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Need for Speed: The Run Review [Xbox 360]

In the [not so distant] past, I used to write news articles, reviews and all sorts of other ‘bits’ for different websites, voluntarily. One of my proudest moments was when I got my Need for Speed: The Run review published on the website What Culture! The review was pretty epic, so please check it out here!

It’s also published below for everyone to read who visits here:

EDIT: In other news, I did eventually complete the main storyline of Need for Speed: The Run. After getting stuck on one mission for four weeks, I then tried again a few months ago and completed the game in about 7 hours. I still standby the majority of what I said in my review! It would be nice to see the Need for Speed franchise release a game which isn’t completely frustrating. Still, the destruction of cars was pretty!


 

Need For Speed: The Run Review [XBox 360]

EA Black Box’s prolific franchise continues with a high concept, though comparatively low execution level driver: Gran Turismo it ain’t, but it’s definitely one to consider for the rainy days.

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Over the past year we have been inundated with everything Need for Speed: The Run. From trailers directed by Michael Bay to press releases about branded trainers and Sports Illustrated models and with other developers such as Polyphony Digital (Gran Turismo) and Turn 10 Studios (Forza) releasing some of the most notable and popular racing games in the world, EA Black Box was undoubtedly attempting to stand out and provide something new and unique. While we were initially excited about the brand new concept and new ideas being flung at us, did the game truly live up to the hype?

For the first time, the annual EA racing series has brought something different to the table – a solid concept. The game focuses on main character Jackson “Jack” Rourke who is on the run from mobsters for reasons that aren’t 100% detailed or explained to you. In an attempt to pay his way out of his debt, he is offered a chance to compete in a racing challenge called The Run.

Storyline throughout the game seems solid, and with the addition of cut scenes to keep you up-to-date (after all, you will spend most of your time driving, and it’s easy to forget that there is a concept during these sections), it seems relatively interesting and will keep your focus. It’s not overly complicated, but it hasn’t been done before.

The storyline is kept at an even pace thanks to the way the game is split up into sections – it does not necessarily feel like you are rushing through the storyline, nor like you’re too stuck in a situation to not be able to continue. Nor will any of your actions really affect the storyline – after all (as detailed below) you only progress by winning races, and if you don’t win, then the race gets restarted.

Driving from San Francisco to New York, and facing 250 competitors, it looks to be an adrenaline-pumping whirlwind ride with a few quick time events just to break some of the repetitive game play up. At least, that is what this reviewer had initially thought. It was in the first hour that I realised the main single player mode in The Run was broken up into several different ‘sections/challenges’, and thus it wasn’t quite as long a haul as I had believed, nor had I hoped, despite originally wondering how the developer would truly keep such a long race so interesting. Looking at them individually, it’s understandable why the game has a slight ADD feel to it.

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The Run: Main Race

Basically, you’ve got to ensure Jack is number 1 by the end of the race. You race on average 8-10 other cars and a short certain section of beautiful US landscape. Each race lasts approximately 10 minutes and there is no real way to lose. The game provides you with a fixed number of resets (loading your car back at a saved point which you can either personally activate if you feel you played a corner or section badly, or mandatory if you crash your car).

The Run: Catch Up / Checkpoint Timed Races

This is where you are given an opportunity to catch up on time in a single player only race. You hit a series of checkpoints which extend your time. Each one lasts a few minutes, depending whether you hit all five checkpoints on just 1 or 2. You’ll find in your first play through you are likely to hit all of them.

The Run: Cut Scenes

Pretty obvious really this one  – to keep you up to date with the main storyline and activated after each race (and usually acts as an introduction to the next race or section). Every so often you will find a quick time event (and primarily at the start of the game) which will feel quite jarring – it does not feel in character of the game or the series, which is probably why they are not seen very positively, but you can feel reassured they only seem to happen a few times in the game and are not a primary focus. These could last between 5 to 10 minutes and are quite interesting to develop the story, but perhaps detracting from the fact that I’m desperate to race.

With loading screens and menus in between each separate section, it doesn’t really feel like I’m progressing across one of the biggest continents in the world, more merely entertaining myself because I have 15 minutes to spare.

Returning to the main story, my new buddy Jack and I are making the long journey to Las Vegas, where we have to be in the 150th place in the competition. It’s not particularly hard – after all, as mentioned previously, losing an event simply resets you, giving you another opportunity. As long as you complete all of these races, the game is scripted to ensure you reach the 150th position by the time you get there. Frustratingly, for those with a bit of a trigger finger (like yours truly) it also means you can’t be in a higher position, despite how many vehicles are eating your dust. Each race is set to a number of cars, such as 8 or 10, and challenges the racer to gain 8 and only 8 places – there are simply no more cars for you to overtake. In some way, it is a linear corridor – just with a few more hairpins than your average game.

It is obviously a way to pace the game, to ensure that the player does not finish the game too soon, nor for it to be too difficult or long-winded for those who perhaps don’t rate racing as their forte. But in doing so, the game feels quite constricted, and that the main story is simply going through the motions. A tad disappointing, but not a complete disaster – because this doesn’t mean Need for Speed: The Run is not entertaining. Even though these smaller races didn’t quite meet expectations, it doesn’t mean I’m not fully involved with my nose up against the screen and cursing every time some evil vehicle cuts me up. There is also a certain glee when racing away from the cops (or as this reviewer found out, accidentally driving straight into the back of one when going too wide round the corner).

One gameplay issue I have to admit really got to me was the ‘replay/reset’ function. The use of it is standard – it’s available in many games on the market and that’s great – but when it starts you off at full speed straight from a black screen, it doesn’t quite prepare you for that sudden wall you’ve just crashed into. It would be beneficial to have the countdown screen appear with the race background, not with a black screen and then sudden ‘GO’ transition.

Unfortunately, load times can be a bit of a nightmare, not because of length, but due to frequency: playing straight off the Xbox disc perhaps isn’t recommended and I’d definitely suggest installing the game on your hard drive if delays like this generally tend to drive you insane.

The graphics are definitely an improvement from previous Need for Speed titles, although with such competitor titles such as Forza 4 and Gran Turismo 5 also on the market, it is fair to say the game struggles to compete. It certainly isn’t held highly amongst the community as a true to life realistic game, and perhaps it will always have an ‘arcade’ feel to it rather than the realism that the other two achieve. This isn’t wholly a bad thing – after all Hot Pursuit did rather well and received many positive reviews from critics and from fans, for both the original and the remake. It was interesting to see the use of Frostbite2 and the increased destruction element placed into the game and it was certainly very beautiful to see my car implode on itself (yes, Jack definitely died on this occasion, but as I say it was very pretty) as well as some of America’s finest landscapes laid out before me.

It is safe to say that the graphics are generally more stylised than other current racing titles, but when it comes to the consumer decision, is the concept and style of Need for Speed: The Run good enough to compete against games with other unique concepts and styles but with stunning graphics? Personally, I probably wouldn’t pick up this game first, though I would perhaps consider it for the lazier gaming days.

Interestingly, the controls seemed different every time I played a race. I kept to the same vehicle for the majority of gameplay, however found that even when repeating certain corners, with the same control set, the car would act drastically different. This went from taking the corner neatly and overtaking another car, to spinning me out and ending up in the shrubbery or the river. During initial play-through I deliberately went back to replay the same corners to see if this was just fluke or player error, but every time I did a different result was produced – sometimes it would feel perfectly controlled and other times the car would go into a spin with no obvious explanation.

Camera controls work perfectly well, with no visibility issues for the track or upcoming sharp turns. The map on your HUD is also helpful to the same ends, so no real horrific hairpins suddenly jumping out at you. The HUD generally gives you the basics and doesn’t distract from the game. In-game menus are relatively easy to navigate, and the main menus look perfectly styled to the game and are easy to navigate with no problems encountered.

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Something which I immediately found hard to pinpoint was the music – it’s definitely there, but completely forgettable, which is a bit of a shame. The music on the main menu screens is more memorable, reflecting the adrenaline that’s about to be injected in the game with a definite nod towards action film musical conventions. Quite simply it works, after all the music is meant to boost the determination and adrenaline required to complete the race first and foremost.

Your main character Jack Rourke definitely has the face, dialogue and personality of someone who is likely to get in trouble with the mob. Animated nicely (although we spent the majority of time in the car – you have to appreciate the work his hairdresser does to the back of his head), be prepared for some typically cheesy responses and one-liners as part of the in-game video cuts. Played by Sean Faris, it’s not totally surprising – he’s performed in films such as Never Back Down, Pearl Harbour and Forever Strong, and for those into TV drama series, he’s also the actor behind Ben McKittrick in the Vampire Diaries. So this is about his level.

Sam Harper, the lovely female seductress who provides you with the opportunity to race yourself out of debt is played by Christina Hendricks, infamously of the TV series Mad Men. While she plays the sultry, confident comrade, don’t expect Jack to be the only one sprouting some cheesy one-liners.

Let’s be honest though, this type of dialogue is part of the style of the game, and whilst I toss a coin in my head as to whether the game would have benefitted from a more serious outlook (and therefore upped the ante with the whole concept) would it have truly been a Need for Speed game? It’s debatable – part of me may cringe at a one-liner, but it invariably raises a smile and without it, I’d probably wonder if I’d put the right disc in my system.

There isn’t too much to say on the multi-player front – it is a standard concept, you go online and race 8 other drivers, whilst doing so you can experience points and gradually level up your driver (which unfortunately doesn’t appear to count for much).

Overall, accessing multiplayer has its good and bad elements. While the interface is very easy to use, with understandable menus and good navigability, it took forever to join a game. There seemed to be holding screens for far too long before I was allowed to join the race (which had already started). I finished last which is no surprise – the individuals the computer had set me up against appeared to be of quite a high standard, and whilst this was menacing I’m not the type to start squealing down the microphone.

It would be interesting to see some information on how EA and Black Box produced the multiplayer and how the online system allocates games based on matches in the levels of the players – it felt that I had been put into a game which was the only one available rather than one which matched my skill level, which suggests an algorithm problem. Still, the multiplayer mode is fun nonetheless – there are as always your very loud competitors, some with some serious game rage and others which are happy to help you. It’s a matter of community rather the game itself.

The Run will undoubtedly find it difficult to stand up amongst the likes of more ‘serious’ and more precisely designed games such as Forza and Gran Turismo, the game itself isn’t as horrible as other reviewers make out. At the end of the day, the game is still entertaining and fun, it just doesn’t live up to the expectations that are now promised by games which rely on extremely high graphics, choices of cars, and rafts of upgrades. The concept was such an interesting and unique idea which may have fallen flat through game design, but it doesn’t mean the game is uninteresting. Regardless of execution, it feels as though the game really does try to provide something unique, but perhaps doesn’t quite tick all the right boxes to achieve that objective.

For hardcore car lovers, I would suggest sticking to the popularity of the Forza and GT series. For those looking for some rainy day fun and perhaps to just enjoy a bit of a disposable adrenaline-rush, this could be more the game for you.

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