I’m not going to sit here and tell you that The Run is a perfect game. Far from it; it has numerous technical problems, the core concept has not been capitalised upon to the extent it could/should have been and the handling is, well, a bit of a mixed bag. Still, despite these problems, The Run actually turned out to be one of my favourite racers of the past 12 months and, as far as I’m concerned, has not been deserving of the critical mauling that it has subsequently received.
I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their opinion, but really, some of the reviews of The Run were just flat out scathing. It’s hardly without fault, but The Run at least tries to do something new with a genre that is all too famous for its myriad of ‘me too’ releases. Take Shift 2 for instance. Solid gameplay, plenty of content, decent visuals….oh, and in case anybody failed to notice – totally pointless. For all the high review scores and technical prowess on display, this is a game that may as well not have existed. It’s so clearly third best in its niche and so devoid of anything unique that I genuinely struggle to think of a single reason why anyone would buy it. With Forza 4 on 360 and Gran Turismo 5 on PS3 both delivering, for all intents and purposes, superior versions of the exact same experience, Shift 2 stands as the very definition of an unnecessary videogame.
The Run however, despite not being as technically proficient as other recent examples of the genre, delivers something that so many videogame racers fail to achieve – a true sense of progression. As much as 2010’s Hot Pursuit was lauded upon release, it was little more than an array of events linked only by some vague sense of location. Sure, the racing was decent, but the game as a whole never came close to creating anything like a cohesive experience. Unlike Hot Pursuit, and the million and one other racers happy to shuffle you from one track to the next, The Run is home to an evolving story and a visual style that changes organically as you progress throughout the campaign. Whereas most racers have you jumping back and forth from snowy peaks to sun-lit city streets with little to no explanation, here, your movement from one location to the next is built of the natural progression of the story. Yes, the story itself is utter pants, but it does serve to frame the gameplay in a unique and interesting way.
If nothing else, it allows the gameplay to feed quite brilliantly into The Run’s strongest feature – Autolog. While Autolog has been implemented before (in the aforementioned Shift 2 and Hot Pursuit no less), it is in The Run where that implementation feels most successful. With times for each event naturally linking into the time for each stage and subsequently all going towards your time for the entire Run itself, there is always a reason for you to be shaving valuable seconds of your times. You may have the fastest time on a particular race or event, but that doesn’t mean you’re leading your friends for that stage and may well be lagging way behind on your total Run time – it’s all very competetive and often hugely addictive. In the past, Autolog has proven a welcome addition, but here, it felt like a genuine part of the overall experience. You aren’t just racing 200 other computer controlled racers across the USA – you’re racing all of your friends too……and you’re competing every step of the way.
A lot of people singled out The Run’s somewhat ‘iffy’ handling upon release, but, while I can understand how the strange mix of simulation and arcade handling styles won’t have sat well with some players, I actually thought it suited the games’ tone nigh on perfectly. I accept that some of the cars do handle appallingly, but get behind the right set of wheels and the Run’s handling model provides just the right balance of flashy thrills and challenging cornering. Above all else though, its biggest single success is just how cinematic it all is. With the camera skilfully zooming in on corners and the controls always tiptoeing that fine line between delivering flashy handling while providing enough challenge to make you feel like all that awesomeness up on screen is directly linked to your talent behind the virtual wheel, The Run, if nothing else, makes you feel like a movie star.
It may have plenty of faults, but The Run nonetheless delivers a hugely enjoyable racing experience that perfectly incorporates Autolog while delivering a natural sense of progression not found in the majority of other racers on the market. The story is garbage and the incorporation of the core concept certainly isn’t as successful as it could have been but as a genuine alternative to the array of technically superior but largely characterless racers out there, The Run is certainly worthy of your consideration.