Not only is the Need for Speed franchise one of, if not THE most successful racing video game franchises of all time, it is also the first game that yours truly was ever addicted to. As a little seven-year-old, I absolutely fell in love with the PC version of Need for Speed II. I seriously had the steering wheel controller and everything.
Since then there have obviously been many, many different developments and evolutions in how the games are played, but what grabbed me from the get-go with Need for Speed: The Run was its nostalgic return to the old-school game style I loved, while still bringing it up to compete with modern day standards. For people like me, this is the best thing about this game; for fans who preferred the more recent titles, this may have been a bit strange and unexpected.
When beginning the story mode, I had to double check I had put in the correct disc as the story begins with a Saw-like scene involving duct tape, a car and a compactor. We then find out that your character, Jack Rourke (voiced by Sean Faris…though it’s pity they didn’t base the character design more on him) has made enemies with all the wrong people. With the help of the ever-annoying Sam Harper (voiced by Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks), Jack must compete in an epic illegal street race from San Francisco to New York, called…wait for it, “The Run”. The aim is to win big and get Jack’s life back on track…and all that Disney stuff.
Why was Sam annoying, you ask? All game, she demands that “you” do better, but instantly rejoices when “we” do well. Um…Sam, you didn’t help.
The gameplay is quite well organized with varying styles of races, including your standard six to eight car race, rival races, time-trials and drifting battles, just to name a few. Rarely do these styles occur one after the other, but when they do it was usually the standard 6-8 car races. The terrain for the courses varies from highway, to suburban, to desert, to snow, in the day, in the night…you get the idea. Oh yeah, and there are dust storms and avalanches thrown in just for good measure.
In some courses, you’re weaving through traffic; in others, not so much — and I liked that it was constantly being switched up. Some courses had you trying to outrun the cops — or the mob, depending on where you were — which was annoying. Often, the satisfaction earned from totaling a cop car made it worth it.
Each course was do-able in the game’s “Normal” difficulty, but I did have to have more than one attempt on a few occasions (*cough* actually, more than a few… *cough*), but I didn’t mind having to do that. Instead of repeating the entire course, you can milk checkpoints. Before you get too excited (or worried), you only get a certain amount of re-attempts per track.
Visually, the courses were stunning. Half of what kept me addicted was just how picturesque the scenery was, and how true-to-life the landmarks were to the tracks along the American Midwest. Also, the wreckages were spectacular, which is always a bit of fun. The music was pretty good when it was there and I noticed it, but I thought developer Black Box could have used more songs more often. Make it memorable!
The other big part of the game that added to its addictiveness was its XP sytem. Not only did each level-up give you extras that boosted performance, but you got XP for just about everything: passing cars without hitting them, passing cars and smashing into them, crossing checkpoints with not a lot of time to spare, crossing checkpoints with heaps of time…the list goes on.
This is where the community will be somewhat divided. Whereas I was quite happy to have upgrades allocated depending on what level had reached, I know there will be lots of people out there who would prefer to selectively choose their upgrades with earned XP, as is standard in other games of this genre.
One of the most annoying things about the tracks was that the boundaries of each course were pretty tight, and there isn’t much allowance for being able to go slightly over a bend without resetting your car. When trying to complete the track without using a reset, be prepared to start tearing your hair out at the slightest slip-up.
The final area of weakness within story mode is exactly that: the story. The game spends a lot of time at the start setting up characters with “important” plots, but once the race starts, the storyline is thrown out the window. Why bother with the lead up at all?
Multiplayer modes in car racing games always have the potential to be incredibly fun. The Run’s online multiplayer has 6 game types, consisting of 3 default and 3 that are unlockable. Each set of tracks or playlists have a set of solo objectives to make you feel like you are accomplishing something even if you aren’t necessarily winning. My major issue with the multiplayer comes not from the game itself but from its players. I wasn’t really offended by anything that was said over headset (though I’m glad I didn’t have one to retort back with), but the heckling in the game lobby was pretty disgusting. Having an option to mute this would be awesome, and if it was an easy option there, I couldn’t find it. This was exacerbated by the fact that each track would take what felt like an eternity to load; close to 3-5 minutes on average. That being said, once I was actually racing, I didn’t experience any lag, and when I did total my car, the reset was done pretty quickly. I think multiplayer would be a lot more fun if it was just amongst friends or acquaintances, but only having a PS3 for a little while, I haven’t had a chance to add any one yet. (Editor’s Note: “Matthewlachlan” on Xbox Live and “MrMatthewLachlan” on the PlayStation Network, people!)
There are also a list of challenges you can complete by yourself in the “Challenge Series” that add to the games replayability once you have completed the main story.
Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed playing The Run. It has really taken me back to the childhood love I had for the franchise and even though it does have its areas of weakness, I would highly recommend it to anyone who enjoys a good driving game.