Playing Need for Speed: The Run makes me feel seriously bipolar. When everything goes right, the game reaches dizzying heights, a pure unadulterated slice of gaming heaven. But for every moment of elation, there is a moment of despair, frustration, anguish, and righteous indignation. It’s certainly a rollercoaster, but is it worth braving the lows to reach the highs? Let’s have a game of critical tennis, where we’ll thwack around some good and bad ideas.
POSITIVE – Let’s be lovely and start on a positive. There are cars. Lots of cars. Really pretty cars. And they go really fast. Woo! As with any NFS title, the big names come rolling in apace, and you barely have time to soak up your latest Porsche before a Gallardo is wafted tantalisingly in front of your nose. Driving is very user-friendly, with a tangible sense that the game is really rooting for you, and wants you to succeed. This adds fluidity, and actually helps you to think that you are in fact the finest driver to have ever set wheels on tarmac. Or is this actually a…
…NEGATIVE? – Lost control and sliding towards a fence? Ah, don’t worry about it, a quick bounce and you’ve barely lost half a second. Battled a lorry and ended up losing? Don’t panic, we’ll just make sure the enemy racers slow down to a crawl whilst you turn yourself around and catch-up again. Want to pull-over and change car? It’s OK, we’ll freeze time for you whilst you meander round and inspect the other vehicles. Then we’ll re-insert you into the race at high speed just a half second behind where you were before. There are subtle ways a game can keep the pace going without waving a big flag that says “Haha, I’m letting you win!” But NFS:TR doesn’t really bother with subtlety.
POSITIVE – The graphics are absolutely astounding. The premise of The Run is a long-distance race right the way across America, from San Francisco to New York. So you race through all the states and their unique terrains in between. These vary from scenic countryside and lonely mountain passes, right through to bustling cities and sprawling interstates heavy with traffic. All the environments are believable and well-created, as are all the racers and other traffic in the game. But the cut-scenes are a whole step ahead again, with possibly the most realistic rendered human faces I have ever seen in a game. You can see every freckle, every spot, every individual hair on a stubbled face; the detail is frankly astounding.
NEGATIVE – The idea of racing through unique environments all the way across America was very appealing. Driving unknown tracks using wits and reflexes rather than prior knowledge of the track is a very exciting thing. However, the cheeky developers have cheated! Rather than unique tracks across the country, they just reverse and re-use a lot of the tracks. So the section that is supposed to be one of the final sections through New Jersey, is simply the exact same track as California, just reversed. What complete and utter tosh. Playing through reversed tracks is really an illusion-killer, as it is hammered into your brain that you are, in fact, still just playing a common racing game with faults, rather than being allowed to properly immerse yourself into the romantic notion of The Run. Unforgivable!
POSITIVE – Many may scoff at the insane, cheesy action that is proffered throughout your trip. James Bond style avalanches, stunts with helicopters, explosions galore, falling bridges, and much more. Whilst a retrospective critical analysis may render these events as far too scripted and over-the-top, it is clearly designed to be that way. NFS:TR makes no attempt to fool you into believing that your races will be realistic. It simply tells you to belt up and prepare for freneticism aplenty. So forget realism, and quell all logical thought from your mind, and you will be kept on a constant octane-fuelled adrenaline drip for a lot of the game.
NEGATIVE – Whilst the action is designed to be brainless, there is a limit to how much of your brain you can turn off. For instance when cruising at 210mph along an interstate, it is a little disconcerting when a squirty little cop car whips past at about 400mph, chasing a racer ahead. Or how some trees, metal bins and metal poles can be ploughed straight through with no penalty, yet a wooden telegraph pole and some other trees won’t budge a millimetre and will wreck your car. Or how about the shortcuts. Some ‘suggested’ routes in orange highlight quicker paths, such as down alleyways, or through garden fences. So you would be forgiven for assuming that the main track allowed for deviation. Not so. Sometimes, straying so much as a metre from the track can elicit a reset. Once I was reset twice in a row whilst actually still on the road! There are far too many instances where the game requires that you have precisely no brain whatsoever.
POSITIVE – To extend the lifespan of the game beyond the few hours that is the main storyline, there is a multiplayer mode, even if it is a little basic. It can offer some moments that are far more realistic than the main game. There are also Challenge modes, where you compete against your friends for the highest scores. These are quite compelling, and offer quite a bit of extra content, but only serve as challenges if you actually have friends on Autolog to compete against.
NEGATIVE – Autolog. And Origin. Rather than swallow their pride and accept the vast swathe of gamers that build up their gaming library through Steam, EA have selfishly decided to shove their own version of the program down our throats. Of course, this is not a criticism of the game itself, but it still needs to be addressed because it still affects our game experience. Gamers now have a reason to run Steam, because of the vast library of games it has, and the in-game connectivity. But having an incompatible Origin now effectively disconnects gamers once more, and adds yet another completely superfluous program onto the list that they expect us to run. Grow up EA, and stop letting your ego rule your childish actions.
POSITIVE – Driving against the AI in-game is frankly a delight. They are as fallible as any other human racer, and still manage to make mistakes on their own, as well as when enticed by you. There are few joys to compare to the satisfaction of ramming an overtaking opponent into an oncoming car, or holding your line as a barrier approaches, and watch them helplessly flying into the air in your rear-view mirror. Mwahaha! I’m so evil!
NEGATIVE – I already mentioned the pansy cop cars overtaking my behemoth at insanely unrealistic speeds. So I was mildly impressed when they called in a super-cop, driving some exotic machine of his own. Surely this would be more realistic? The very first time I encountered him, his first action was to whisk past me at approx 150mph and smash into a tree. ‘Dopey twit’ I thought as I swung past his motionless car. Thus, I was somewhat perturbed when 6 seconds later, the same car flew past me again. This time I decided the ending must be final. We were side by side, and an oncoming lorry seemed the obvious place to offload the copper. One hefty smash later and the road belonged to me again. For 7 seconds. Then super-cop zings by again, apparently impervious, and apparently driving a car running on rocket fuel. Time to end this! We reach a straight, so I build up speed. At the approaching corner, I flick the pesky cop directly into a huge tree at over 200mph. I slow down to regain control and admire the bruised copper nestled into his tree, when….BUSTED. The copper, who should realistically be in small pieces by now, just arrested me as I was driving slowly past his tree-parked car. Damn haX0r!
POSITIVE – The harder difficulty modes increase lifespan and are….harder. Is it clear I am scraping the barrel now?
NEGATIVE – Arbitrary is the name of the game. One section of the race will insist you failed the entire run because you were 0.2 seconds behind an opponent at a particular checkpoint. Then you will enter a city, and spend ages boring yourself through one of the rendered action sequences, escaping from the cops, and when you finally manage to rejoin the race later, that 10 minutes you just lost doesn’t seem to matter. No arbitrary factor has decided that you have lost the entire race, and stupidly enough, no opponent cars have been able to pass you. So you hop back onto the trail, and, hey presto, some opponents to overtake. It seems they just spent the last 10 minutes waiting for you whilst you were dealing with the cops. How sweet.
POSITIVE – Ummm. Pass.
At this point I still have a sizable list of aggravating negatives that I wanted to list. But I could go on for quite a while. The main thrust is this: If you want to make a game about The Run, you at least need to put just a modicum of thought into how you implement it. The developers have just taken too many shortcuts and crammed everything else around what they consider to be the optimal gameplay. But by doing so, the game is no longer an exciting trail-blazer across America, it is just another generic racing game full of randomly cool set-pieces.
However, despite all these negative gripes and grumbles running through my head, the final track in the game, when you reach New York City, altered my mindset somewhat. In true rollercoaster fashion, the ultimate low I was feeling upon entering, was changed to an ultimate high. The final race section is mind-blowing. I won’t give away any of what happens, but it was the first time in a long while that my jaw has genuinely dropped. And as I careered wildly through the most breathtaking driving experience this year, it finally clicked. I got it.
Need for Speed: The Run can thrill, and it can disappoint. But if you have absolutely zero expectations, and just approach it as a wild edge-of-the-seat ride, then it delivers some of the most brainlessly gratifying driving you will ever experience. Realism be damned, this is exclusively about feeling awesome. Play through the lows, and the highs will knock you sideways!
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