Need for Speed The Run Review (Xbox 360)
Need for Speed: The Run is a bit of a curious experiment from developer Black Box, as it seems to want to keep some of the elements that the series is known for — arcade racing, police chases, an “underground” vibe — but add some Burnout-esque touches and a cinematic story mode. The problem is that none of these design choices resonate in a meaningful way, with a story mode that operates in a vacuum and some fairly inconsistent vehicle handling.
The Run still functions primarily as an arcade racer, with most races requiring some amount of overtaking or checkpointing while avoiding cops and oncoming traffic. Nothing really gets more complicated than that, and you'll have to be mindful of breaking into turns and accelerating out of them, all while not flying off the track or into roadblocks.
However, you will be flying off the track and into roadblocks. The Run doesn't care if you think you know what you're doing, as it is going to find a way to have the cops harass you and only you, put oncoming traffic directly in your path and speed up the competition if you're doing too well. To be fair, the racing still can have pockets of enjoyment when you're bursting with speed or drifting a corner, but every bit of tension in each race just feels so contrived, as the developers have crafted ways of making the race close, no matter how well you might think you're racing. It's convenient how you can usually only pull away at the very end.
Frankly, none of these obstacles would be so frustrating if the controls allowed you to at least race the race you want. Unfortunately, that isn't the case. The off-road handling for most vehicles is incredibly slippery and imprecise, and the game just resets if you go off the road for more than a few seconds. Adding to that annoyance, the resets take an incredibly long time — sometimes 15 to 20 seconds — before you're back in the action. And even with the on-road action, you'll still find that most cars are unable to turn at the speed you want. You might see a semi-truck about 100 yards up ahead, but sometimes it seems like the sluggish nature of the turning just creates a vortex that magnetizes you to the traffic just enough to clip it or outright wreck you.
When not smashing through the tracks and glancing off of passing traffic, there is an “autolog” that tracks your driver level and provides car unlocks and such, and this is actually a smart and simple way to tell you what you've done and how you're doing. The one oddity is that certain driver abilities are doled out based on your driver level, meaning that you won't have the ability to use nitrous or draft opponents until you've put in some time. I guess the developers wanted to keep people playing and mastering tracks down the line, but holding these items back just seems arbitrary and weird.
The Run looks good, generally speaking, with some varied track design and region-specific architecture. The weather will be changed up here and there, with snowfall or water affecting how the action handles. You also get a good mix of off-road and standard racing — just a shame about those controls. The cars themselves are sleek and stylish, but industry giants like Forza and Gran Turismo leave this offering in the dust in terms of the details. Many manufacturers are represented, including Ford, Porsche, Chevrolet, Nissan and Lamborghini.
Most of the audio is fine, including some solid engine variety on all of the vehicles and good impact when two vehicles collide. The police chatter from pursuing cops is amusing here or there, but it sort of runs its course after you hear it a few times. Mad Men star Christina Hendricks voices one of the characters in the game, but nothing she or the other actors utter is particularly memorable. The soundtrack acquits itself quite well, with a nice mix of classic and alt-rock from bands such as Canned Heat, Black Lips, Brian Jonestown Massacre and Ministry.
I was actually quite intrigued to see what The Run would do with the narrative elements it was promising, so it's unfortunate to say that it really just serves as empty window dressing over top of the main race types. Your character, Jack, is just out for self-preservation and money, providing no real character touches or meaningful motivation. It's kind of telling that before a race you'll hear your female dispatcher and benefactor telling you: “Things are heating up. Watch yourself!” Apparently the writers forgot the main tenet of story creation — show, don't tell — and decided to just rely on clumsy lines of dialogue to amp up the tension.
There are also QTE events peppered sparingly throughout the story, but none of these are particularly engaging gameplay sequences. The cinematics they involve can be somewhat fun, but the button pressing is really just a pass/fail situation that results in you watching the buttons rather than enjoying the action.
Probably my biggest disappointment with these story elements is how they had such little effect on the actual races themselves. The developers had such an interesting concept here, with lots of unique environments to race in, and yet all races just seems so rote and unoriginal. The few times the “story” gets involved only results in you being rammed by mobsters instead of cops, with a bit of gunfire being directed your way. It's also quite poor how the “rivals” you have to take out are given a quick text screen of motivation before you race them — again, telling and not showing.
While not without issue, the online offerings in The Run are relatively well-executed. For starters, the autolog and persistent driver level from the other modes carry over nicely, and you are able to unlock new levels, cars, abilities and challenge tracks by succeeding in multiplayer races. There are a selection of playlists to chose from, with some focusing on specific cars and others just mixing up the car types and tracks randomly.
You're able to group up with friends before you enter a lobby, which is always a welcome feature, and winning a race series will net you a nice reward, such as an XP boost for your driver or an unlockable car. The lobbies work quite well, allowing you to vote for the next track and pick your cars easily. As stated in my game mode impressions, I did find it a bit odd that you're just dropped into a race series if it's already started, meaning you'll be driving as a lonely last-place participant until the track is over. It's sort of an odd design choice, as it's nice to be racing right away and getting some XP, but it's also strange to have no one to compete with.
Overall, the modes, cars and unlocks of the online portion of The Run are a decent value, but the issues of the off-road handling and sluggish vehicle turning do crop up in online races. Usually tracks won't be as dense online, resulting in slightly less frustration, but swerving through crashed racers can be a chore. The online also suffers from slight lag and framerate issues, and these generally seem to crop around turns — areas where racers are going to slow down and congregate. The net code in general seems a bit strange, with rolling starts in races resulting in cars turning the wrong way or bumping into one another, and the whole feel of some of the car collision and restarts pulls the curtain back a bit, revealing that the developers are sort of fudging some things to keep the races from bogging down even more.
It's too bad that The Run doesn't have more race variety and better handling, as some of the online action and persistent driver level features are actually well-designed. If some of the story mode had benefited how races play out and what you need to do to win — much like Fight Night: Champion's story mode achieved — then The Run might been something worthwhile.
Learning Curve: You'll probably hit the road fairly easily in The Run, but some of the core race types require that you just endure annoying rubber-band AI and frustrating obstacles.
Control Scheme: The controls aren't all that complicated in practice, but the car movement is sluggish and the off-road handling is quite dodgy.
Visuals: The Run looks fine, with some decent lens flare and environmental variety. That said, most of this game's peers do a much better job of rendering tracks, cars and all of the little details along the way.
Audio: The soundtrack actually provides some decent beats to go along with some of the more “tense” races, but the voice acting and police radio chatter aren't all that memorable.
Value: While the online mode has some moderately entertaining action to be had, there's not much to do after you struggle your way through the story mode and the by-the-numbers challenge tracks.
Score: 5.5 (Average)