So, I was under the impression there was to be a story in your story-driven Need for Speed experience, Black Box? Because if there’s meant to be, it’s missing from my copy of the game. After the game’s reveal at E3, and after all the press releases and trailers, EA and Black Box made it abundantly clear that this third Need for Speed title was to fill a very specific niche in the Need for Speed portfolio. Hot Pursuit is the arcade racer; Shift is the sim competing with the Forzas and Gran Turismos of the world; and, finally, The Run was meant to offer a Michael Bay-esque, high-octane story experience built around the Need for Speed license. Well, it’s got the exotic cars, the manly sounding engines, the sexy girls who are nothing but window dressing to ogle over, but where's that damn plot? Even Michael Bay would be disappointed, and that’s telling.
In a nutshell, I’ve found more comprehensive narratives than what The Run offers on the back of cereal boxes. You play as Jack, a man who’s on the wrong side of the mob and needs an out. That’s when a hot lady friend of yours comes to you with an offer you can’t refuse: participate in “The Run,” an illicit race from San Francisco to New York, and the $25 million pot will pay you out of all your problems so you won’t be swimming with the fishes, see. The story pretty much starts and ends there. There is nothing more to it, nor do the characters go through their own distinct arcs, which is, by rule, how a story is meant to be constructed. You race, you win, you see the credits roll.
And that’s a damn shame, because on paper The Run’s concept is sound. And, most importantly, it’s built on a foundation of gameplay that’s just as fun as it was with last year’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Races are fast and furious without needing Paul Walker around, although the variety gets a little monotonous as the game’s single player wears on — pass 10 guys, make the checkpoints in time, beat your rival, etc. The only parts that really switch up the formula is when the game goes into cinema mode and demands players participate in a forced, sometimes awkward quick-time event to escape the fuzz or the mob. With that said, the cinematic flair to these sequences did have me grinning, as much as I hate to admit quick-time events still please me on some fundamental level.
Chrissy pumps gas. Loses race. Then is never heard from again.
The Run’s biggest problem is that it forces you down an extremely linear experience, which is honestly something I feared would happen since the game was first announced. Since it’s working around a “story,” The Run isn’t step up like typical Need for Speed efforts where you’re able to go about events in the order of your choosing. You follow a very direct point A to point B path, and failing an event means doing it over and over until you succeed. Developer Black Box takes no risks with this formula to give players a sense that their actions have consequences that continue past the point of when a single race starts and finishes. For instance, it would have been neat if you got punished for severely damaging your car in a race, requiring you to take time to repair it, then forcing you to make back up that time in future races in order to position yourself in a qualifying tier for the next leg of your cross-country trek. But in actuality, your car just miraculously repairs itself between races as to allow Black Box the opportunity to take the easy way out in designing the structure of the game.
So by now you should understand why I did not enjoy the game’s story-driven experience, The Run. While the game looks beautiful running on DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine, that’s just not enough to suck me into the experience. I’ve long liked the arcade-y feel of Hot Pursuit’s racing, and that’s present here, but how it’s all strung together is so lackluster that it’s hard to enjoy. When push comes to shove, I’ll just put back in my Hot Pursuit disc, if I’m being honest.
The Run does come with online multiplayer and a mode called “The Challenge Series.” The Challenge Series extends the lifetime of The Run by a considerable amount. There are plenty of events to participate in, each with their own unique goals to perform to earn higher medals. You unlock new events as your make your way through the game’s story mode (unfortunate), as well as by completing Challenges. It’s good fun and reminds me of how great Hot Pursuit’s choose-your-own-event formula was. In regards to standard online multiplayer, these events should keep you entertained, but like the game’s story mode, I feel Black Box definitely dropped the ball on ambitions here. Where the hell is a completely multiplayer version of “The Run” event for friends to partake in over the course of multiple nights? That’s the kind of stuff I would have loved to see to make The Run’s multiplayer offering stand out from what you can find in Hot Pursuit. But as it stands, it’s just more of the same, nothing new or inspiring to be found.
Black Box clearly had grand ambitions for Need for Speed: The Run. But it just didn’t come together as they probably intended. The game’s story is lazily cobbled together and the multiplayer modes lack imagination. It’s sad for me to admit, but The Run is the first Need for Speed game I’ve been disappointed in. Maybe Black Box can go back to the drawing board for a sequel to fix the nagging issues, because at its core, The Run offers some solid racing action, it’s just everything built around it isn't very good.
CraveOnline received 1 advanced copy of Need for Speed: The Run for the Xbox 360 from EA Games. Before starting our review, we completed the entire Run from San Fran. to New York without forgetting to ogle over some hot ladies while pumping our gas. We also played a decent amount of challenges in the game’s Challenge Series, as well as logged a few hours into the competitive multiplayer modes.