Need for Speed has always been about, well, speed. Itâs had its various guises, sure, but at its core, this arcade racing franchise has embraced the core tenet of going real fast in a motorcar like no other racing game on earth.
Story? Not so much.
Need for Speed isnât shooting for killer narrative and itâs probably never been in line for any writing awards.
So when we heard the new one was centred around a plot that had a guy in a race for a new life across the United States, complete with cutscenes and quicktime events... we were a little sceptical. And fair enough, right? Weâve had some seventeen years to grow accustomed to the franchise. We know how it works.
So now that weâve played the new one, is it any good? Youâve already seen the score, you know it is; but why? Letâs take a look under the hood.
First, thereâs the technology. The game leverages the Frostbite 2 engine, which the team over at DICE whipped up for their recent first person shooter - youâve probably heard of it. As a result, The Run looks spectacular. Beginning to end, day or night, the game impresses the bejesus out of you every single time you crest a hill or slide sideways out of a sharp turn.
Technologyâs good, certainly, but surely itâs in the leveraging of that technology that real magic is made; if an ounce of that is true, the guys at Black Box are real-world wizards. Every little zoom, flare, bounce, motion blur, vignette... you name it, itâs leveraged at precisely the right place to spectacular effect. You always, always, always feel like you're moving at a thousand miles an hour; if youâve got the need for speed, youâve come to the right place - just for the love of god stop playing at least an hour before attempting to sleep.
So whatâs not so great? Thereâs a few things - none of them, despite the wordy descriptions below, massively detract from the experience - but they are worth noting.
First up, the traffic. When youâre blasting through town, strapped to a rocket, having some munter in a shopping trolley randomly pull out of a side street right in front of you - while realistic - is unfair. There are numerous times where collisions like this are unavoidable, forcing you to fall back on one of your resets.
Those resets. You get a few of them, more or less depending on your chosen difficulty, and once youâre out youâll need to start over. That bits fine - whatâs not so good is how long they take. When youâre burning adrenaline as fast as you can inject it, you really donât want to be sitting at the ârewindâ screen anywhere near as long as youâll have to.
The reset points, too, are typically too few and far between. Repeating whole tracts of turf just because you mucked up a few miles down the line can get old - especially if itâs the fault of the aforementioned traffic.
A couple of the tracks are a bit wonky in design - particularly the Vegas set. How some of these mad pinball maps made it through the most basic of testing is something only the designers can know; fortunately, examples like this arenât very common either - a quick grit of the teeth and itâs on to greener pastures.
It also loses some of the verve and energy mid way through; itâs still fast-as-hell and thereâs good variety in the terrain youâre traversing, but the events youâre tasked with get a bit samey. Thereâs only so many times you can âpass this many guysâ or âmake up timeâ before you realise youâve already done exactly that quite a few times before.
The handling is pretty unique, too, and takes some serious getting used to. Itâs hard to divert the vehicle from its line, basically, and youâll have to jockey with a lot of brake and handbrake to negotiate many of the trickier sections. This makes it hard to avoid traffic, and youâll find yourself hitting something you saw way in the distance but couldnât really do anything to avoid.
That said, the handling setup also lends the title a lot of itâs âedge of controlâ verve, which brings a lot of the intensity that otherwise serves the game so well. If this scares you, we definitely recommend you check out the demo before laying down some hard-earned.
The quicktime events are pretty much as wonky as youâd expect, although they do lend some credence to the central narrative - which in turn provides the much-needed context for the cross-country action. Besides, thereâs very few of them (almost all of your time is spent behind the wheel) so even if you think theyâre the worst thing ever to happen in videogames (theyâre not), they neednât put you off the game as a whole.
What else has it going on then? Thereâs some very cool asynchronous multiplayer built right into the game, with constant Autolog-powered popups informing you of your speed through sections of the race, as compared to records set by your friends. You can repeat sections to take down your pals, and the whole thing has a âracing your mates across the âStatesâ vibe about it.
It has traditional multiplayer, too, but as usual, we canât really test that out before the game is available at retail because thereâs almost never anyone else on to play against.
Thereâs challenges to unlock as you complete major sections of the core game and all sorts of bonuses to find - if youâre good enough. Thereâs plenty here, basically, without being excessive - even if completing the main event for the first time will probably only take you around 4 hours of real-time.
If you like action movies (particularly of the Jason Statham variety), can handle the occasional random annoyance, and like the idea of driving at the very edge of control while feeling the most palpable sensation of speed yet realised in a videogame, this is for you.
Itâs not Forza but it doesnât set out to be; instead, it aims at being the very best arcade racing game available and it succeeds most assuredly at that goal. A balls-to-the-wall thrill-ride, beginning to end, and definitely worth a thrash - if you can handle it.