Imagine, if you will, a rather expensive part of central London. The Ritz is within yards, quite literally, and the Starbucks that sits just off the junction seems almost shy and embarrassed by its very presence; the clientele within all make me feel woefully under-dressed, their suits looking like they’re worth a year or more of my salary.
Gorgeous, deadly snow.
After some fairly typical hospitality, minuscule nibbles and drinks on trays, the first part of the evening takes place, the selection of the Miss Need for Speed Spokemodel for the UK. Apparently there’s been a contest going on for several months, although I’m oblivious to it. After each of the models comes to the stage and makes their case, we’re ushered downstairs to the location of the machines we’ll be trying the games on, with the promise that the winner of the spokesmodel competition will be announced later in the night (sadly, the model I voted for didn’t win).
This is where the important bit starts, trying out the latest game from EA’s driving series that seemed to cause a stir at E3 by having the driver come out of the car on occasion. Sadly this element wasn’t on show in London, with two driving sections there for us to try out. The first of these was Run for the Hills, which puts you on a fairly typical dirt track, trying to make it to the finish line.
This isn’t just a simple race though. In fact, it seems that Black Box have gone a long way to ensure there’s some variety in this game, even if some of it is disguising a simple first-past-the-post race. No, although you’re attempting to beat the other racers, it’s actually displayed as “overtake ten other racers”; it’s a minor twist but one that’s appreciated. In the build on show, you started at about 180th and needed to make your way up to 170th.
Yes that’s right, 180th to 170th. To put it simply this game feels absolutely huge. The overall cross country race you’re taking part in, the titular The Run, is clearly an absolutely massive one, and not just in terms of the 300km of track that Black Box have mapped out for the game. It’s more the concept of hundreds of other racers competing with Jack, the game’s protagonist, for the 1 million dollar prize.
The Run has depth of field blur and it's not afraid to use it.
Speaking of performance, everything seems fine at this stage, with the framerate seeming solid. Sadly the graphics themselves aren’t that impressive, with aliasing pretty prominent right now and everything seeming… well, distinctly bland. Perhaps generic would be a better term, but there was just nothing that stood out as being all that special about the graphics.
The aliasing certainly can and probably will be fixed before release, they’ve got until November and with the Frostbite 2 engine, the same engine used by Battlefield 3, powering it I’d honestly be surprised if it wasn’t looking gorgeous by release. It’s also worth noting that Al was impressed by how the game was looking last month, so it may just be that things weren’t quite running as expected in the build I saw. As for the game’s generic feel? Well, I’m not so sure.
Also worthy of criticism is the handling. It sits in some sort of weird ground between arcade and sim and is, frankly, uncomfortable to use. Of particular annoyance is the difficulty with drifting, something that several other people I met at the event commented on. It’s not that you can’t drift, I did finally manage it on my third or fourth time at the controls, but it’s just not how you would expect it to be.The game feels like it’s fighting you every step of the way, and even when you do finally manage to drift it just doesn’t look or feel like most games have trained us to believe drifting should. Perhaps the best description is that it’s the exact opposite of how easy drifting was in Hot Pursuit. Yes, it’s a different developer inside EA but the difference is so stark and frustrating that it really does effect the experience.
Despite all of this, I can see some obvious potential in the game. In fact I’ll be keeping an eye on it, mostly for the AI. This is, perhaps, a slightly odd reason to love a game, but Black Box seem to have nailed it. The AI is beautifully, wonderfully aggressive. You actually feel like it’s challenging you for once, which makes such a difference from most racing games in my experience. Near the edge of the road? The AI will shove you off. God help you if you’re near a cliff edge. In fact I found them to be more aggressive than Hot Pursuit’s police force, although it’s hard to draw a direct comparison. I could see some finding this annoying but personally I adored it, The Run’s managed to capture something I don’t think I’ve felt in a racing game for quite a while.
These environmental elements are obviously present in other, recent titles, like MotorStorm: Apocalypse and Split/Second, and it’s not that The Run has improved on the concept here or done anything new in particular. It was just surprising, and a nice element to include in the game. It fits well and helps to set the game apart from the slew of other Need for Speed titles that EA seem to be keen on releasing.
Whilst I would have really liked to have seen more of the out of car sequences, apart from a non-interactive cutscene before Buried Alive there wasn’t anything on show, I’m certainly going to be watching The Run, and it’s a long time since I’ve said that about any racing title. Possibly the biggest compliment I can pay it is that it left me in need of more. Will I buy it? I don’t know yet. But do I want to see more? Oh yes.