Need For Speed: The Run Review
The quick time event elements in Need For Speed: The Run are poorly implemented. They crop up irregularly (thus having no flow or natural fit within the game), they feel completely out of place, they are insultingly easy and they add nothing to the experience.
If anything, they actually harm the game. We open on such a note because that is what a lot of people will want to know, what with The Run making waves of a rather negative fashion after its appearance at E3 this year. Turns out the doubters were right.
But this is still a racing game at its core, albeit one dressed up with more action movie tropes than you would expect. While the addition of QTEs is ultimately a fruitless exercise, the real shock comes from the fact that the driving is a bit of a mess.
It’s not broken to the point of being unplayable; it just pales in comparison to most other racing games on the market and – tellingly – isn’t a patch on other recent Need For Speed titles. Hot Pursuit, to use the fitting parlance, is still leading this particular race.
All the licenses in the world can’t salvage this car wreck.
Dropped straight into the action and with barely a hint of overly-long exposition, The Run kicks you straight into a high-speed escape. Well, something that should be high-speed, but what actually feels, as with the rest of the game, like wrestling with an uncooperative tank at speeds of around 45mph.
Soon enough you’re into ‘The Run’ proper – a race across 3,000 miles of the United States of America, from San Francisco to New York via Chicago, Cleveland and Miscellaneous American Town #3925.
This is the point where it should get interesting: a huge distance to race along; near 250 opponents to face; multiple stages set across the breadth of a massively diverse nation; dozens of performance cars from manufacturers the world over. But it immediately falls flat for a number of reasons.
The ‘race’ is merely a background, somewhat unimportant element, with each individual stage having its own goals and requirements – there is no second place in any stage, and your placement is completely irrelevant unless you are in first. There can be no fighting comebacks from 100th to 1st place.
You will not be in the top 200, 100, 50 or 10 until the game decides you will be, and you absolutely will not deviate from the surprisingly linear path set out in front of you.
We weren’t expecting a free-roaming open-world here, but the feeling you’re hemmed in and forced to get exact results in every race makes the whole game feel like quite the chore, as well as being nothing like the all-encompassing endurance race we were lead to believe would be included.
Compared to 2010’s Hot Pursuit, The Run looks stale.
The central mechanics of racing don’t hold up too well, either. As mentioned, cars handle very much like the tanks of EA’s own Battlefield – they don’t feel at all like the sports, muscle and exotic motors we’re meant to be driving.
While the selection is diverse and interesting, from the VW Golf up to the Pagani Huayra, there just isn’t enough separating cars at similar levels to make it worth mixing it up.
Handling, acceleration, speed – it all has an artificial parity that highlights another aspect of the game that fails: rubber banding. This exists in many racing games, and is there to either keep the player in the game or make it seem like there’s more of a challenge than there really is.
In The Run it seems to be used to bestow the computer with superpowers. When an Aston Martin with a top speed of 190mph is keeping pace with a 224mph Porsche (travelling at top speed), that goes beyond ‘providing challenge’ and into the realms of ludicrous, ridiculous, game-breaking logic. A feature implemented to add challenge and balance ends up, more often than not, making things feel cheap and underhanded.
The misjudged elements don’t stop there though – the only way to change cars during the main campaign is by stopping at a petrol station (rather than choosing an option on a menu).
And stay that way.
There are only a few throughout the game, and you usually have to try and navigate into them – while racing, otherwise you’ll lose pace with the rest of the pack and no rubber banding will help – with the fear that missing them could mean you can’t choose to race in a different car for another 10-20 minutes.
Unless you restart the whole race again, of course. There’s the way basic techniques like drafting aren’t actually unlocked until the player has levelled up a few times, boost isn’t awarded until level two and rewards for driving dangerously, drifting and the rest of it aren’t unlocked until later levels – almost as if Black Box was unsure as to what they should be rewarding players with.
Then there’s the way there’s seemingly no logic to what does and does not register as a crash, with some 120mph head-on collisions deemed fine, while a slight nudge at 60mph sees a huge, race-ending crash. It’s convoluted, messy and simply not very good.
Ultimately, The Run is a failed experiment. We could see it working – take the general idea, make it so it’s a genuine race against 249 opponents stretching the length of the US but throw in the driving model of Hot Pursuit (or even Driver: San Francisco) and you’d have a far stronger package than what’s on offer here.
Fleeting fun and a mild distraction it may be, but The Run finishes this particular race upside down in a ditch. On fire.