Need For Speed: The Run Xbox 360
Published by Electronic Arts
Developed by Black Box Productions
Jack Rourke is a driver who has run up a lot of debt with the local mob. The game begins with him about to be crushed along with his car. He manages to escape and avoid the pursuit of the mob and later is given the opportunity to earn enough money to pay off the debt and get the mob off his back. Jack has to race from San Francisco to New York. He's only going to get 10% of the prize money but seeing as that's still going to earn him $2.5 million it's nothing to be sneezed at. If that sounds like an interesting premise for a highly engaging storyline you'll be disappointed to learn that's really all you're going to get. There's very little additional storyline given to you in the game and after such a promising start that's hugely disappointing. In fact you really have to wonder why there's a storyline here at all. They could have simply called it NFS: Coast to Coast and have the game begin with you creating a driver and putting him/her in for a competition to cross the states.
Let's be honest here and say that the idea of an arcade racing game that takes you across the USA is highly ambitious and very impressive. I really love the variation in the environments that you encounter in the game and it's probably the first racing title that I've not become a little bored with the backdrop as you're constantly encountering different landscapes throughout the course of the storyline. What is disappointing is the rather limp and predictable nature of the track designs. I have no personal knowledge of the roads going from coast to coast in the USA but if the roads here are accurate and are this boring then the developers should have used a little creative license to jazz things up a little and make the experience a more exhilarating one (whilst keeping the same excellent landscapes of course).
The race from coast to coast isn't one long adventure. Instead it's broken up into stages, which in turn consist of events, To begin with you're in 200th position and you have to reach predetermined positions at the end of each stage. Everything in the single-player game is tightly scripted. Why couldn't you simply be allowed to make the journey under your own rules, customising your car (NFS games have long been known for allowing you to customise your car but it's not an option here, at least there are no performance tuning customisations) as you see fit? With a high degree of flexibility you would want to try again, should you fail to finish first. With the game being so scripted, there's no real point in replaying the mode once you have finished it. The Run isn't a lengthy mode either and most will complete it inside four or five hours and that's if you include time lost to making multiple attempts at certain stages.
There are a variety of events in The Run. There are times when you'll have to survive the assault of the mafia or the local police force. Checkpoint races require you to reach checkpoints within the specified time limits and some races require you to pass a specific amount of cars within a given time limit. There are also Battle Races which require you to chase down specific opponents and overtake them. To the game's credit it's constantly mixing up the different challenge types, which does help to prevent the game feeling too repetitive. Of course you're not always going to complete a challenge. If you fail a challenge in The Run mode you use a Reset to try again. You only have a fixed amount of Resets. If you run out of Resets, you'll fail the event. There are times when a Reset will trigger just for momentarily leaving the road however, which is frustrating and feels much too harsh. At other times you can flagrantly drive away from the road and not be punished. There are a few on-foot quick time events in the game. These are completely out of place in a NFS title and it's ridiculous that such things have been included.
After you've played through The Run mode once, it's a fair bet that you won't want to endure it again, mainly due to the scripted, forced nature of it. Of course the game's Autolog feature allows you to compare your times and scores from the single-player game to those of your friends. It is a welcome feature if nothing new for the series. You can't simply replay an event to improve on your original time however as you have to completely redo the stage, which makes it all rather cumbersome and off-putting. There is also the Challenge Series which is a mode where you compete in challenges to earn medals and rewards and post top times on the SpeedWall.
Thankfully there's a decent online multiplayer component here that will add some longevity to the experience but it's not without its share of problems. The races are split up into playlists which include such things as muscle-car battles and urban-street racing. There are objectives to complete and you'll eventually unlock other playlists. The online multiplayer (which supports up to 8 players) is fairly enjoyable but there's a real absence of customisation options here, to give you the exact online racing experience you want, which is disappointing.
Many potential racing games have come unstuck thanks to the cars handling poorly. In The Run the handling isn't bad but there is a floaty quality to it which makes the experience less enjoyable than it should be. Rubber-banding AI is present in the game and it can be annoying to have opponents suddenly overtake you when you'd thought that you'd left them for dust long before. Of course this also means that you can always catch up your opponents regardless of how poorly you've driven. You'll notice that the AI thinks nothing of slamming you all over the road at times and there's no real penalty for simply slamming into opponents, apart from the fact it slows you down and you won't earn any experience points for passing an opponent cleanly (although you do earn XP for a 'dirty pass').
Visually the game is very pleasing. As already mentioned, the landscapes look excellent and really do give you a sense that you are crossing the USA, which is certainly no mean feat. The weather effects are also very impressive. The car models aren't the best I've seen on the 360 but they look good enough. The damage modelling is actually quite poor though. The frame rate remains decent throughout. Load times are on the lengthy side however, particularly when you have to do a Reset, and there are some screen tearing issues during the game's cut scenes which makes them look rather unsightly at times.
NFS: The Run does offer subtitles but they are disabled by default. Thanks to the subtitles you'll be able to follow the game's skimpy storyline, whilst it lasts. Your objectives are all shown in text so you're always aware of what has to be done. During the course of some events there are various communications that can be heard, such as from the local police, that are broadcast over the radio but none of these are subtitled unfortunately. You're also made aware of any experience points that you earn during the races on screen. These notifications do get in the way of things at time and can be a little distracting when you're attempting to drive at high speed whilst avoiding the general traffic. You are made visually aware of the time limits you face, so you'll always know how long you have left. On the whole the game is a decent experience for deaf gamers.
In many respects Need For Speed: The Run should have been the best Need For Speed game in years, but it's far from it. It has all the ingredients to be a great addition to the series but it has been put together so awkwardly that it frustrates more than it pleases. There's none of the traditional tongue-in-cheek humour that the series is known for and the single-player game feels too tightly scripted, lacks customisation options and is constructed in such a way that you're not going to want to replay it. It's not a bad game by any means, in fact there are times where it's quite enjoyable, but it's far from being the best game this long-running and highly popular series has to offer.