your biggest rivals in special battle events. The event types and the races are pretty standard fare for most racing games, but it’s the constant reminder of how far away you are from New York and your current place that makes it much more intense. One of the best things that EA Black Box decided to do was to implement the Autolog features seen in both Shift 2 and Hot Pursuit, and it’s the best implementation of the feature yet. Rather than just popping up at the end of races, Autolog updates in real time in the top right corner. It lets you know your current racing stats against your friends, so you can tell whether they’re setting a faster pace than you or not.

Other than the main campaign, The Run also gives players numerous challenges that take place in many of the same locales as the races in the single players. This is called the Challenge Series. These challenges are smaller one-off events that have you competing for one of four medals, and the better you do, the more cars and profile options that you unlock for yourself.

One of the strange quirks of The Run is the way that the player changes cars. Rather than choose from a menu before the start of each race, you have to drive into a gas station in the middle of a race and choose which ride you want to swap out. Though I can see how this is supposed to create a more “authentic” racing experience, it really makes the game more frustrating. Many times, I picked a car that actually hurt my performance in the next few events, just because it wasn’t designed for drifting.

One of the more questionable decisions in The Run is the inclusion of the quick time sequences. Though these portions make up a minute part of the overall experience, they still seem like they don’t belong in this game. It feels like Black Box tried to throw in a few extra gimmicks to draw in crowds from other genres. Even though they don’t take away from the overall fun of the game, they will make you scratch your head and question why they’re even here in the first place.

It seems like every game that comes to market today has to have some sort of RPG element, and The Run is no exception. Everything that you do in the races rewards you with some sort of experience. Pass a racer while bumping into him; get a little XP, pass him cleanly; get a little more XP. Drift around a corner, get XP. After every race, your XP is tallied, and as you level up, you gain new cars, new car powers, new profile icons, and new profile backgrounds. Some of these rewards are obviously more functional than others, with improved Nitrous and XP boost rewards ranking at the top of the list. The leveling up system is a nice little touch to entice players to keep racing, and it definitely feels rewarding, though it doesn’t hand out rewards every five seconds like some first person shooters do.

Another feature that is present in The Run is a rewind feature. Though it’s been popping up in other racing games that have come out recently, this is the first chance that I’ve been able to use it. Unlike other games with rewind mechanics, you can’t rewind to anywhere you want. When you choose to rewind, you’re sent back to a specific checkpoint, and you must continue from there. Depending on the difficulty and event type, you’re given a specific amount of rewinds that you can use. If you crash or fail to complete an objective, the game automatically uses a rewind to put you back to the previous checkpoint. If you don’t use all of your rewinds, you’re given an XP bonus at the end of your run, adding a perfect risk/reward element to the rewinds.

Visuals:
Powered by the Frostbite 2 engine, the same engine powering Battlefield 3, The Run is a looker. Sunsets and skyboxes are literally breathtaking, and the settings and scenery truly make you feel like you’re riding across the United States. San Francisco looks really accurate, though I haven’t been there myself. The mountains and sweeping planes throughout the game truly draw you in. The Frostbite 2 engine also allows for destructible environments. Almost any gate, light pole, tree, and fence can be driven through, and it’s the little touches like this that make this game feel so much more real.

One of the downsides of the Frostbite 2 engine also rears its ugly head here: the textures. From far away, textures and objects look stunning, but upon closer inspection, textures can range from somewhat blurry to downright ugly. It’s the small inconsistencies like this that keep the Need for Speed games from being on the same graphical plateau as the Gran Turismo and Forza series. All said, this game is still a beauty to behold, even if other games have better modeled cars and better textures.

Speaking of cars, The Run has a menagerie of different car licenses and models, including Chevrolet, Porsche, Bugatti, and much more (though Ferrari still remains absent due to contract negotiations). Many of these cars look extremely close to their real life counterparts, though they don’t even hold a candle to the models in Gran Turismo or Forza. This is an arcade racing game, and the gameplay and engine performance has certainly been prioritized over the fine details of each of the cars.

One thing that is disappointing about Need for Speed is the sense of speed. Though not as realistic and simulation-like as Gran Turismo, the sense of speed leaves something to be desired after playing games like Shift 2: Unleashed and Hot Pursuit. The colors and depth of field don’t shift anywhere near as dramatically as in Shift 2, and it does make you lust after that helmet cam introduced in Shift 2. Without the shifting and head turning from Shift 2, the player feels like they’re controlling the car rather than a driver driving a car.

Audio:
The audio in this game is pretty average for a racing game. The soundtrack includes all the usual tropes: alternative rock, mild techno, and some upbeat pop music. The story sections probably contain the best and worst of the audio in The Run: the orchestration and the voice-overs. Though not intruding and overtly obvious, the subtle orchestration in the cut scenes adds to the overall tension and feeling that this story is ripped straight out of a Hollywood film. The voices, on the other hand, leave a lot to be desired. While not bad, the voices don’t draw you in and connect you to the characters. That seems to be an overall theme with The Run. Though the story gives context and motivation to race from San Francisco to New York, it does little in actually making you care about the characters. You’ll find yourself more often than not wishing you could just skip the cut scenes and get to the racing.

Online/Multiplayer:
As stated earlier, the real draw to me with the Need for Speed games is the Autolog feature. It allows you to instantly compare and contrast you best event times with any of your friends. It’s as simple as pushing the select button. Autolog not only allows you to compare your times across the campaign, but it also allows you to compare times across any of the timed challenges in the single player challenge areas. It also creates a mini Facebook experience, with photo sharing options, a wall where you can comment and leave messages, and recommendations. The recommendations keep me coming back, and give me the motivation to replay events that I’ve already beaten, just for a better time and more experience.

Other than Autolog, The Run has a very polarizing online component. Online is broken up into three sections: quick match, playlist, and groups. The first is self explanatory: quick match puts you in the first available online match. Playlist mode allows you to join a playlist of 3-5 races. Within the playlist, you are given certain objectives to achieve in order to get more experience and unlock new playlists. These objectives aren’t necessarily come in first, but there is enough variety and skill distribution to not alienate anyone. Group playlists are similar to playlists, but it throws you in a playlist with your friends where you are cooperatively working together to achieve communal goals. These modes are pretty great to play online, and it ensures that no online experience is ever the same.

On the flip side of the coin, The Run has no customizability when it comes to online. You can’t choose which specific tracks, cars, and powers can or cannot be used in online. You actually have no control over what happens anywhere. The playlists are pre-determined for you, and you have to operate within the confines of the set up that they have. For many racing enthusiasts like myself, it’s a disappointment to see that I can’t set up custom matches with my friends, and it does leave a sour taste to the overall online experience.

Conclusion:
Need for Speed: The Run is a game that’s three years in the making, and in some places it shows. Skyboxes and environments are breathtaking, controls are tight and responsive, and the online connectivity is integrated and always there. In some places, it really lacks in polish: whole textures and models randomly go missing in cut scenes, textures look blurry up close, and online lacks any sort of custom matchmaking. The Run feels like a game that comes so close to nailing it, but it is ultimately held back by some annoying aspects that take away from the overall value. Even though it’s not perfect, it’s still an awesome racing game, and if you loved Hot Pursuit or Shift 2: Unleashed, you’ll love this, even if it’s not as much.

Score:
7.5

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Written by Eric R. Miller

A 21 year old multimedia student who lives, eats, and breathes everything Playstation. Follow me on Google

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  • Great review! Very detailed. May have to give this game a shot!

  • what she said hehe, great review really especially your first on here:) cant wait for many more especially your Disgaea 3 keep up the great work

  • Awesome review! I usually hate reading but I read yours to the end. You can call EA, I bought the game because of your review.

  • I’m halfway through playing this at the moment – pretty enjoyable but the load times are a killer. Even to retry an event you’ve only just failed feels like it takes forever. Anyone else experience this or is it just me?