It seems that lately, EA hasn’t really been sure what direction they want the Need for Speed series to go. Black Box games had been the main developer on the series since Hot Pursuit 2 in 2002, but EA gave the series a year off after 3 games in 3 years by Black Box lead to the critically panned Need for Speed ProStreet in 2007. EA then gave Slightly Mad Studios a shot with Need for Speed Shift in 2009. Need for Speed Shift was a major departure for the series, being more of a simulation than an arcade experience. Shift was well received, and has since gotten its own sequel, but without the Need for Speed title. In 2010, Burnout developer Criterion had a turn and released Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, a throwback to the popular Hot Pursuit series from last generation. Now, with four years of development time, Black Box is back with Need for Speed: The Run. Need for Speed: The Run is set be released on November 15 for Xbox 360, Playstation 3, Wii, 3DS, and PC.
The demo for Need for Speed: The Run features two levels and two cars, and gives a little taste of the story of the game. The premise of the game is that there is a race from San Francisco to New York with a winner take all prize of $25 million. You play the character of Jack, who is a participant in the race. From what I was able to gather from the demo, it seems that this is more than just a race to Jack, though the demo doesn’t give any insight into what else may be involved.
The first race takes place on a desert track in death valley, with the second race being a race through a snowy Colorado mountain. Due to the cross country race style of the game, none of the tracks are circuits like most racing games, instead being point to point races. Also, it seems like there aren’t really starting lines or anything like that, so when the race begins, you are already moving and there are cars ahead of you. The goal of each race is to pass a set number of cars and be in front of them when you hit the finish line. I am not a huge fan of this style, because it doesn’t really feel like an evenly matched race. You always start in the back, and are basically playing catch up. This makes the game feel like you are clearly better than every other racer, and your only challenge is whether or not you can catch up in time. Once you pass someone, there isn’t much risk of them passing you unless you crash or go off course.
The most intriguing aspect of Need for Speed: The Run, for me at least, is the cinematic element to the game. There aren’t any of the on-foot portions shown at E3 in this demo, but it does give a taste of the type of cinematic elements in the races themselves. The camera is great, it is the typical behind the car camera, but it is dynamic. It will sway on corners, pull in close when passing, and pull back on long straight aways. This dynamic camera and the great sense of speed make the game really fun and engaging while racing. The snow track featured in the demo also has some great unique cinematic elements. When the race starts, Jack is standing on the road in front of the mountain, reading a road closed sign that warns of demolition going on ahead. Another racer zooms by him, breaking through the blockade and continuing into the blasting zone. Jack then jumps in his car and follows, beginning the race. All throughout the winding, snow covered road, there are explosions on the mountain above, causing avalanches and falling rocks. These are some great moments, as you can actually crash into rocks and snow chunks will come crashing onto your car.
The game plays somewhere in between simulation and arcade style. The handling is pretty loose, with you being able to take turns at pretty high speeds. There is some slight drifting on turns, but you will need to hit the brakes on some of the sharper corners. The cars also handle slightly different on the various surfaces such as regular roads, dirt, and snow. I found the controls and handling to be great, and strikes a nice balance between the race line centric simulation games and the manic drifting of arcade racing games.
Visually, Need for Speed: The Run is quite impressive. The game runs on the Frostbite 2 Engine, the newest version of the DICE designed engine developed for the Battlefield series. The weather effects and lighting are great, and the sound effects are awesome as well. The car models look quite good and the environments are striking. Even the character model, typically a low point in driving games, looks well detailed and animated. There is also some Battlefield style dynamic destruction in the game, in situations such as destroying guard rails and hitting road signs. The music is also a high point, with the typical race music normally found in games like this replaced with an action movie style score that contributes to the cinematic feel of the game. The overall presentation is also extremely well done, with cool looking intros to each stage and cinematic crash sequences.
Need for Speed: The Run looks to be a great entry into this long running racing series, and sort of redemption for Black Box games after their last few NFS games dropped in quality. The game has a very cinematic feel to it, and I look forward to seeing some of the on-foot sequences shown at E3. It’s also worth noting that the game features autolog, the friends leaderboard system implemented in lasts year’s NFS Hot Pursuit. So if you have some friends that also get this game, you can always try to one-up their times. Look for Need for Speed: The Run November 15 on all major platforms.