A driving game with a story – no wonder everyone’s upset. The Earth is flat, dammit!
The Need For Speed franchise from EA has been through its fair share of disappointment. But it would seem that this latest installment has really managed to offend much of the gaming press, which is a strange thing as I actually quite enjoyed the game.
Many people were expecting something different, a game with a decent story during which the player can get out of their car and actually walk around. Maybe that was what the developers originally set out to create, but for whatever reason, the end result is something quite different, but no less impressive.
The main story casts the player as a guy who obviously has a skill for driving, yet has fallen in with the wrong crowd and owes some not very nice people a lot of money. The game in fact starts with these people exacting their revenge on the main character by dropping him and his car into a car crusher. It is here that the player will get to see the other side of the game, the quick time events. At various points in the game the player will be treated to cut scenes during which they will be prompted to press certain buttons. Hitting these buttons in time will result in the character performing certain actions on screen and progressing in the game, failing is usually not good. The first example is having to smash the windscreen to get out of your ever more claustrophobic car. Successfully hit the buttons in time and you climb out, run to another car and make off with the angry gangsters hot on your heels. Fail to hit the buttons in time and, well, finding a seat on the train will no longer be a problem.
These quick time events and the cut scenes make up everything in the game that is not driving. It may not be what people expected, but it is still enjoyable and adds to the cinematic atmosphere of the game. But, for the story, the player ends up entering an illegal cross America race to win some cash and get the gangsters off his back. There are no circuits here, the player moves from one stretch of road to the next, completing their objectives along the way.
These objectives come in a variety of different forms, from one on one rival races or checkpoint races, to passing a given number of opponents before reaching the finish line. They all work towards the overall objective of moving through the ranks of racers and getting to that number one place by the end of the game.
So that players don’t have to start all over again when they make a mistake, the developers have included a rewind feature. Don’t get excited, this is not a rewind feature similar to those that can be found in other recent driving games, but instead is actually a checkpoint feature. Should the player mess up and crash, or go off road, the game will automatically reload the last checkpoint after a somewhat lengthy loading screen. The feature itself is not too bad, but by calling it a rewind feature, players will be disappointed at the lack of control.
The players will find themselves racing across America in a variety of different cars. The handling, which is arguably the most important aspect of any racing game, is undeniably arcadey, but works really well with all of the cars, allowing the player to more or less keep control of even the most powerful supercars. This is actually more important in The Run than in most racing games, simply because there appears to be an invisible line which designates the edge of the track and, as a result, failure. Coming off the main road in some areas by even the smallest of margins will result in the player having to try that section again, and the loss of one Rewind. Yet other sections of roadway are quite lenient when it comes to the player accidentally going off-road. This invisible line over which the player should not cross can be quite frustrating, but realistically only encourages skillful driving.
Unless, of course, the player is dealing with opponents or Police, who will quite happily attempt to ram the player off the road and across the invisible line. For the ost part, the opponents are quite aggressive, which certainly adds to the challenge. Even the police seem to have no concern for public safety and will quite happily black the road or attempt to push the player either off road or into Joe Public as he takes his early evening cruise. Avoiding such hazards will require some pretty quick reactions.
Need For Speed: The Run is a twitch racing game, a game which relies more on quick reactions than most, in which the player will find themselves cursing the game for being unfair on more than one occasion. The usual remedy to such “twitch” mechanics would be to learn the track well, thus avoiding any unwelcome surprises. However, due to the main stories one race per track approach, this simply does not apply. The result, for the main story at least, is an adrenaline-fueled, on the edge of your seat experience with a very slim margin for error. In this respect the game is quite brilliant.
Much of the criticism aimed at The Run revolves around the length of the main story, which clocks in at only a couple of hours after all of the cut-scenes, quick time events and restarts have been removed. But at the end of the day it is not about how quickly you reach your destination, it’s about the journey, and in The Run the journey is both exciting and memorable.
Besides, the length of the main story doesn’t take into account the amount of time that can be spent on multiplayer, or the collection of challenges that are included in the game. Taking the game online is not the most original experience, but it is fun, and the challenges are exactly that, challenging. Everything is tied together with the well established Autolog system, ensuring that players can constantly see which of their friends they are better than and which need to be taken down a peg or two.
If I’m honest, Need For Speed: The Run is too short, as I left the game wanting more. But isn’t that always the way with something you enjoy? If you finish a game thinking “thank god that’s over”, then surely the game hasn’t touched you in the right way. The Run is not disappointing, just different. Different doesn’t always work, but in this case when the objective was to make an exciting driving game which offers a cinematic experience, it does.