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Need for Speed: The Run Review

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The Run starts with an incredible idea for a racing game, but everything surrounding this year's Need for Speed feels like a cross-country calamity.

At the center of Need for Speed: The Run is a fantastic idea. Maybe it's just because I've always been a big Cannonball Run fan, but the mere thought of a cross-country race is enough to get me going. So with that in mind, it probably wouldn't surprise you to hear that I was kind of pulling for The Run. But it's disappointing on almost every level. Aside from some occasionally nice graphics and audio, there aren't too many worthwhile things to be found in this year's Need for Speed. It squanders its terrific concept by saddling it with poor handling, insanely inconsistent off-road and crash behaviors, and straightforward, race-only multiplayer that isn't good enough to keep you coming back. If you want to play this type of light, arcade-like driving game, stick to last year's Hot Pursuit.

The setup for your cross-country race has you playing a driver named Jack. On the run from the mob, Jack needs to win this big race earn a high-enough stack of money to make those problems vanish. He starts in San Francisco and the race takes you through Las Vegas, Chicago, and plenty of other rural points as you try to beat over 200 other racers to New York City. But this isn't just some kind of crazy endurance run. Instead, the action is broken up into 10 stages, which are broken up further into specific events. In some cases you'll need to pass eight or nine racers before getting to the end of the section. In others you'll just be racing against a clock to "make up time." This makes the game incredibly linear and static, because if you don't complete those tasks, you'll have to retry that leg of the trip until you get it right. So when your female benefactor says you'll need to hit 50th place by the time you hit Chicago, you can be sure that you'll make it there... even though the story doesn't really say anything about needing to hit those milestones for, like, race rules purposes. It's contrived, but it's contrived in a way that at least serves the game by giving you a variety of things to do as you race.

The game also gins up ways to move you from one class of cars into a faster class by adding a few Quick Time Event sequences to the action. These normally happen in big cities, and they'll have you wrecking your car, running away from angry cops, jumping across rooftops, and stuff like that. It's a little silly because the cutscenes playing on the screen look pretty nice, but you'll be too busy staring at the little button prompts to notice. At the end of these sequences, you'll steal or find a new, faster car to continue on. Gas stations littered along the side of some tracks also give you opportunities to get into different vehicles, in case you aren't gelling with your current ride.

Cars are broken up into tiers to keep similar vehicles together, but they're also given different handling types, like "easy," or "challenging." In my experience, none of the cars feel particularly good. The easy and normal cars feel like they're stuck in the mud, incredibly stiff-steering, and weirdly auto-correcting. Dodging oncoming traffic on a straightaway becomes difficult because the controls simply don't feel responsive enough. The harder handling vehicles don't seem to actually correct this, either. Instead, those cars just get a bit more squirrely around curves, making it a little easier to drift around turns in some cases, but generally just making the driving feel underwhelming in a different way. EIther way, most of the game isn't especially challenging once you get used to the particular quirks in its handling models, though a few events throw curves at you that spike the difficulty in weird ways. When you're running from the mob, who are pursuing you through Cleveland with two suspiciously fast SUVs and a helicopter, you'll get shot at from all sides, forcing you to swerve around in vehicles that don't swerve particularly well as you try to weave your way through a track that seems to be exploding around you. The game offers the helpful tip of "avoid gunfire," but that sequence sort of felt more like luck to me. The constant rubber band AI from your opposition, which keeps everyone close to you at almost all times, certainly didn't help.

The Run's 10 stages will probably take most players between two and three hours of time, from the leaderboard's perspective. That time doesn't include resets and time spent looking at menus, so it's a bit longer than that, but it doesn't feel especially substantial. Despite there being some great little moments, like the dusky sky as you're leaving Las Vegas or the cracks of thunder and lightning as you blast through South Dakota, I can't say I saw too many reasons to go back. The game does fill every nook and cranny with Autolog leaderboards and race recommendations, but when the core game doesn't hold up, fighting over positions with your friends sounds kind of pointless. As you clear out the main mode, tracks are opening up in a "challenge series" mode that gives you medals and other unlockables to earn. Again, this would be a better proposition if the game was more interesting on its own.

Lastly the game has multiplayer, and this breaks the tracks up into several different playlists and builds three-race sessions out of the existing tracks. Up to eight players can race and, well, that's about it. You'll earn XP and build your persistent level, granting you more unlocks along the way, but the simple race style doesn't get much better when you throw in seven other players. The game already has a jarring problem with the way it handles off-road driving, as it seems to be overly sensitive about when it forces you to reset back onto the track. Marked shortcuts? Those are just fine. Cut a hairpin turn a little too close and get off the road a bit? Forced reset. Fly off the road around a turn? Sometimes it's totally fine and you'll be able to recover. Sometimes the screen simply fades to black and drops you back onto the track. Offline, this digs into your limited reserve of resets. Online it happens a bit faster but with unpredictable results. I managed to bump another human player off the road. We both respawned, but for some reason I respawned faster, letting me easily take the lead with no skill whatsoever. The whole system feels completely arbitrary, which is exactly the sort of thing you don't want to see in a competitive multiplayer game.

While there's certainly a great idea at the core of the experience, Need for Speed: The Run instead comes off like some kind of tragedy. The end may set up for a direct sequel to The Run, but unless that's going to include a complete overhaul of every single system, I can't imagine anyone wanting to see that come to fruition. It's a shame, too, because after years of slowly floundering, last year's Need for Speed breathed new life into the long-running franchise. Now, whoever's developing next year's game is starting out with the same depressing deficit we saw back in Need for Speed: Undercover.

Jeff Gerstmann on Google+
80 Comments
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Posted by rjayb89

TOO MUCH CONTENT

Posted by m16mojo2

yup

Posted by BoomSnapClap113

Nooooooooo, I wanted this to be good :(

Edited by louiedog

2-3 hours? I like the premise and it seems competent enough that $2 from Redbox sounds about right. I'm sure most driving game fans already have a couple of better games to play online. I just can't think of a scenario where $60 makes any sense for this game.

If this had been $15 to download and they hadn't worried so much about cut scenes to bring down the cost? Sure, I'd have probably jumped on that.

Posted by rcath

Ouch. Yikes.

Posted by Zabant

Man that is a bad sounding game, what a shame.

Posted by RandomInternetUser

"Suspiciously fast SUVs" made me laugh. Too bad about the game, sounds pretty mediocre/not good.

Posted by SilverPR

I'm playing it, and I don't see the 2 star review here. I'm enjoying it though, and don't get me that "What are you doing?" speech, everyone it's entitle to play and enjoy what they want. Maybe we got spoiled with Hot Pursuit, that must be it.

Posted by cooljammer00

Ah, after playing many hours of Hot Pursuit, I was wondering why the Run demo felt so weird and bad. Thought it was just me. The camera was a bit too low, no weapons, handling was way off, etc.

And to boot, that quick look was only a few minutes long!

Posted by RE_Player1

So Black Box does a great job with the Skate series only to come back to the Need for Speed series and fuck up the good will Criterion made with Hot Pursuit last year. EA just give the Burnout and Need for Speed keys to Criterion and leave it at that.

Posted by DriveupLife

It's time for need for speed most wanted 2. Five grand. FIVE GRAND.

Posted by Jolt92

Already removed this game off my list for games I might buy during the bombcast talk, seems like I percieved things right.

Posted by P_Pigly_Hogswine

NFS has been having the mother of all identity crises for years. One minute it's a pursuit racer, the next it's a performance racer, then it's back to being an action racer, then it's trying to be an arcade sim. One of these days they'll make NFS: The FPS.

Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

The Quick-Look was really a bummer. That light post Jeff hit, followed by a drive through light post, just drove me nuts. Someone somewhere decided to make two different lightposts.....grrrrr.

The Cruis'n games probably did a better job of replicating a cross country racing game than anything since. The United States is such an isolated and fascinating place. It's a shame, but expected, that Need for Speed would somehow axe that. I can think of more then a dozen places that would deserve a stage set. The Redwoods, Grand Canyon, Phoenix, Salt Flats, Seattle, those all seem like such cool places to do races.

Ugh, the US rocks for locales, but Grid can only do so much.....

Posted by VikingChux

I really dig the set-up for the game, love the movie atmosphere, and enjoyed the demo. But 3 hours of actual gameplay? Damn. I might just wait for it to get cheaper and let TDU2 keep fulfilling my driving needs this winter.

Posted by selfdestroyer

One less game to by this month. Finally a break!

Edited by Phished0ne

Need For Speed:The Run is not as bad as diarrhea. I really wish Ryan would've made that the deck on this review. Would've been an amazing inside joke.

@msavo said:

EA just give the Burnout and Need for Speed keys to Criterion and leave it at that.

That is a terrible terrible idea. If EA gave NFS to Criterion we'd never get a proper burnout game ever again. EA would slave-drive those motherfuckers to make nothing but NFS games.

Posted by MikkaQ

Bummer, I dug the idea. I had a bad feeling about this one from the start though. Something about it felt like it was gonna be quickly pushed out the door with little fanfare.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

I didn't think this would ever turn out well, and just like everyone else, I want Criterion to make another Burnout. I'm begging you, Criterion.

Posted by TomA

Sucks to hear this game sucks balls. I was willing to forgive the dumb QTE stuff and what not, because the cross-country race sounded really exciting.

Posted by SlightConfuse

was not intrested but now i have no intention to touch this game, good review jeff

Edited by MaddProdigy

I knew Hot Pursuit had to be a fluke. I think ( edit for grammar/spelling) Criterion and DICE are honestly EA's only studios worth anything. They get put on so many different games, and everything they touch turns to sweet gaming gold.

I wasn't going to even rent it after the way EA handled BF3 and Origin, but this just confirms my decision.

Posted by jukeboxzer0

slap the slap stick

Online
Posted by Yanngc33

:(

Posted by phrosnite

Ouch... but not surprised.

Posted by ThePhantomnaut

I guess Christina Hendricks couldn't save it. :(

Posted by aseddon130

Gamestop UK had this game advertised for £24.99 for an hour last week so i bought it, and i thought if it gets crap reviews i'll just trade it in immediately and get Saints Row The Third instead.

Looks like that is happening afterall.

Posted by hi_im_rob

Well, guess I'll wait and see how Criterion saves the series again

Posted by PrivateIronTFU

That's too bad. And Hot Pursuit was such a good game, too. I thought they could keep it up.

Posted by Alexandruxx
@Phished0ne said:

That is a terrible terrible idea. If EA gave NFS to Criterion we'd never get a proper burnout game ever again. EA would slave-drive those motherfuckers to make nothing but NFS games.
 
Couldn't they clone Criterion?

Posted by Winternet

Dang. I was hoping for a 3-star

Posted by _Horde

That makes me a bit sad, I too was intrigued by this concept.

Posted by andrewf87462

Slightly disappointed at how this game has turned out (although not suprised). I shall be giving this one a miss I think. On the plus side, more time for BF3 and Skyrim!

Posted by Rekt_Hed

I can't say I'm surprised. I played the demo with at least a bit of hope after NFS:HP was awesome but the handling for the run is fuckin WACK. This alone was enough to make wait for a review and I'm glad I did.

Jeez sort it out EA.

Posted by Rekt_Hed
@SilverPR duder if your enjoying the game then that's cool, its just this game is probably not gonna be for people that aren't way into NFS
Posted by Osiris

WHAT?! Only 2 stars... wtf I thought this game was gonna be super Awe... wait. Nope, no, I didn't think that at all. Let's move on! I mean is anyone "done" with Skyrim yet? :D

Posted by TatsurouXIII

after the quick look I was kinda thinking that it's one of the most uninteresting games to come out this year. Basically it's a great idea that will never work as a NFS game. Other racing games, yes, but the NFS formula is not able to handle it. 2 stars not a surprise at all.

Posted by Wuddel

Ah damn, I sincerely wanted this to be good.

Posted by ObsideonDarman

My faith in the NFS Series died a long time ago and then Criterion came with the fantastic Hot Pursuit.

It's a shame EA Black Box couldn't make this one a consistent return to form for the series.

Edited by SuperSambo

@MaddProdigy said:

I knew Hot Pursuit had to be a fluke. I think ( edit for grammar/spelling) Criterion and DICE are honestly EA's only studios worth anything. They get put on so many different games, and everything they touch turns to sweet gaming gold.

I wasn't going to even rent it after the way EA handled BF3 and Origin, but this just confirms my decision.

Visceral Games and the Fifa Studio (EA Canada?) are doing good stuff.

Also, even though ME3/DA2 seems to have put a few people off, you can't downplay Bioware.

Posted by vaportra1l

Well this sucks. Thanks for saving me sixty bucks Jeff!

Posted by Seppli

I know I will enjoy The Run for the 2-3 hours it takes me to play through the campaign. That said, no way I'm gonna get this at full retail price and it's already pretty damn cheap for PC. Waiting till this thing is firmely in the bargain bin segment price-wise.

Posted by Krisgebis

@SilverPR: The funny thing is, Hot Pursuit wasn't event THAT great. No, Black Box is back with another crappy NFS titel. This seems better then their last 5 offering though.

And yes, everyone is entitled to enjoy what games they want :)

Posted by GunslingerPanda

Never thought I'd see this; an overhyped, overproduced game getting a score it deserves here.

Posted by Video_Game_King

You saw the Michael Bay thing, didn't you?

Posted by kollay

*Cringe* ouch! Well, this will disappear in the black hole of games.

Posted by bassman2112

@MaddProdigy: Don't forget Visceral, Valve (EA Partner), Bioware and Respawn (Partner) =)

Posted by Jeffk38uk

That's quite unfortunate to read really as I was also hopeful that Black Box may have finally figured out how to make a great NFS game again after the last few games were kind of eh. Evidently not even with several years to do it.

Posted by Blueblur1

Typo in the fourth paragraph: "EIther way"

Posted by ucankurbaga

waste of car licences.

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