Need for Speed Hot Pursuit was the greatest Need for Speed title that I have ever played.
Everything about the game was excellent, from the car handling, to the visuals and even the online multiplayer. The single-player campaign didn’t take itself too seriously, and the level progression system although a bit short, was simple and functional. Following on from this truly fantastic game, EA have committed the now entirely fashionable move of switching their development team, by allowing in-house developers Blackbox to work on their next game.
So here we are the EA’s next notch on the Need for Speed belt, with Need for Speed: The Run. The game follows racer Jack Rourke as he enters a sprint across the width of the USA, for the sole intent of digging himself out of the pit of debt he currently finds himself in. The race naturally awards a huge pay-out to the winner, and our protagonist sees this as the quick-fix to his problems. Enter the race, beat the 149 other competitors to New York, collect winnings, live the rest of your life without any hassle, simple. But, perhaps too simple.
As the game begins, we find ourselves (as Jack) trapped in a Porsche, being slowly lowered into a car compacter, whilst two fine gentlemen look on. Not keen on providing me with any aid, it becomes apparently fairly quickly that this is going to be a very short game unless I get out of the compacter. But what’s this, a quick-time event? Yes, for The Run prides itself on being the first game in the Need for Speed series which allows the player to control their protagonist. Well, control may be the wrong word. You press a button prompt, whilst Jack then executes a series of actions getting out of any danger he finds himself in with consummate ease. I have never been a fan of QTE’s, and a Need for Speed game is hardly a suitable game to be using them in anyway. The Run operates on a modified version of the same Frostbite engine which powered Battlefield Bad Company 2, and I sure as hell can run without having to tap the two trigger buttons at the same time in that game.
After I escape the compacter, I jump quickly into a conveniently located BMW and hit the accelerator, starting a chase involving myself and several black SUV’s which seem to be running on Jet-Engines. A quick slow-motion run across a train track narrowly avoiding an oncoming locomotive, and the single-player experience in The Run begins. Oh, and did I mention there was a shit-load of explosions going off during that chase and I was being shot at? This isn’t the Need for Speed I know.
During the next loading sequence, a small character bio pops up on screen. This is the bio of one ‘Sam Harper’, a Christina-Hendricks look-alike who was predictably raised on the same ‘bad-streets’ with Jack, but both of them managed to get away and make better lives for themselves. Right, and I suppose that’s why you’re meeting in a shady restaurant in China Town with the intention of entering the worlds’ largest illegal race? Sure. This is the first of many character bio’s in the game, which serve no purpose other than to introduce you to bit-part characters you will meet in The Run, without having to show them in a cut-scene actually saying something. Amongst other, totally non-stereotypical characters not important enough to render, are a Boxer who ‘refuses to accept second-place’ (except when I beat him three times), a socialite who ‘is only here for the thrill’ (how about you go buy a fucking trampoline?) and a Mexican who ‘shunned a life of crime after he found the love of a good woman, and is now racing to give his kid a better life’ (how about you stop spending your money on petrol to get you across the continent and get a fucking job?). Oh, and to top it all off, there’s my main rival, (his name is Blackmore something I think, or it could be something else, such is the impact of the characters in this game, but let’s just go with Blackmore) who comes from a ‘connected Chicago family’ and has an uncle who ‘calls all the shots’. Seriously, Blackbox? I could write a better character bio at 12:30AM, overtired. In fact:
“(Nathan?) Blackmore. The name sends shivers down the spine of every criminal, crook and ne’er-do-well in Chi-Town. Blackmore is the worst of the worst. Disregarding the fact that his Uncle owns large stakes in many of the automotive production facilities throughout this city, Blackmore is inherently wealthy, and is as well known for his short temper as he is for his honed driving abilities. If you get on his bad side, he won’t hesitate to exact revenge in a way only he can. Blackmore is as deadly with a gun in his hand as he is behind the wheel.”
EA, either you pay your writers too much, or you hired the wrong people. So there, my first gripe with the game is the pathetic character bio’s. My next gripe with it is the story itself.
So, I am Jack Rourke. For reasons that I am still waiting to be explained to me, I am in debt, but I still have enough money to put a down-payment on entering a cross-country race, pay for 3,000 miles worth of fuel, and own a garage complete with five high-end cars. It is in this garage, where your ‘Run’ actually begins. I can’t help but think that EA should’ve given you a fixed (and not too brilliant) car here to start the game but whatever, I will just roll out in my $150,000 Chevrolet Camaro, leaving four other $80,000+ cars to rot in the garage.
The Run begins fairly well. You start in San Francisco and race out of the city, whilst overtaking fellow racers and avoiding police. After dramatically driving off of the Golden Gate bridge, we begin our journey in the vast plains of the United States. The Run is divided into 10 stages, with each stage representing a distinct location in the US. Unfortunately, the first four stages are highly uneventful and samey, with the only interaction between characters being Sam’s remarks via video that ‘competition is hotting up’. Thanks for that, Sam.
Amazingly, after the frantic opening, not too much happens in the way of the storyline. On my journey from San Francisco to New York, I engage in a few one-on-one elimination races, two more quick-time events, get chased by the police about four more times, and then eventually beat my rival (that Blackmore fellow) to the prize after taking a detour through a live Subway. What’s more, as I dramatically beat Blackmore to the finish, he then crashes and spins behind me, whilst I skid coolly into the view of a waiting camera. I can only assume Blackmore died, but that seemed an unnecessary note to end the game on. Personally, I would’ve gone for an exciting 10-way ‘Rat Race’ style scramble for the finish line against all of the ‘character-bio crew’ and Blackmore. After Blackmore’s metal coffin comes to a halt, I meet Sam in a café, she takes her 90% cut of the money (nice negotiating, Jack) and then leaves. Congratulations, you have completed The Run. There is a small titbit during the end credits which shows Sam enjoying her spoils (wearing a coat, drinking coffee) enquiring what Jack is doing. Jack is then seen being pursued by the police and exclaiming ‘there isn’t anywhere I’d rather be’. That is absolute vintage Jack Rourke. Well it would be, if Jack had any shred of personality about him. And thus, our race across the USA against many faceless opponents only good enough for a two-sentence character bio, a man with a gun, and our protagonist Jack ‘Got It’ Rourke ends, in what I can only describe as one of the most dull road-trips of all time. And that ends my second gripe, the weak excuse for a story.
Finally, we have the races themselves. Just like the campaign, there is very little to tell here. Each stage features around 8 races, with around 8 of the 10 stages going a little something like this:
1) Overtake Race (pass x number of opponents before the finish line)
2) Make-Up Time Race (race in between checkpoints before the clock expires)
3) Overtake Race
4) Make-Up Time Race
5) Overtake Race with cops
6) Make-Up Time Race
7) One-on-One Overtake Race and Make-Up Time Race hybrid
8) End of stage.
The exceptions to this would be the two stages which also featured quick-time events. Besides the generic multiplayer and ‘Challenge Mode’, that’s your lot for Need for Speed The Run.
A poor excuse for a plot, awful character development, repetitive and uneventful races, and a screenshot feature which uploads your screenshots to the web in terrible resolution. That hurt me most of all, EA. With your repetitive races, few quick-time events and a handful of cut-scenes, NFS: The Run will take you no less than 3 and a half hours to complete in a single session.
This game seems to be lacking in so many areas, it’s surprises me how the game hit scores as high as ‘8 out of 10’ on certain websites. The game is dire, and if I was to review it based solely off of the single-player experience, it would get a generously awarded 3.5 out of 10. For future titles EA, please take what Criterion did with Hot Pursuit, or what you did with Pro Street and run with it. If your next title is a reboot of the Underground franchise or Hot Pursuit 2 and it is as bad as this game, then you may have lost me completely. The Run is easily the worst Need For Speed game I have ever played, and it most definitely failed in several areas. Sharpen up, EA.
Image credits: Author