Since Black Box’s last Need for Speed release - Undercover, EA has released three NFS games from other developers. While Slightly Mad steered the series into sim territory with the Shift games, Criterion took it back to what made the series most beloved with its reboot of Hot Pursuit. Black Box, however, has failed to recreate the magic of Most Wanted in the games that came after it. With The Run, it aims to bring back the story-driven action driving experience that once helped Need for Speed rule the arcade racing roost. Unfortunately, the aim is way off.
The Run is an illegal cross-country race of high performance cars that starts out in San Francisco and traces its way through the continental US towards New York. Think of it as the video game version of Cannonball Run. But the game’s protagonist, Jack Rourke, isn’t just in it for money and the thrill, but he’s also on the run from the mob. Why he’s on the run and why the mob wants him dead is never revealed, so all you get throughout the game is random slivers of totally irrelevant information that do nothing to move the plot forward. Now, I’ve never bought a Need for Speed game for its story, but even so, if you’re going to attempt a story with cinematic custscenes and voice acting from established actors, the least you can do is put some effort into it and make it coherent. There are a few interactive cutscenes thrown in to mix things up, with what is quite possibly the most unnecessary implementation of QTEs I’ve ever seen, but all they do is provide an alternative to staring at a loading screen.
Thankfully, The Run is a racing game, so as we’ve done for Need for Speed games in the past, we can forgive it for its terrible plot progression. However, without a story to keep you interested, it’s imperative that the game deliver in the areas where you expect it to – the cars, the tracks, the controls, and the events. Like Criterion’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, what makes The Run really stand out is its locations. Since this is an illegal cross-country sprint across the country, you won’t really stick around in the same location for multiple events. You’re constantly moving east, through the jumpy streets of San Fancisco, the winding country roads of the Yosemite National Park, the treacherous heights of the icy Rockies, and the open expanses of the plains. In between, you’ll race through the streets of iconic US cities such as Las Vegas and Chicago and indulge in some high-speed events on interstate highways and expressways.
The game uses DICE’s famed Frostbite engine, but don’t expect Battlefiled 3-level lighting or destruction. All of the above locations look picturesque, and the game looks fine in motion, but it clearly isn’t one of the best looking racing games on the block. The cars in particular look quite shabby, with a very unconvincing sheen on them. The car roster is impressive on paper; there’s everything from the GT-R and the M3 to new supercars like the Pagani Huayra and the Lamborghini Aventador. However, how they’re presented to you in the game couldn’t be worse. You only have a limited selection of about four cars at any given point, and you can’t change cars between events; you’ll have to drive into a gas station during a race to change cars, which completely breaks the flow. All the cars; even the otherwise nimble 370z and Lancer Evo, feel disconcertingly weighty on the road and there seems to be some amount of input lag while turning. You’ll need to pull off some drifts during the windy tracks, but don’t expect the handbrake to do you any favors. Nine times out of ten, the car will refuse to straighten out properly after a handbrake turn, so much so that after a while, I just gave up on it and stuck with the standard brake.