After a lacklustre reception for their last Need for Speed offering and strong followups by SMS and Criterion in the form of Shift and Hot Pursuit, Black Box have something to prove this time around. With three years to work on the new game and a whole new engine, there's high hopes for the next installment in the series, Need for Speed: The Run. Our roving NFS reporter and webmaster recently spent time hands on with the game in Canada. Over to you, Bojan!
The core concept of the game is the transcontinental race from San Francisco on the west coast of the USA to New York on the east coast. That's roughly 5000km (or 3000 miles) in the real world and amounts to around 300km of track in the game, making it the largest map ever made for an NFS game (roughly twice the size of Hot Pursuit's world).
With Hot Pursuit having the best looking tracks in the series, I have to say The Run's environment looks even more stunning. It's not just the variety of tracks ranging from urban downtowns (SF, NYC, Chicago, Las Vegas), national parks (Yosemite), Nevada desert, Iowa straights to Pennsylvania hills, Colorado mountain passes and Chicago industrial areas. There's also the well known landmarks and overall resemblance to the real world locations. Driving in downtown NYC really does feel familiar, and the same goes for other cities and locations.
Independence pass survival game mode
Career progress is divided into stages with individual races in each stage set in the same area. However you'll never feel like you're driving on the same roads as the environment really changes that fast. There's also many moments throughout the career that will leave you speechless, like the Independence Pass avalanches or the explosives on the Industrial track.
To keep things even more intense, there's the out-of-car sequences which happen every once in a while; they're not too common, but happen at just the right moments to keep the flow of the game going. These parts of gameplay might seem atypical for a racing game but in my opinion they work well in presenting the career mode story. Instead of sitting down and watching a movie, you have to be ready for the quick time events where your character has to do certain actions to avoid getting killed or caught by the police. The events themselves are fairly easy to complete with several retries available if you miss an event. They're just hard enough to keep you on your toes, but will not keep you from progressing.
Cars are really detailed, but you won't be able to design liveries like this as there's no visual customization
Something I really liked about the career, which isn't really common in the NFS games is the fact that you'll be driving a fast car right from the start. The game will start by giving you a choice of three cars (one muscle, one tuner, one exotic) each having a top speed of about 300kph (190mph). The career itself will require you to switch your car three or four times, every time giving you a faster car. If you're not satisfied with the choices you can always stop at a gas station and pick any car you have unlocked. That's something I never had to do in my playthrough as the default car choices always had cars I liked; there's usually a car for every taste available.
In another divergence from the usual NFS formula, there are no car garages - you simply unlock cars and make them available. Also there is no car customization except for paint and body kits, and even that is only available at the gas stations.
The car list itself is very solid with plenty of cars from all three major groups available and each group handling differently: exotics with loads of grip, tail happy muscles and tuners which are something in between.
Pennsylvania's scenery will remind you of some of the original NFS games
This brings me to an important point of the game: the handling. Those who hated Hot Pursuit for having too arcade handling will be happy to know that this game feels a lot like Most Wanted. Cars are a bit heavy and no way have extreme amount of grip. In fact you'll often have to hit the brakes to make the corner without hitting the wall on the other side. Wall-riding itself will not slow you down significantly, but hitting something at high speed will make you reset (something I'll talk more about later). Drifting is in no way as easy to achieve in Hot Pursuit and won't make you go faster. It is fairly easy to initiate a drift though, especially if you use a powerful muscle car. Drifting through a series of hairpins is a bit challenging but still very fun.
What they have done superbly once again is the sense of speed. This game really flies and there's plenty of tracks designed around the fact that you need to go as fast you can to get to NYC. Remember the speed challenges from ProStreet and the highway races from Undercover? I really liked both modes and I found it really cool that in a way they're back. There's plenty of track sections where you drive on a multi-lane highway with huge amounts of traffic which you have to avoid at 300 kph. There's also the long straights with extreme jumps where you'll often find yourself jumping over traffic cars. Of course you won't be able to reach top speed on all tracks as track layouts change as you change environments. You'll drive in cities, which are mostly straights with intersections, then continue on highways to the mountain areas where there's plenty of hairpins. Plenty of times you'll go off road, there's even entire tracks which will have you drive on gravel or even snow and you'll notice your car having less grip. Shortcuts and alternate routes are also quite common and will not always be the optimal route.
Desert Hills gameplay video from the demo
Game modes themselves are more or less a set of sprints either without opponents (checkpoint) or with anything from 1 to 10 opponents. Classic Sprints will have you overtake up to ten random opponents; Battle Mode will require you to pass one opponent in a given amount of time and in Survival Mode you'll also have to watch out for environmental traps like the avalanche in the Independence pass level.
In each race you'll have a certain amount of resets available depending on the difficulty level you chose. When you total your car, you're simply reset to the latest checkpoint you passed (usually checkpoints are about 30s apart). It's an interesting concept which I think turned out pretty well as you get the feeling that you're actually involved in a non stop cross country race. It also makes the higher difficulties more challenging and your overall times much better. If you mess up a section you can also reset yourself to the last checkpoint and retry just the part you messed up.
The environments really are stunning
Getting through the career on normal difficulty setting will take you between 5 and 8 hours depending on how well you drive. After you beat it once on Normal, the fourth difficulty setting, Extreme Mode, will be unlocked. To explain the difference in difficulty, I finished career on my first day with hardly any levels needing a retry. On Extreme Mode I had to retry every single race, some of them even up to ten times or even more. It might seem pointless to replay the career once you finish it once and know how the plot ends, but keep in mind that throughout the career you don't race anywhere more than once and even going through the second or even third time you'll find something new (look out for a Bigfoot somewhere in Colorado!).
There's also Autolog integration to fuel friendly offline multiplayer competition, huge amounts of rewards to unlock and the Challenge Series which are individual races with preset cars and set time goals. Completing the Challenge Series will take you up to ten hours or even more if you want the best possible times on all. Of course there is online too, but unfortunately we did not get a chance to try it out. They are promising a new approach with better matchmaking however.
An out of car sequence
What can I say overall about the game we're getting this November? Blackbox made a superb career experience where I literally couldn't put the controller away until I finished the career. But the career was over rather soon and after that, you'll need to be a bit competitive to take advantage of Autolog, harder difficulties, Challenge Series and online.
More on The Run
Release date: November 15th 2011
Complete car list
PC System Requirements
A Preview of Need for Speed The Run
Need for Speed The Run: a detailed preview of the game
Author: GT3x24x7 & Bojan
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