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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