Once again I know I’m a little behind on this one, today marking about the 50th day since the release of Need for Speed The Run. But having just received this for Christmas I was not exposed to it until the other day and having now played it, I really had to say something. It doesn’t fit as an Under the Radar so I’m choosing to count it as a proper review. I doubt I’ll be saying anything that you haven’t already heard but trust me, I need to do this.
I loved last year’s Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. I believe it even found a spot on my top 10 list for 2010. As a result, I was pretty excited for The Run. It had the intriguing premise of centering on a Cannonball Run-esque race across the country so I was anticipating that concept mixed with the fun as all hell mechanics of Hot Pursuit. That is not at all the case with The Run.
The first disappointment is with the actual story for the main mode (naturally titled The Run). A cross-country race has infinite potential and The Run seems oddly determined to squander that potential in every possible way it can. You play as Jack who owes the mob a whole ton of money and so he enters the race to win and pay off his debt. Why does he owe the mob so much money? Who is this guy? What exactly is this race? Who runs it? Well the game seems to think none of that shit matters because all you get is that one basic idea. Any cut scene during the game never amounts to anything more than your friend telling you “hey better keep driving fast cuz you’re in a race”. I would at least be somewhat satisfied if I knew why Jack owed the money so I could feel like something was really at stake here and could root for the guy. But they don’t! You do get to see the motives for some of your opponents and often it’s actual solid reasoning like they need money for their family or their newborn baby. That actually makes me want my guy to lose! The storyline is botched so badly that it might as well not even be there,
The Run itself is divided into ten stages, each covering a different leg of the journey and containing a handful of events. The events usually consist of one of three goals – pass a certain number of opponents (standard come in first race), make up time (time trial mode essentially), and battling opponents, where you pass a rival and then be sure to remain ahead of them until a timer counts down. That’s really it. There’s nothing overly creative or interesting done with the premise here, it’s all your standard racing game modes. The only times where the game shows promise is when it starts to use the environment against you, such as a race through a mountain during an avalanche. These moments however are painfully few and far between, with barely a handful of them appearing across the entire length of The Run event.
The other way the game tries to switch it up is by occasionally having Jack outside of his vehicle, usually outrunning cops or the mob. These are also few and far between but I was more thankful for that in this case. These sections are nothing but extended quick time events that I assume are meant to give everything a more cinematic look and feel but it does not work. These sequences are not fun and only bring the proceedings to a grinding halt, which is especially dire in an already eerily unexciting game.
The pace of things certainly doesn’t help. First of all, the load times here are fucking horrendous. I swear Skyrim loads up its entire world faster than The Run loads a single race. And don’t even think about restarting an event once you’ve begun because it takes just as long.
Even worse is the whole checkpoint / rewind system. Throughout a race you will pass checkpoints, and if you make a mistake you can use one of your rewinds (you get a limited number each race, the amount depending on the difficulty you have chosen) to go back to your last checkpoint. Using a rewind leads to about 15 seconds of loading before you go back to that checkpoint. For a game all about driving fast and keeping a strong pace, this kills all pacing and makes races take 4 times as long as they should. Even more infuriating is when the game takes it upon itself to reset you to the last checkpoint. Usually it does this if you fail the main objective or wreck your car, but many many times it has done it to me if I simply drive off the road a little bit. I don’t mean I went the complete opposite direction or anything like that. I mean I would be taking a turn, would go up a little onto the grass, and then all of a sudden I’m being taken 1.4 miles back to the last checkpoint. It’s maddening and makes the game feel plodding and glacially paced.
I’m always hesitant to call out a racing game for rubber band AI as I’m always concerned it’s less the game’s problem and more an issue of my own skill level. Here though, I feel pretty justified in calling it out. So many times I would have a good lead on an opponent, only to suddenly watch them whiz by me and take the race because this almost always happens right at the home stretch. No lie, one race I had a 12 second lead on an opponent and only 9 seconds left on the clock before the race ended. They ended up winning. Now your infant son can tell you that math does not fucking add up but I saw it. I didn’t wipe out, was driving in a straight line, and was using nitrous the whole time. And yet, with a second on the clock, he managed to win. It took all my will power not to tear the game out of the system and eat it.
The actual Run mode only lasts a little over 2 hours, though with load times and retries you can add another hour on top of that. Once it’s done, there isn’t much reason to revisit it unless you want to tackle the Extreme difficulty mode and I would hope you don’t hate yourself enough to want to endure that. There are Challenge races where you can earn medals completing objectives within a certain time but I could only do this for so long before I lost interest in doing the same time trail scenarios over and over. There is also online multiplayer of course and while I never had any issues finding a populated match, all of them suffered some pretty intense lag once I got into them, with my opponents skipping all around the track. Naturally this did not make for the best time.
As is the standard these days, there is also a progressive leveling system in The Run. It is not restricted to just the multiplayer, as everything you do contributes to your XP. You unlock new cars, and also upgrades such as an increase in your nitrous. It does provide some extra incentive to keep going but I found by about level 13 it took so long to gain additional levels that I simply lost interest. Not to mention the cap is apparently level 30, so dedicated players will max out their level relatively quickly.
While the core racing mechanics for Need for Speed The Run aren’t all that bad, everything that surrounds them completely detracts from the experience. The Run mode itself is quite short and surprisingly dull, with only a few highlights here and there holding interest until the end since lord knows the story is completely disposable. Once that’s done you aren’t left with much. A one-day rental would likely be all you need to see damn near everything the game has to offer. It’s a huge step backwards from last year’s Hot Pursuit which is really too bad. We’ll see what next year’s entry brings to the table but after this title, it’s hard to muster up any excitement.