The Need for Speed franchise has been a staple of the racing genre for many years. Recently, EA has tried a variety of formulas with their yearly installments of the game. From open worlds to more realistic simulations, they’ve tried it all… except this. The Run is very novel as the races are exclusively point to point. It has all the makings of a big budget action movie but ultimately falls short on execution. Here’s why.
The connection between the back-story and the racing is pretty vague in The Run. The connections between people in the story are never explained, and I think at least a little of that would have made the races more satisfying.
As has become the norm in racing games, The Run has a ‘rewind’ feature of sorts. If you crash or get too far off the road, the game kicks you back to the last ‘checkpoint’ in the race. The catch is that you have a limited number of rewinds to use in a race. Use them all up, and you’ll have to restart the stage (not just the race). Your driver also gets experience points from each race that will level up your driver. This sounds great, but is less than successful in practice. For example, up to level 7, you’re unable to draft behind other vehicles. Interesting. Another level allows you to refill your nitrous by driving dangerously. It’s a good idea, but the rewards for leveling up are very odd in my mind.
The campaign mode (The Run) can be finished in a little over 2 hours. The races are all point to point, with varying objectives. You’ll be required to overtake a certain number of cars, race through checkpoints, escape police and battle ‘rivals’. While playing the game, I kept plugging away more out of tenacity than desire, and I felt relieved when I had completed it. After finishing the main campaign, there’s little reason to replay it.
Besides The Run, the game offers a challenge mode and basic multiplayer. Success in these modes is the only way to unlock cars. Speaking of cars, there’s very little motivation to unlock any of them. Just to see if I could, I completed 9 of the 10 stages in the game with the same car. Should you wish to change cars, you need to pull into one of the gas station’s that are sometimes found on the track. Conspicuous in its absence is any sort of free roaming mode. Going back to games like Underground and Most Wanted, free roam has been one of the most enjoyable parts of the Need for Speed series. It’s sorely missed here.
The Run controls very much like other Need for Speed games. That is to say that things are quite arcade-y and floaty at times. Cars have their handling rated from easy to challenging, and indeed most of the challenging cars are quite frustrating to drive. Varying road conditions seemed to have very little effect on handling performance, though cars will sometimes lose grip for no obvious reason. However, the controls are responsive and I quickly became accustomed to things.
The absolute worst part about The Run is the AI. It’s unbelievably broken. The game shows off some of the worst rubberbanding I’ve ever seen. Opposition vehicles literally don’t obey the laws of physics. To demonstrate this, I did a little test. In a one on one race, and on a long straight section of road, I rammed my opponent into a guardrail. Then, I watched the readout of how far behind my opponent was (as I was flying down the straight away at over 200 mph). Based on how I took this guy out, his car would have stopped dead. Instead, I watched in amazement as his car made up a gap of over 5 seconds in less than 2 seconds. He flew past me and cut in front before slowing down to the exact speed I was going (still flat out). This happens in each and every race. I know they’re trying to keep races exciting, but it’s really demoralizing. If I drive an amazing race and ram every other car into hazards on the road, I expect to be way ahead by the end of the race. Instead, you can’t build up any sort of a lead. Your opponents will almost always be right on your tail, and they really enjoy screaming past you in the last mile of the race. Being out-raced is one thing, but the other cars should at least adhere to the laws of physics.
For the most part, The Run looks great. The car models are nicely detailed, and the game feels fast. The environments are varied enough to make it feel very broad in scope and the various areas of the country look authentic. The main characters are modeled after the voice actors (Sean Paris and Christina Hendricks) and are reasonably lifelike. Their expressions and movement are realistic, though not on the level of something like LA Noire. On my iMac the game ran nicely with everything maxed out, but I did experience some odd slowdown. Occasionally, time just seemed to slow down. The framerate stayed solid during these times, everything just seemed… slower.
The game is presented in a very ‘hollywood’ style. Taking out a pursuing police vehicle results in a dramatic camera angle showing the carnage, and the action is seamless when moving from a cut-scene to racing. This really makes it feel like you’re controlling a summer popcorn movie. Using your nitrous results in a very cool tunnel vision effect, as if your car is pulling space shuttle G forces. This last bit sadly loses some of its effect because of game design, which I’ll address below.
Sound in The Run is a mixed bag. While the Need for Speed series has always featured some of the best car sounds in the business, The Run disappointed me. Sure, the cars all sound unique, but the game is plagued by some pretty bad audio compression. The best way I can describe it is to compare it to a low bit rate MP3 file (that ‘garble’ noise that you hear in the treble). Sometimes it sounds fine, but the majority of the time I found it both annoying and discouraging. This compression issue carries over to other aspects of the sound, namely the sound of cars on the road surface. Anything that was not pavement (snow, ice, leaves, water) sounded distorted and really took away from the experience.
Not all is lost however. The Run’s music is both suitable and unexpected. I definitely fired up the game expecting the usual mix of ‘EA Trax’, but The Run tosses that right out the window in favour of a nicely written, orchestrated action movie score. I think this adds loads of authenticity and impact to the game, really putting you into the shoes of Jack Rourke.
Speaking of Jack, the voice acting in The Run is respectable. Personally I think acting can make or break a game like this. Good acting will get you invested in the character’s well being while bad acting totally disconnects you. I think the actors did pretty much all they could with the minimal script – a little more focus on what was actually happening might have been helpful.
I really wanted to like Need for Speed: The Run for the PC; unfortunately, I did not. The Run has many good qualities and had a great deal of potential, but the poor game design and subpar execution make it tough to recommend The Run for PC users. If you’re totally starved for an arcade racer then The Run could keep you busy for a few hours. Just be aware there are much better options available for your PC.