Review: Xbox 360: Need For Speed The Run

150mph down a busy highway, police on one side of you and your rivals on the other, Need For Speed The Run takes its chances on the open road but this racing title uses the Frostbite 2 engine; the engine known for its amazing ability to create human looking humans (I know, human looking humans?). This isn’t normally grounds for criticism but it’s the fact that Black Box have made such a big deal out of the Frostbite engine as a selling point while not using it to its full potential that’s makes it an issue in this racing title. NFS Shift and Hot Pursuit both made good ground with their different directions and were well received by fans and critics alike, which makes the direction Black Box have chosen for The Run a little puzzling.

The Run is structured around a story, an almost transparent story which sets you on a path to play through stages which eventually get you to Las Vegas; a coast to coast dash but in sections. This limits the games one player mode dramatically compared to the previous NFS brethren even though TR has a shiny new engine and a longer development time. However there are still some neat online features to be had, not all have been replaced and there’s the array of cars and unlockables to acquire which the NFS titles usually come up trumps with.

You begin with a rather empty cut-scene where Jack Rourke the protagonist is waking up in a sporty looking number with a few cuts and bruises and is about to picked up by a crane by some unidentified evil men and, well, crushed, Mafia style. Most characters in NFS:TR have some really good textural effects on their skin, and other human details like hair are cleanly displayed without any difficulty. Unfortunately the story only delivers instant disappointment as dialogue is poor and characters seem wooden, thus the interesting idea of creating an overall direction to the experience through a coherent and semi-interactive story is whittled away. This inconvenient story structure also brings some dull and irritating button prompts into the mix, very dull and irritating button prompts in fact, that try and act as filler for Jacks transparent tale of “’urban’ male down on his luck forced to fall back on his sociopathic tendencies to rescue himself from an unfortunate predicament” or rather; “criminal freeing himself from crime with crime”.

You’ll begin you first taste of driving in TR when you scramble into an Audi while some evil bozos are chasing you, instantly you’ll pick up the feel for your car which isn’t great, it has far too much drift. The vehicles don’t seem to have a good weight to them which alters how well your vehicle moves around corners and traffic (or doesn’t) and spinning out (if you haven’t compensated) will occur in the most inappropriate instances if you slightly misjudge a corner or traffic. A more exciting aspect of racing in TR is when your opponents or the police start to get heavy with you, it starts to give you something you expect, driver brutality. The race lines through the courses are built around this aspect and you’ll end up flying through barriers, hitting flimsy objects into the air, trying to avoid a big pile of explosives on trucks; TR does offer some small fork in the road type challenges within your actual objective. After you’ve been introduced to the controls, physics and general layout through this brief initial race, you will meet an old friend of yours, Sam Harper and she’ll get you to pick your first car.

Initially you can choose from five vehicles, two more can be unlocked if you have the limited edition copy of the game. You have most of the big manufactures to choose from, BMW, Nissan and Ford are just a few of them. All the cars you choose form here are classed at tier 4, in other modes you can choose lower tiered cars but for now it’s just this tier and you can check other specs like Drivetrain, handling and performance when and as you view them. You get the three standard view points to choose from when you’re out on the road, dashboard, bonnet and behind car view, the exterior view point is the only usable one as the handling is rubbish and causes too much swinging for an inside view, unless you like feeling nauseous that is.

As you get into the game you will familiarise yourself with the games experience system to level up while racing and unlock some cool extras like Nitrous, Cop Eliminator and many others. Also you’ll get to grips with NFS Autolog feature which takes your best times and posts them online so friends can have a good crack at them. Autolog will also inform you when your friends beat course times and will grant you rewards for slapping a time back at them, this is one feature that offers gamers simple enjoyment as it ties in well with the online capabilities of the Xbox 360 and PS3 consoles. When you put these features together you get the basic experience and reward structure of TR which isn’t that bad or good, it just doesn’t move on from these features to open up bigger and better ones, it just adds and adds items and unlocks to your seemingly eternal battle to reach Las Vegas. This makes some middle sections of the game very blurry and uncharacteristic, which isn’t what we’ve been shown from the past titles. NFS titles are normally filled with mad scenarios, awesome sound quality and plenty of driver brutality but it’s hard to find those qualities in TR which is a shame as the promise of a good story to place yourself into was a big draw when it was first announced.

The productivity of the roads and environments you are placed in and around vary as you proceed from urban streets to rural settings. The weather will change occasionally too, creating an environmental type challenge alongside your current one and some of the more rural courses are much better at creating fun and challenging situations and look pretty good too; they get that blood pumping as you miss falling boulders and heaps of traffic by just a nip. There’s crazy jumps to bound over, they’re normally hidden in and around short cuts and there’s a small amount of off road tom-foolery to be had too. There’s one quality TR has down to a T and that’s its sound effects; crashes, traffic and tire squeals all sound sublime and create a nice bite to your best crashes and accidents. Some accidents however can put you out the action for good, there is a rewind feature that doesn’t so much rewind time but resets you to the last checkpoint you passed and half the time you end up behind the A.I you’ve already beaten. Frustrating indeed.

If you need a break from the continuous prologue there’s a couple more sections of the game which open up TR that little bit more, one of those sections is the Challenge Series section which basically involves you earning medals on certain courses. There’s quite a few to get through and they have a range of different restrictions on them too, you’ll work your way down the list of challenges unlocking them as you go and try to earn the most experience so you can to nab all those platinum medals and get your gloat on. Overall it’s a nice time filler but it isn’t mind blowing either, however the Autolog feature does try and keep it fresh by offering you challenges and rewards.

If your looking for a more human challenge TR does offer a healthy multiplayer option to gamers but offers no private lobby feature or slit-screen mode, which limits the games brotential on the sofa. You start by selecting a playlist; playlists contain several unique race sessions of three-five races each and can earn you extra rewards. Playlists can offer a distinct experience as they mix up different locations with vehicle types and performance tiers, here you get the change to mess around with other tiers of cars but with the less powerful ones come some handling issues which ultimately brings the fun down a notch. As always with online modes there are a couple of things to watch out for; disconnecting from the EA servers happens from time to time but not enough to ruin the game online. You can also choose races which promote more sportsmanlike racing for those who like a clean fight and but there’s the Mixed Competition mode for the masochists.

Need For Speed The Run doesn’t even get off to a good running start, it stalls terribly. It does try and make an effort here and there but ultimately the design prevents the title from achieving the things it set out to do and what you’re expecting from the series.

Score: 6/10

Publisher: Electronic Arts

Developer: Black Box

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Review: Xbox 360: Goldeneye Reloaded

Remember the days when all you needed to do to simply enjoy a game was to either take your pad round a friends house or invite them all over to your gaff? Not that GR needs the nostalgia to help you revisit those times as it builds upon the previous N64 performance by illuminating, evolving and re-animating certain previous elements with a smart 3D infrastructure to the level design.

This ultimately enables the gamer to receive the best experience possible whatever the difficulty, mode or level of skill the gamer has; and it’s because of the carefully implemented tweaks that give Goldeneye a layer of modern polish. These changes have been implemented with obvious love and care which ensures the original action and stealth elements of the beloved Goldeneye are intact throughout the remake but with the added features that you normally associate with the more modern consoles. This brings heaps more of the game-play you love and would normally associate with the N64 classic.

The story isn’t anything special in itself but it helps create the right environments to utilise all of Bonds tasty skills and equipment, there are also slight changes to the character line-up but this doesn’t effect the actual balance of the game. You’ll start off with a little dab of training in a small MI6 training room and if you’ve played the Wii or N64 version(s) you will instantly recognise certain areas and reflect what changes you can see through the previous versions. The control scheme isn’t anything out of this world, most of the commands you will already associate with FPS’s and the new gadgets can be used with the d-pad, this allows even newcomers to create a little bit of pace and fluidity to their in-game combat ability. The only control issue I can see gamers having misgivings with is the rather abrupt and odd button prompt scenes, which create a slight pot-hole effect in the games pace.

You can ultimately play the campaign in two ways, either using the stealth ability of several foam-wrapped mute ninjas to take out unsuspecting evil henchmen or run in like Rambo and watch the mayhem unfold. Both are perfectly viable options to enjoy either way and both bring you a different view and vibe on the campaign, even when you replay levels multiple times. The campaign also has some fitting action orientated cut-scenes which takes you further into the game and keeps the story intact, no plot-holes or seemingly thinly stretched cut-scenes here just added benefits to an already solid experience. The A.I isn’t that dimwitted either even on the easiest difficulty, you can be creeping away and get spotted if you are too brazen, they also dive behind cover and have other oddities to their behaviour to make them that little bit harder to nail in the head.

A welcome addition to the games campaign is the action-packed but sadly brief vehicle sections, these tie-in with parts of the previous version but improve upon and open up some impressive sequences instead. The Tank especially is hordes of fun and incredibly easy to control, you’ll be rolling along firing at buildings to scatter men on foot and then lock-on to some airborne targets as you chase Ourumov through the streets of St. Petersburg. The array of weapons you have access to straight away is a delight, you’re normally made to skimp on ammo or keep your favourite weapons till you need them, thankfully not for Bond though. There is a small amount of collectables in the campaign, not many at all in fact, but the replay value is found when changing the difficulty as this affects your health, objectives and certain features are removed to create an uber hard test for you and Bond to get through. The campaign is about 10 hours of play altogether, throw in the other difficulties plus collectables and at best your looking at 10-15 hours play, however as this is a remake, Bond has a few more tricks up his sleeve thanks to the MI6 mission mode and the return of the mouth-watering multi-player mode.

MI6 Missions basically require you to do one of three things: Elimination, Defence or Stealth your way through the challenge maps. You are scored on many aspects, though it’s mostly speed and you can change several options and stats before you start your challenge, if you change the amount of health you get or the aggressiveness of the A.I in the option menu it changes the overall difficulty rating bonus you will receive at the end of the challenge. There are some bizarre Mission Modifiers to activate if you wish like; Paintball mode, Golden gun and Ragdoll mode which can spice things up on the battlefield… just a little! They are several maps to complete and these add a miniature sense of accomplishment whether completed on some silly hard difficulty or not; this is all user friendly and changeable. The optimisation of the customisation elements of Goldeneye helps accommodate lots of different ranges and levels of skill gamers have and can satisfy even the oddest or most hardcore appetites, also maps are designed so you can get into different positions and utilise certain weapons to complete the mission quicker.

Goldeneye offers up an impressive multi-player selection, the next selection being the split screen mode. You and three others are able to play on 14 maps, with 6 game modes and a staggering 56 characters (including favourites from the bond series) to choose from. Having a four way with Blofeld, Scaramanga and Oddjob is extremely funny, especially if you’re familiar with the characters or the actual bond movies and this wide range of guns, modes, characters and maps creates a Pandora’s box of funnies. Some of these modes are quite creative, modes like ‘You only live twice’ are fun and challenging; as to win you’ll need to be the last gamer standing after everyone has lost their lives and can’t respawn. Eventually, if you’ve had enough of ruining your mates day in your own home you can always take a trip to multi-player land where the boisterous mayhem hits its critical point and you can ruin people’s day online instead.

Multi-player mode as a whole is solid, it gives you a good range of maps and weapon load-outs and the experience system helps keep your attention on getting as many kills as possible in matches. The best way to describe the game-play at times is to compare it to Counter Strike, when everyone is running round with shotguns or smaller more powerful weapons things can get very fast paced. Online games can also start at the other end of the scale on more evasive maps with multiple objects or buildings that create cover, players pick there other long range load-outs and other players take the lead on the scoreboard. When you create your first weapon load-out, you will find some gadget slots that remind you of the perks feature from the COD series. These work really well with a smaller more compact multi-player mode, the differences are more noticeable and can help gamers easily create a better fitting class that can kick-ass. You have 3 gadget slots altogether, one is for proximity, timed or remote mines along with grenades if you wish, proximity mines are especially crafty which makes them a must for gamers that like to be creative. Gadget slots 2 and 3 are for your character and weapon perks, Fast-Forward; increased speed or Snap-Shot; improves accuracy and you have a acceptable amount to switch between. You can get a lot of good game-play from the multi-player side and you can team up with friends too which makes Goldeneye’s multi-player experience an all round brilliant one. The only slight issue is with the amount of players online; you might have trouble filling rooms for Escalation and any modes that differ from Team Death match and One v all.

Goldeneye Reloaded is totally packed with the stuff you really want, it’s filled with the improvements gamers maybe wanted when it was first available on the N64 but had no way of ultimately picturing this dream. Though we, as gamers are used to being spoilt these days with hogs of extras and DLC to comprehend buying, Goldeneye Reloaded takes all of these previous after thoughts, issues and evolution that is achievable and incorporates it into the original design but with vastly improved level design and pace. This is definitely a title to pick up for good if you and your friends are looking for a solid remake of the N64 classic, re imagined by modern minds for current technology.

Score: 7.5/10

Publisher: Activision

Developer: Eurocom Entertainment Software