Video Game Review: ‘Need For Speed: The Run’ Drives Rocky Road

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CHICAGOEA’s “Need For Speed: The Run” features some adrenalin-pumping moments but they’re undercut by some truly poor mechanics and some awful development decisions. The concept behind the “story” of the game is clever and promising enough to warrant a rental, but the execution is flawed enough to steer clear of a purchase. Video Game Rating: 2.5/5.0
Video Game Rating: 2.5/5.0

The developmental foundation of “The Run” sounds like a blast and it’s the hook of the campaign that is the game’s biggest asset and it’s biggest flaw. You’re on a cross-country drag race, not only trying to get ahead of your fellow speedsters but avoiding the law as well. The journey is divided into stages across the United States. At one point, you’re speeding out of Vegas. At another, you’re weaving through the Rocky Mountains. Even an incredibly-detailed version of Chicago makes an appearance. There’s something undeniably fun about drag racing up Michigan Avenue and down Lake Shore. It’s not completely accurate, but it’s much closer than you might expect.

Need For Speed: The Run
Need For Speed: The Run
Photo credit: EA

The concept of “Need For Speed: The Run” is so rich with ideas and potential greatness that it makes the lackluster execution that much more frustrating. Ridiculous load times, inconsistent drifting/cornering, weak A.I., and repetitive track design consistently deflate the experience of “NFS: The Run.” It’s a game for which the potential of the experience keeps pushing through only to be crammed back down by a poor decision in the development process or a simple lack of refinement. Hardcore driving game fans should check it out purely for the originality of its concept but prepare to reflect on how you could have done more with the same idea.

Need For Speed: The Run
Need For Speed: The Run
Photo credit: EA

The set-up for “The Run” is simple — drive from San Francisco to New York. There are constant markers along the way and the way you track your progress is by constantly increasing your position in the race. For example, you have to rise to 150th place by Las Vegas, 50th by Chicago, and 1st by the end. You rise in the ranks through an alternating series of driving game types over various stages. In one, you have to “Rise X Positions,” which basically just means finishing 1st in a race. In another, there are only two or three racers you need to pass but they’re more aggressive and intent on taking you down. Pass one for a pre-set amount of time and hold the lead to basically eliminate them from existence.

While you race across the country, you’ll have to battle more than just fellow racers. Aggressive police officers will try to take you down through a majority of the campaign and I mean take you DOWN. Cops in the world of “Need For Speed” apparently have no fear of death for they will drive right in front of you as you speed through the heartland at 180MPH. Each stage allows for five resets. If you wreck, you go back to the last checkpoint until you run out of resets and you have to start the whole level again.

Slamming into trees or cop cars are one thing, but the reset system often kicks in automatically with the slightest bit of off-roading. It’s woefully inconsistent. At one point, you can cut a corner or fish-tail back on to the road. At another, you touch the shoulder on a turn and you reset. It can be remarkably frustrating. Essentially, the levels of “The Run” become nothing more than a series of memorizations. Dodge this cop car, take this corner very carefully, etc.

The campaign is sometimes broken up by a series of cut scenes in which you run from the cops or the mob and these are the most embarrassing element of the game. They are quicktime cut scenes in which you have to, for example, pound the A button to run or push the Y button at a certain point to jump. Imagine a game like “The Run” that could adequately meld on-foot gameplay with racing dynamics. Why bother with these silly cut scene controls? It feels like an underdeveloped portion of a better game.

Actually, that’s a good description for most of “The Run.” As mentioned, speeding up Lake Shore Drive or zipping around Lower Wacker has an undeniable kinetic thrill. It’s hard NOT to have fun, especially for us local boys who have dreamed of opening the throttle on Columbus Drive. I just wanted more from “The Run.” More variety, more consistency, more detail, more storytelling. It’s not an awful game, but it could have been a great one.

“Need For Speed: The Run” was developed by Black Box and released by EA on November 15th, 2011. The version reviewed was for the Xbox 360, but the title is also available for the PS3, PC, Nintendo Wii, iPhone, and Nintendo 3DS. It is rated T (Teen). content director Brian Tallerico

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