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Hands On: Need for Speed: The Run

Need for Speed: Not Pursuit.

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.
Whilst the Starbucks off the junction may seem out of place, the Audi Quattro showrooms that sit on it are much more fitting. You can almost imagine people staggering out of the Ritz, perhaps after having slightly too large of a lunch, swaying in through Audi’s doors and saying “Yes, I’ll take five please.” This is, fittingly, the location of the evening’s preview event for Need for Speed: The Run, and just inside the doors is a gleaming Audi that is far out of the price range of any of the journalists in attendance.

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.
Black Box have been clever here though, by setting challenges such as ‘overtake ten racers’ they’ve broken the actual number of racers up into manageable chunks during each section of gameplay. It keeps the game feeling huge, but has none of the obvious performance issues that having that many racers in each section would entail.

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.

The game's trailer shows a chilly protagonist.
The other element I really enjoyed was found in the second level available, Buried Alive. Your task this time is simpler than in Run for the Hills, you only have to finish ahead of a single rival. As you’re moving through the level the hillside above you is being blasted, leading to avalanches falling on, and crushing, you if you’re not fast enough. Oh and if you fail to catch your rival? The game collapses a tunnel on you.

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.

  1. Amphlett
    Since: Jul 2009

    Nice article halbpro. Thanks for setting the scene, even down to feeling a little uncomfortable amongst the opulence of the surroundings.

    I must admit that after Hot Pursuit last year and the number of top titles coming out in October and November, I will swerve around this NFS title.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:11.
    • halbpro
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Mar 2009

      It was the fanciest Starbucks I’ve ever been in, which was made so much weirder by every Starbucks having the same interior.

      Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:25.
  2. 3shirts
    Since: Aug 2008

    I was massively disappointed by Hot Pursuit. I think I wanted it to be more like Burnout but found it treading that awkward balance between sim and arcade. If this ends up similar, I think I will have to give it a miss.
    I like the concept but the game-play is the only thing that really matters.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:18.
    • halbpro
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Mar 2009

      I actually quite like Hot Pursuit, although it’s too hard to crash.

      Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:24.
    • Forrest_01
      Since: Jun 2009

      I actually thought that HP (not the sauce) was about as arcadey as it could get really – Aside from the branded cars, it wasn’t exactly oozing realism was it?

      In fact, i don’t even recall having to tinker with set ups or anthing at all, just pick a car & off you go!

      Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:24.
    • MayContainEvil
      Since: Feb 2011

      Glad to see I’m not the only one on the internet who didn’t think much of HP. I found it ridiculous, after playing GT5 the handling and whole arcade leaning side of it felt really wrong.

      Comment posted on 31/08/2011 at 08:03.
      • Forrest_01
        Since: Jun 2009

        But it wasn’t supposed to be competition to GT5 in any way shape or form – If you consider the fact that Criterion had a massive part in the development of this game & their baby is Burnout, i am not surprised it turned out as it did.

        Personally, i think that although HP has its faults, its still damn good racing action, especially with friends.

        Comment posted on 31/08/2011 at 09:50.
  3. nofi
    One for all.
    Since: Forever

    Great read.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:23.
  4. Crazy_Del
    Since: Jul 2009

    I was looking forward to this but seeing the trailer of the person running on rooftops and time button contol on screen has slightly put me off. But if AI are that aggressive and smart like you said then maybe, just maybe I’ll be swayed over for the day 1 purchase!
    But I’ll wait for the reviews before deciding on this.
    Great read though got me excited lol.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:24.
    • halbpro
      Team TSA: Writer
      Since: Mar 2009

      The AI was so enjoyable. Was quite surprising.

      Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:45.
  5. Sympozium
    Since: Aug 2009

    The Run sounds like an decent game, not sure if I’d buy it but it could be interesting.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:26.
  6. Smallville2106
    Since: Feb 2011

    Nice article thanks.
    Wish they had showed some of the ‘out of car’ parts.That’s the bit I want to hear more about as I am very sceptical.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:31.
  7. Jakster123x
    Since: Aug 2011

    I think it’s amazing how many people got put off the game because of the running-QTE section, me included. Saying that, i understand that they want to break the game up and provide a bit of variety, so I’m ok with that.

    However, I’m not ok with the sound of the handling. I just wish all racing games had the same handling as Burnout Paradise. Great game, great handling.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 17:55.
  8. freezebug2
    Since: Dec 2008

    Can’t get excited for this game, I’ll probably end up getting it one day but there just hasn’t been any huge appeal for me from it’s announcement. Possibly due to the volume of NFS releases we have these days…I don’t know, and I am a fan of the series but, let’s just say that it’s not on my pre-order list at Shopto!

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 18:12.
  9. TSBonyman
    Since: Dec 2009

    There’s nowt ‘shoddy’ about your reporting Kris ;) – although The Run sounds like a bit of a mixed bag atm. The premise/set-up sounds good but the handling may end up letting it down. Still time for them to tweak the handling so i’ll keep an eye on it for sure.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 18:22.
  10. moshi
    Since: Jun 2009

    Well I for one am giddy with excitement.

    Comment posted on 30/08/2011 at 18:34.

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