Black Box returns to Need for Speed with limited success
The Need for Speed franchise has been in a weird spot for quite a few years. Ever since Need for Speed: Prostreet, the franchise has had some identity issues. In the following years, two more developers have joined the fray and started making Need for Speed games and the market has gone haywire as a result, due to the drastically different games that the developers have been making with the Need for Speed name on them and their wildly varying quality overall. Unfortunately for the developer Black Box, The Run is not the smashing success that they may have been hoping for. Painfully long load-times, a fairly uninteresting story, and a shockingly short campaign keep this game from returning the franchise to its former glory.
This year's game, the third different Need for Speed game to the be released in the last twelve months, is titled Need for Speed: The Run. The design document for this game must have read something like, "It is kind of like Cannonball Run without the funny and a Michael Bay look with less explosions". Because that is kind of what you get with this game, a high-action trill-ride that attempts to take itself more seriously than Most Wanted or Carbon, but still decidedly less self-involved and pretentious that Undercover. The plot of the game is pretty simple. You are a wheelman, a wheelman that has gotten himself into some trouble and the mob wants you dead. You meet up with a business acquaintance, voiced by Christina Hendricks of Mad Men fame, she offers you a chance to get into a cross-country race from San Francisco to New York and cut you in on the winnings. So, off your character goes into the wild untamed country to climb your way from number 240 all the way to number 1. The story itself is considerably less-intrusive than in past Need for Speed games that contained story. It is probably for the best. But, considering how funny Need for Speed Most Wanted was, it could have been really funny to see some full-motion video sequences return. Also, why have they never brought Razor Callahan back? That guy was hilarious. But, I digress.
The environments in the game are extremely diverse. This is one of the most varied games around from a visual perspective. The game opens in San Francisco on a foggy morning as you barrel across the Golden Gate Bridge. Later on you are ripping through the strip in Las Vegas, drifting through the frozen mountain passes in the Rocky Mountains, and running from a helicopter full of gangsters in Chicago. The game really does a good job of showcasing the power of the Frostbite 2 engine and the diversity of this great country of ours.
Graphically the game ranges from jaw-dropping to occasionally messy and poorly executed. This game uses graphical effects to great degree. The mist hanging in the air in the early morning, shockingly good lighting effect, and lightning strikes in the distance, all show off the the power of the technology. However, there are some blemishes on this package. The framerate in the game is rock solid at 30 fps. But, the game does have some problems streaming in some textures and geometry, especially in the later portions of the game due to the considerably higher speed of the cars. There were several occasions where I seemingly outran the texture stream for the road texture. The texture on the road went from very high-res to extremely low-res and then back to high-res again. This happened a few times during the game. It is not a deal-breaker. But, it did affect the immersion every time it happened. Considering the initiative of the developer to show the main character and others out of the car more often, I was suprised at how badly the characters animated. Christina Hendricks character is one of the worst offenders, it is surprising that they gave so much scree-time to a character model that looked and animated so poorly.
The Run is a good game. I would not recommend purchasing the game at the full $60 sticker price. The game still has a pefectly functional online suite with all of the collectible badges and medals you would find in a Call of Duty game. Also, once you have completed the main campaign there is a collection of challenges to be had in another mode. But, without the story to push me along, I found that the challenges delivered with diminishing returns. Need for Speed: The Run is a game that shows in some ways that Black Box may have found a new artistic vision for the franchise. However, this game is often more of a creative miss than a direct hit. It is very hard to recommend this game to all but the most staunch supporters of the franchise. If you are looking for high-speed thrills with cop chases and spectacular car crashes, you might want to pick up last year's Criterion developed Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. It is a masterpiece of a video game that could be purchased for a fraction of the cost of The Run.
This review was written based off of the Xbox 360 version of Need for Speed: The Run.