From October 13 to 15 of this year, EA organized another Community day event in their studios in Vancouver, Canada, and, together with leaders from many other international Need For Speed communities, I was invited again to come over and get a chance to play the soon-to-be released NFS: The Run, and to meet with developers for both The Run and NFS World. This being the first time for me in Vancouver, it was certainly exciting to walk around in the actual building where many of the previous chapters from the Need For Speed chapters have been created (together with many of EA’s sports titles).
Once again we got the opportunity to play pretty much the whole game on both PC and console platforms, although the build we got to play was a little earlier in development than the Shift 2 Unleashed version we were allowed to try back in March of this year. This is one reason why I don’t have any photographs to illustrate my article this time, as the information on the screen was often different from the one the retail version would have (the other being that photos taken from a TV screen or pc monitor don’t really do justice to the game anyway).
Instead, I’ll refer to many of the screenshots and gameplay movies that have been revealed in recent weeks to give you an idea of what The Run has to offer, which, in my opinion, is more than I initially thought.
That last line says something about my perception of NFS:The Run, I suppose. Up until a few weeks ago, I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the game. The first gameplay trailer that was shown at E3 put a lot of emphasis on the “out-of-car” sequences, complete with Quick-Time Events, both novelties for the NFS series. After this trailer was met with a generally mixed reception, EA were quick to point out that these events would only make up 10 percent of the game at most, and that The Run would still be a racing game through and through. Another thing done differently from previous games is that the game follows a linear storyline, instead of a traditional Career Mode where you start at the bottom with a slow vehicle and winning races earns you money and unlocks faster rides. With the limited information available on the game for the first few months, I found it difficult to judge if this game was going to appeal to me or not. The Frostbite 2 engine helps to blend the more cinematic moments seamlessly into the gameplay. The Chicago trailer from E3 had people wondering if The Run was still going to be a racing game, but the balance between driving and story is nicely maintained. Hit the Road, Jack
It’s been mentioned before in various trailers and previews, but anyway: You control Jack Rourke, who has to race from San Francisco to New York in an illegal “Canonball”-style race across the USA, defeat 200 opponents on the way, and at the same time avoid both the police and the Mob, the latter being slightly more ruthless in their attempts to stop you. This story is told through cutscenes that sometimes require you to interact by pushing the right button on time (Quick-Time Events) in order to progress the story. As game director Justin Wiebe (who was present at the community event to explain about the game and answer questions) pointed out, the QTE’s were included to keep the player involved with the storyline: “We didn’t want the to lose the players’ attention, have them drop their controller and just sit out a non-interactive cutscene each time”. Those who feared that this game was going to have too much story and not enough racing, can stop worrying. The non-racing moments take up significantly less than the before mentioned 10%, and in my opinion, the story doesn’t dominate the game more than in previous BlackBox titles like Carbon and Undercover.
The career mode (simply called “The Run” in the game) is a strictly linear affair. Almost like an old-school platform game, completing a race will progress you to the next one, and there are no branching options. The whole trip is divided into 10 stages, each of which consists of a number of sub-events, which can be regular races, where you have to overtake a certain number of opponents, checkpoint races, the new Battle Mode, where you have a limited amount of time to catch up with one particular opponent, and have to stay ahead for a certain amount of seconds, and sometimes the environments play a big part, such as the avalanches that we’ve seen in the “Buried Alive” trailer. At times, you will have the police on your tail, which is part of the story too (rather than being random). These gameplay variations do a good job of keeping the racing from getting repetitive. The sights you see on the way are probably one of The Run’s strongest points, you could almost call the game an ode to the American landscape. The Photo Mode, much like the one in HP (but not 100% similar) thankfully makes its return, giving you the possibility to create your own postcards. And post them on your Autolog Gallery.All the World’s a Stage
Another factor that provides the game’s variation is the different locations that you pass through on your way from SF to NY. The Run takes you though cities, highways, snowy mountains, deserts, country backroads, and so on. This is something the game has in common with last year’s Hot Pursuit, and you can’t really avoid comparing the Frostbite 2-powered graphics to Criterions already impressive virtual race world. HP’s graphics seem to have more vibrant colours compared to TR’s more muted palette, but in return, The Run offers an environment of a much bigger scale, something you really notice once you enter the Yellowstone Park stage. It’s here that you notice something else too: the fact that you can actually drop off cliffs if you don’t keep your car under control. It’s where the game gets a little more challenging than the first few races would have you think. The majority of the tracks are of the high speed variety, but there are some really technical tracks that offer a lot less margin for error.
While some areas look more impressive than others, overall the quality of the locations and the variation are probably one of the game’s strongest points. Fog effects really help with atmosphere, whether it’s in the snow-covered mountains, the hazy early morning setting in the farmlands of Pennsylvania, or the polluted air of the nightly industrial zones. There are no rain showers like in Hot Pursuit, but there’s snow and dust storms in their respective environments. The locations flow naturally into each other, meaning that you sometimes race on mundane highways or backroads, but this only helps the more spectacular highlights of the trip to stand out.
Music helps to create the atmosphere, many of the licensed songs (see the playlist put together by NFSUnlimited
). Everyone will have to decide for himself if the choice of songs appeals to him or not, but I found the inclusion of lots of bluesy rock tunes (including some genuine golden oldies like Canned Heat’s One The Road Again) adding to the open-road character of the game, and this is coming from someone who usually turns the music off while racing. The game also features dramatic movie-style music for the pursuit moments and other dramatic sequences, but you can change in the options which kind of background music you prefer. Some multiplayer footage, showing off different areas with different types of tracks, though most of them are still about high speed. Straight tracks can still provide a challenge thanks to the sometimes dense traffic. Horses for Courses
If you’ve followed the weekly revealing of The Run’s cars on the official website, you probably know already what the carlist looks like. For a BlackBox game, the roster is remarkably diverse, ranging from true 1960’s classics cars like The Lamborghini Miura (a first in a Need for Speed game) or the Shelby Daytona coupe, all the way up to modern hypercars like the Pagani Huayra or the Lamborghini Aventador, and something from every decade in between. Cars are divided among performance tiers as well as genre: muscle, exotic or tuner (or ‘sports cars’, as the game calls them). Many cars have a pre-tuned ‘NFS edition’, and on top of that, there are the even more awesomely tuned Signature versions of a few cars, which act as true collectibles to be unlocked by earning XP.
XP are the only ‘currency’ the game uses, because you never really need to buy a car or parts, money plays no part this year. Jack has to keep going forward, so the usual NFS approach of building a garage with ever-faster cars is dropped: at certain points in the story, you will have to switch to a different car, and you even have the opportunity to trade your current car for a different one in the middle of a race, by stopping at one of the several gas stations along the route. No traditionally slow ‘starters cars’ here, from the very beginning you’ll get to pick from rides like the BMW M3 GTS or Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The true top tier cars are saved for later in the game, though. For the same reason, customization is limited; you get to choose paint colour and one of a few bodykits (much like in NFS world) but that’s pretty much it (at least in the version we played) for personalizing your ride. This might disappoint players a little who were hoping for a level of customization comparable that in the older Underground and Most Wanted games. Personally, I was glad to see that classic cars like the Lamborghini Miura or Audi Quattro received body mods that looked historically accurate.
The driving physics in the Run were officially described as ‘somewhere between Shift and Hot Pursuit’, which is, to put it mildly, a bit of a wide definition. But there’s some truth to it. It honestly isn’t a simulation, but the cars aren’t nearly as glued to the road as they were in NFS Hot Pursuit, and they don’t drift through the turns at the tap of the handbrake, either. If I had to compare it to any older NFS game, it would probably be Underground 2, with the way it’s possible to lose the backend of the cars in tight corners or even spin out completely. There’s quite a difference between the cars too, with supercars like the Aventador or the Aston Martin One-77 making driving really fast, really easy, and the classic muscle cars at the other end of the spectrum feeling nose-heavy and soft on their springs. The game recommends using different classes of cars for the different types of tracks, and this was illustrated when I took the SLS AMG to the twisting mountain roads, where it suddenly felt very big and unwieldy. Switching to the more nimble BMW E30 made cornering a lot easier, and the Audi Quattro felt even more planted through the turns (at the sacrifice of top speed, obviously).
I found the way the camera bounces back and forward with the chase cam view a bit distracting, maybe this is something you get used to, but I quickly changed to my preferred hood/bumper cam. In this view, driving one of the mountain passes with lots of hairpins, I noticed the camera tilting upwards a little when accelerating, and dropping a little while braking, which I thought was a decent suggestion of the car’s body roll. Choose your car wisely: the old muscle cars can be a handful in the twistier tracks (if you’re not particularly good, like this driver), but cars with a more challenging handling can still be rewarding to get to grips with. Fancy a Challenge
The career mode, story mode, how you want to call it, is fun, but it’s also finite. Though you can go back to previously cleared stages or even play The Run from the beginning on Extreme Difficulty mode (not easy!), the game, sadly, doesn’t have a Quick Race mode. What the game offers though, is the Challenge Mode. This is a series of over 70 offline events, spread evenly across the ten stages of the game. This adds some nice variation, as it gives you the chance to re-visit the areas that you’ve been through, yet often you’ll find yourself on completely new tracks and in new circumstances. For example, one event has you choose one of the 4wd tuner cars (Impreza, Evo, etc.) and places you on the offroad sections of Yosemite Park, at night, as if you’re racing a Rally stage. Another one lets you drive any of the vintage muscle cars across San Francisco for that Bullitt feeling. Of course Autolog records all your times and compares them with those on your friends list (just as it does with the sections in the careermode, by the way). The challenges are unlocked as you progress through the career mode, and the XP you earn in them will help you unlock cars and other rewards in return. On top of last years bronze, silver and gold, there’s now a platinum medal to strive for in each race.
Multiplayer wasn’t finished enough for us to try it out with the build we were playing, so I honestly say anything from experience. But a lot about that has been revealed in the weeks since, so for more information on online play, I’ll gladly refer to this video
as well as the multiplayer trailer I posted earlier on the front page.
Speaking of challenges, like I already mentioned before, The Run is easy to get into, but can be quite tough at times. New to the game, is the Reset function, which automatically kicks in if you stray too far off the track, or when you wreck your car. It sets you back at the last ‘checkpoint’ at the speed you were carrying at that moment, and the number of resets you have during a race depends on your difficulty setting. If you’re going for a best lap time, you can also use it to retry the last section if you think it wasn’t good enough. If you fear that this might make things too easy, rest assured that Justin Wiebe pointed out that this actually prompted the dev team to step up the difficulty in The Run a bit. Several of the challenges are inspired by previous NFS chapters, not only in choice of cars, but in style of gameplay too; you get hot pursuits in Most Wanted, street racing in urban settings in the Underground series, and so on. Some events are quite long and difficult: challenges in the true sense of the word. Conclusion
I found The Run an entertaining game to play, I think it succeeds at what it set out to do, that of an epic coast-to-coast drive across the USA: once you hit the highways leading out of San Francisco with the sun shining, and one of the licensed rock songs playing in the background, you really feel like you’re at the beginning of a great adventure. And with gorgeous scenery, plenty of variation in gameplay, and driving physics that have more depth to them than you’d think at first, it managed to keep that feeling until the finale in NY City. The Story elements do a good job at keeping everything going without really getting into the way of the game itself.
About the replay value, once you’ve finished the career, there are the challenges and of course the revamped multiplayer mode, but I wish there was a custom or quick race mode for those who aren’t really into online play. Just like with previous titles like Hot Pursuit 2010 or ProStreet, I regret that you don’t have the freedom to race any car on any track (like you could in Shift 2 Unleashed). In a similar way, fans who enjoyed the extensive tuning options from the previous Black Box games, may wish for more freedom in customization.. But The Run isn’t trying to be a sequel to any of the older NFS games, it’s a Need For Speed in its own right, and an enjoyable one, in my opinion.
So, just like the last time, if anyone has any questions, feel free to ask.