Need for Speed has been a favorite franchise among racing fans for years. I can’t go to a gamer forum and mention Need for Speed without triggering at least a few reactions from fans. The latest iteration of the Need for Speed series is coming from a new studio taking a bold and risky move: to use the frostbite 2 engine. This is risky due to the fact that the engine is not entirely polished, especially for racing games. How does the new Black Box Studio do with this favorite racing name? Find out in our review.
When this game was first announced at E3 2011 I was definitely excited; a Need for Speed game based on a race from San Francisco to New York City sounded amazing. Finally a racing game with a real premise and story, and in this age of cinematic elements and a focus on story, this was bound to happen sooner or later. I couldn’t think of a better way to formulate a story for a racing game that goes beyond something like a tournament or a failing attempt to make a story out of thin air; this was a real premise that can be acted upon successfully. Unfortunately that is where the good news ends for Need for Speed: The Run.
The game starts out with Jack (the main character) about to be crushed by a garbage compactor by what the player must assume are the mob. Right out of the box you are thrown to a quick time event to escape and make your way to a vehicle. The player ends up driving to generic female friend number 1 to find out about the race the run is based upon. It sets itself up in such a generic and boring fashion without giving the player any idea of the motivation behind jack let alone why the mob is chasing him. The connection between jack and his female friend is also totally assumed. I don’t often find games that leave so much to the gamer’s imagination that it feels like the developer was just flat out lazy. Lazy is a word you will hear often in this review as everything else I talk about will have this arching theme of a lack of effort from the developer.
So the premise is alright but I would go as far as to say the story is all but not presented to the gamer. What makes this situation even worse is the fact that throughout your time racing, Jack will go head to head with rivals which also have no buildup but a three sentence loading screen! Again it seems lazy that the main rivals in this game don’t even deserve a cut scene but a race against two chicks deserves more recognition than the setup for the final race!
The presentation of the gameplay in the way the game works is done in a cool sense however. During events along the run, players will see enemy car positions in the overall race as they struggle to pass X amount of racers by the end of Y stretch of road. Its great setup and time trials are just areas where Jack must make up lost time. There are even eliminations set up in similar ways.
This is why the premise for this style of game is amazing, just not entirely acted upon. This lack of execution as far as the story goes is very regrettable and will have many people thinking “I wish this was better” as they make their way through the campaign.
Another issue with this game is found in it’s unlocking system. This is literally the first video game I have ever played where the multiplayer must be unlocked. This forced players to play the story weather they like it or not to play the multiplayer. Besides just unlocking multiplayer there is a challenge mode which acts almost as a whole other main campaign minus the story, instead the player makes an effort to obtain medals.
Finally, throughout the story, Jack (the player) will unlock different types of upgrades for his car–like faster nitrous or new ways to earn boost. These are very mediocre unlocks that serve almost no purpose and make little to no effect on the gameplay itself once they are unlocked; they seem like figure heads to make the player feel more accomplished rather than to actually unlock anything of value.
Single-player is not the only thing presented here either. There is a challenge series which wants players to earn medals on every event in the story for doing them with better times or results. It is similar to what someone would find in any other racing game and get a sense of regularity. It’s an alright mode but has nothing really stellar to it.
There is also the online which needs to be unlocked. In playing the multiplayer gamers will have to complete group objectives in order to unlock more and more of the multiplayer playlist. The whole concept of unlocking multiplayer piece by piece becomes extremely annoying and feels very restricting on me as a gamer. I can’t take this game and jump online with anyone until I do a set list of requirements.
During my review of this game I came across something that stuck out to me so badly not only do I have to give it an entire section of the review, but I am calling it the “Insult” which occurred to me as I was nearing the end of the story.
In a race from San Francisco to New York City it is assumed that Jack would never be driving over the same territory twice, am I right? Well, I am wrong, because during the game There are literally tracks that re reversed near the ending stages and are assumed to be new land you are treading on! The developers were either so lazy, or so out of time, that they couldn’t make new maps and started REVERSING the ones they ALREADY HAD! This is the ultimate example of a game that is not ready for a public release, and it was released anyways. EA has done wrong by allowing this game to be released. A year-long delay or handing it to a new developer would have been way smarter and probably more profitable than allowing this travesty to be released! No I am not exaggerating, this is real!
The decision to use frostbite 2 is a bad decision if the development for this game had to be done in time for holiday 2011. There is a clear lack of detail and the textures used are all horribly low-res. This gives off an extremely choppy looking game that feels and looks so bad that I could say it looks last gen. This is very bad for a Need for Speed game. The Trees literally look like flat pieces of textures sometimes and the cars themselves have extremely choppy edges.
Every single edge in this game is choppy from a lack of any sort of anti-aliasing. The look this creates literally can bring the game resolution down to 480p if you consider that the use of high definition has been completely negated by the performance flaws of The Run. It is so bad in fact that there is a clear showing of laziness throughout the game. Police officers don’t have faces and close ups of the characters are just plain ugly. It is such a disappointment to see such a graphical step down from the previous Need for Speed games that I would see no difference in playing on a large 42” television to a small 24” standard definition TV.
The performance of the racing is also intermittent with lag coming and going. This is horrible considering the loading times begin to become unbearable after the 8th stage. It’s really hard to consider that this game can have so many graphical flaws that it was even able to be released.
On the bright side however there are things that were nice about the graphics that stood out a little and the destruction is one of them. Destruction 3.0 from the Frostbite 2 engine works in this game, just flat out works. The fences, gates, guard rails, all have destructive properties that work really well. The down side is that because some of these guard rails are destructible the driver can no longer rely on the wall to keep them on track.
The voice acting in this game is very regular. That sounds weird but really there is nothing stellar about it. This doesn’t really matter after the horrid presentation of the story but would have been something to bring this review out of a slump of bad write ups on almost every aspect of the game so far. Luckily there is something to take us out of the bad and into one of the only good aspects of Need for Speed: The Run.
The Original Score and soundtrack in here are very well done. It is the only thing that was able to take even the worst parts of the story and still give them at least some form of cinematic element that makes the whole thing worth something. It can give Jack a triumphant sound as he prepares for the next race, or some climactic rush as the last racer approaches the end! It was great to have something to make playing through the story bearable.
Finally the last thing to write about, as far as sound design goes, is the actual sound effects. In a racing game of Need for Speed caliber one would expect the car engines to rev with a thunderous sound and roaring engine but rather nothing stood out as being good and all of it was mediocre at best. During one race event in the story there is a track where you can see lightning in the background, the sound of thunder that came after stood out to me as being a spectacle of unimpressive effort in sound design. Again it was another disappointment.
Need for Speed games rarely have entirely repeated gameplay, this has always been a good thing for the franchise leading them to gameplay that has always been varied and rarely boring. This time that is not the case as The Run proves to be a horrid mess of a racing game. Being presented as a game which should have unrealistic physics to allow for fun gameplay, The Run takes an engine that was built from the ground up for ultra-realism. These two do not mix well and this game is the proof.
The main problem with the gameplay is that nothing ever feels smooth. The game is constantly giving the player a track with extremely curvy turns and no matter what, a drift never really feels like a drift. During my review of the game every time I took a drift, even when I was doing it the correct way, it never felt like a real drift. There was always this feeling of “Am I doing this right?” or “This doesn’t feel like it was smooth at all”, all while getting these drift bonuses that feel totally unfounded. In Need for Speed, smooth gameplay is important and I’ve seen smother races in MotorStorm!
Before I go into detail about my other issues with the gameplay note that while driving in this game, players who wreck or lose will not be respawned on the map, but rather the car will be reset to a checkpoint. The use of this tactic has not been in racing games for the longest time. I am not saying it’s good or bad, but I will say it is definitely more fitting for this style of game than it would be for others.
The biggest flaw I’ve found in Need for Speed: The Run as far as gameplay goes is the unnecessary resets. While playing the game if your vehicle goes off the road just a little too much and starts coming back on track in your own excellent recover, the game will use up one of your resets and send you back to the beginning anyways. This is incredibly annoying as There have been positions where I was completely on the road in recovery when I was reset for what seemed like no apparent reason. It slows the gameplay, interrupts the race, and almost feels like a glitch. It is hard to tell if this was meant for the game or not because other times I can go off road and be reset like a player would be in any motorstorm game by placing their vehicle right back on the road ready to go.
Another issue with the gameplay is the fact that the directional indicators on the road are not solid. When making a hard turn, in almost every other need for speed game, the directional arrows on the road were solid. Not anymore. In here a racer can pass through it and immediately be reset!
I could say to have lasting appeal, a game needs to have appeal in the first place, but this would be unfair to the review. In Need for Speed: The Run there is definitely a lot to do. Most of it may have to be unlocked piece by piece at a time, but it is at least there. This game has everything it technically requires to have a decent lasting appeal, from online to the campaign, and even a challenge series. However it doesn’t move along quickly and many of these events will feel repetitive. To get the platinum trophy a gamer has to basically play through the entire story worth at least three times.
I can’t give this an endorsement for good lasting appeal based on the fact that it all feels slapped together. There looks like no conscious effort to make something in this game really interesting and intuitive that will make people want to play more. Instead I see a game that says we have this, this, this, and this…have fun.
Overall Need for Speed has been a horrible experience and I would not want to see another Need for Speed game like this ever again. It is shameful that this game had to bear the name Need for Speed and the expectation that it will sell on name recognition alone is just plain wrong. There are people who will see this game in stores and assume that they enjoyed the last Need for Speed game and expect something decent. Even people buying this game for relatives around Christmas will think this and pay a full $60 for a game that is deceiving them with a name that should not grace the cover. This game should have been Called Cruis’n USA 2 because that way I can still have confidence in the brand of Need for Speed.