I remember a movie a long time ago called The Cannonball Run starring Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise. The plot featured a large number of drivers competing in a cross-country race, evading traffic, cops, and each other. When hearing of the plot of Need for Speed The Run, I couldn’t help but to think of how similar the premises are between the two. While I don’t remember The Cannonball Run being a good movie, I wondered if The Run would have some entertainment value.
In The Run you play as Jack Rourke, a man who has gotten in over his head with a large number of debts. Sam Harper, and old friend of Jack Rourke, has given him a way out of his troubles. She has put up $250,000 that Jack can win a cross-country race from San Francisco to New York. If Jack wins, Sam gets the $25 million prize, gives Jack 10% of the prize money and all of Jack’s problems go away.
You won’t be driving from San Francisco to New York straight without any breaks. Each stage goes between two major cities, and each stage has several legs. Most of these legs have different objectives like gaining a certain number of positions, passing cars within a specific area, and “gaining time” by making checkpoints before time runs out. All of these races boil down to basically getting to the finish line first, only the objective inbetween checkpoints changes. All of the courses have different shortcuts that can be seen on the map. Sometimes these can be the difference between finishing first and being behind the pack.
Starting out you have three cars to choose from, but other cars get unlocked as you increase your experience. Experience is gained in the race for drifting, passing cars in the race, and getting to the top speed of your car. Experience points increase your driver level. Increasing your driver level not only unlocks cars but gives you extra bonuses. For example, at level 5 you gain Nitrous refills for driving dangerously. It will take a while to unlock all of the cars, but why it takes so long to get some of the rewards given to you that other racers give you at the start is a bit puzzling.
You won’t be driving across the US in the same car the entire time. There are gas stations along the trip where you can trade out your car for one that you have unlocked. You’ll find all sorts of brands from the common like Chevy, Ford, and Nissan to the more exotic like Porsche and BMW. The only thing is that these gas stations can be spread out for a long time, so you might be stuck with a car that handles wrong for the section of the US you are traversing. It would be nice if the game gave you some kind of indication of what kind of terrain you are coming up upon at the gas stations.
The difference between the different cars is noticeable. You have your cars that grip the turn a little more and are easier to control, while other cars go faster but are more prone to spinning out if you don’t take the curve correctly. There are plenty of cars that it should satisfy every different style of driver. The physics are a bit floaty though, so it will take some adjustment to get used to the handling.
You have probably heard about taking The Run out of the car, it’s not as big of a deal as you might have thought. These sequences are handled by quick-time events that involve hitting the button shown on the botton of the screen. You really won’t be controlling Jack with the controller other than the button presses. These sequences do break up the driving sequences and lead to some thrilling cinematics, but they don’t happen often enough to be distracting.
While you can increase your driver level through the single player game, you can also increase it by going through the Challenge Series and Multiplayer. The Challenge Series is a set of races within a certain city where you are given a few cars to select from and you have to finish the race first while still making it to the finish line within a specific time frame. The faster you get to the finish line, the better medal you get, and the more experience points you get.
Driving during the single player game and Challenge Series you go up against some agressive AI. The other drivers don’t have a problem running into you to slow you down, and you can’t be afraid to do the same. When you finish a leg of a race, your car will most likely look like it has gone through a demolition derby if it doesn’t get destroyed in the process. The AI does seem to rubber band a bit as well. There are times when you are heading into first towards the finish line and one car will zoom past you at the last second.
When you crash or don’t succeed reaching a checkpoint, you end up going back to a previous spot during the race. It’s nice that you don’t have to go all the way to the beginning of the race if you don’t want to, but they do seem to be set at specific points. At times you might go back a few seconds, others it might be something like ten seconds. The load times for The Run aren’t bad, but if you have enough space on the hard drive, I would recommend installing the game on the hard drive.
The multiplayer consists of playlists which are generally grouped together by a specific region. By grouping the races together, you feel like you are racing against the same people going through the country. They also limit the kind of cars that can be used in that playlist. This let Black Box choose the best cars for the races but still gives enough variety that there are plenty of cars with different handling options to drive. These races use the tracks travelled during the single-player game, but you might be travelling them backwards or in different weather. You also gain experience for the multiplayer races that contribute to your driver level. Even if you didn’t finish in the top three of each race, they give awards for things like not hitting any opposing traffic, going from first place to last place, and scratching the most paint. At the end of the playlist you can sometimes be awarded bonuses that can show off your skills to other drivers.While the playlists are nice, if other racing modes were included it would add more longevity to the single player.
Need for Speed The Run uses the Frostbite 2 engine, which also powers Battlefield 3. The Run looks good, but it isn’t up to par to BF3. You do get a thrilling sense of speed as you race down the roads, with large expanses and claustrophobic cities. The character and vehicle models look good, but they don’t have the level of detail that other games have. With a little tweaking, the next Need for Speed game should look incredible.
The soundtrack to The Run is quite varied. You’ll hear everything from rock, metal, country, and even that sounds like something from a Hillbilly band. An orchestral score accompanies many of the checkpoint legs that grow in volume as the clock ticks down to zero. While there are so many different genres, each one makes sense for the area of the country you are driving through.
Need for Speed The Run is a game that has just enough issues to make it an average game. It is filled with potential, and it eventually could have made a really great game. The cross-country race is a great story-telling mechanic and the cutscenes are well done. The progression of the Driver Level to gain more bonuses could have been given out more consistently and some of the cars could have handled better. If you don’t mind driving for a while to unlock cars and abilities, then you should find a satisfying experience.