At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Richard Pilot Xbox 360 Electronic Arts Black Box 1-8 (Xbox Live)
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Xbox Live Gold subscription for online play. PC, PS3 Click here to buy Need for Speed: The Run.

Need for Speed: The Run review

Motivating the gamer is a tough task. Any game has to be compelling or the player will simply give up and look elsewhere. When I first heard about The Run, I was immediately excited. Black Box seem to have picked up on a racing twist that, for some reason, I haven’t seen replicated elsewhere. Bringing up feelings of 1980's film "Cannonball Run", Need for Speed: The Run revolves around a high stakes race across the US, from San Francisco to New York.

Jack Rourke, the game's main protagonist, is in trouble with the mob. So much so that he finds himself tied up inside a car that is about to be dropped into a vehicle crusher; at least, that's how it begins. After he manages to escape, he arranges a meeting with his friend Sam (voiced by Christina Hendricks) who offers to sort his problems out for good if he completes in an illegal street race, known as "The Run", with a $25 million prize.

This is the backdrop of The Run's campaign. I say campaign because this is exactly what it feel like; complete with cut-scenes and set pieces. The Run tells of Jack's journey across the contiguous United States and other racers he encounters. The cut-scenes are actually very well realised using the FrostBite 2 engine (from Battlefield 3), with some really nicely modelled characters and locales, which often immediately transition directly to the start of a race. The first race in game after your run-in with the mob sees you racing the San Francisco streets to the start location of the race. Black Box really knows how to up the tension as your police scanner flares into life, with panicked cries from squad cars as the racers descend upon the city. As you pass the checkpoint and officially enter the race, the police attempt to lock the area down, requiring you to speed across the Golden Gate bridge to escape the city. There are other memorable moments like this throughout the game, such as when the Mob catch up with you or when you duel against other racers. These moments are also when Quick Time Events make an appearance. They are actually well implemented and are reserved for particularly poignant parts of the story, such as the aforementioned escape from the car crusher or escaping from the police later on. For me, the game's credits sums up the game perfectly as Jack drives off into the distance with a fleet of police cars right behind evoking the cinematic feel of 80's chase movies. There are some parts of the campaign that aren't so well developed. A number of racers that you have to beat in one-on-one battles have a sentence or two dedicated to them in the loading screen but are otherwise one dimensional. Your main rival Marcus Blackwell crops up a few times over "The Run", which is supposed to lead up to a climatic duel at the end of game, but he's never fleshed out, so feels a little shallow in what is an otherwise exciting race.

You travel to a variety of locations on your way to New York

You travel to a variety of locations on your way to New York

Breaking this all down, the game features a few different type of races but they are all tied back into your motivations for winning "The Run". Some races you'll need to beat a number of drivers, others are checkpoints races, designed to let you catch up. The game's menus are filled with essential numbers that constantly keep you motivated to carry on, the most important being your position in "The Run" itself. In order to ensure you reach the New York finish with any chance of winning, the game adds milestones for you hit, such as 150th place by Las Vegas, 50th by Chicago. You'll also be informed of your distance travelled and how far left before you reach New York. Like other recent Need for Speed games, Autolog also features heavily. This is put to great use with your "Run" time, aka, the time taken to complete the overall race. Each section of the "The Run" has a stage leader, a racer from your friends list that has completed the stage in the fastest time. Throughout every race, you are constantly compared against them. It's like having them along for the ride and you'll get frustrated whenever you lag behind them, but then punch the air whenever you beat their time in the race by a few precious seconds.

The Run's handling certainly takes getting used too. I wasn't too impressed when I got my hands on it at Gamescom but you'll adjust to it after a while. You won't be grinding along the rails in corners, though; whilst The Run certainly has arcade driving physics, it won't be helping you to stay on the road as you can run off almost anywhere. The game has a curious system for getting you back on your feet. At certain places on each track are checkpoints; wrecking yourself will see you get reset back to these whilst merely driving off-road will see you get warped back on to the track, but costing you precious seconds. Whilst not the ideal of Dirt's rewind system it certainly is an improvement on what we saw at Gamescom where any wrong move would see you getting reset.

Don't worry, you don't play from this angle

Don't worry, you don't play from this angle

This is a Need for Speed game, so of course you'll see the usual selection of licenced cars present, from Austin Martins and Audis to Porsches and Volkswagens, but they play second fiddle to the story. In some of the tracks, you may optionally pull over to a gas station, whereby you can choose a new car from the selection that you have unlocked. Whilst this may cost you a few seconds, it can help in the long run by getting a leg up on the competition. There are also a few points in the story where a new car is thrust upon you, The Run's way of ensuring you don't get too far behind.

If straight up racing is more your sort of thing then Challenge mode has you covered. Unlike its predecessor, Hot Pursuit, The Run doesn't have the open world in which to set its courses, so you're constrained to various adaptions of the main campaign tracks. However, don't let this get you down as there are plenty of unique challenges in there to test your racing skills. There are over 50 challenges set across the various stages in the run, completing these sections in the main game will unlock a another set of challenges for you to play in this mode.

There's online multiplayer to accompany the campaign

There's online multiplayer to accompany the campaign

If you approach The Run with your eyes wide open, you'll begin to appreciate the content that's on offer. It manages to provide an exciting experience that kept me motivated like no Shift or Dirt game has managed to do. It doesn't have the precision handling of more serious racers or indeed other entries in the franchise, but it does offer a compelling story that keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout. It's also a little on the short side (I completed The Run in just over two hours), but that doesn't mean you should discount it, and I'm glad I didn't. As the game has been out a few months now, the price has gone down considerably. Is there £40 of content in here? It's hard to say, and depends exactly where your values lie. Need for Speed: The Run has a story to tell and it’s one that it tells well. It's just a shame that overall it's so short.

Ratings

Overall Need for Speed: The Run is an exciting racing game that manages to kindle a sense of adventure and danger that inspired the 80's movies such as "Cannonball Run". Whilst its length and arcade feel may put off many gamers, it will certainly entertain those who are looking for a plot-driven narrative to fuel their racing. 9/10

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