EA’s Need for Speed games have never been anything less than dependably solid at the barest of minimums, but last year’s instalment was a die-hard masterpiece. This was because Hot Pursuit was basically a new Burnout game, albeit one that was structured so that it could comfortably slot into the NFS cosmos. The question now isn’t whether or not The Run is going to top it – unlikely, though not impossible – but exactly how much of an influence that game has had on EA Black Box: the dev team behind the majority of the series’ most popular episodes, and back in the saddle again here.
If Hot Pursuit meant that Black Box were going to have to raise their game a bit, it appears as if they’ve embraced that challenge. The Run is perhaps the most polished episode in the series to date, and the game’s biggest influences (beyond its own back catalogue) are straight out of a mega-budget Hollywood blockbuster. Part of this is undoubtedly thanks to DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine – which makes moments, like your near-ultrasonic race to outrun an avalanche, even more effective – but visuals aside Black Box have also confidently gone in their own direction with everything else as well.
EA have likened The Run to a Michael Bay movie before, so it’s fitting that the director recently created an uber-energized trailer for the game which is embedded at the bottom of this page. It has to be said that none of Bay’s movies have ever been given kudos for their scripts, but the opening beats of The Run are written with a surprisingly charming amount of pith and punch. The story is laughably straightforward: a shifty loner named Jackson Rourke is forced take part in an illegal cross-country race with both the police and some murderous loan sharks in pursuit. His prize for beating his 200 opponents is a sizeable chunk of the $25million victory purse.
This studiously stripped-down narrative engine is actually a real plus point; it’s too fast-paced and eager-to-please to be boring, and way too concise to intrude. The story is split into 26 episodes and the missions vary constantly. Some of them are Outrun-style, checkpoint-based time attacks; others require you to pass a specific number of opponents in a set amount of time, and ‘Battle Races’ task you with having to race past a state line in pole position. The police intermittently emerge to attempt to run you down, although it’s not yet clear if they’ll have access to the same tools that they had in Hot Pursuit: during The Run’s opening two hours, they only seemed to be able to suddenly brake in front of you or ram you off the road.
There is also a revised and invigorating attitude towards shortcuts. They appear much less frequently than usual but they’re almost always dangerous and almost always shave a considerable amount of time off your run. During one early sequence that saw us barrelling through Eastern California’s Death Valley, one particular shortcut ran for almost half of the entire section but involved having to manoeuvre your way along an incredibly thin dirt road that ran along the side of an unpredictable cliff face. Taking these breakneck alternate routes is never mandatory to win, but Autolog is back and it’s more coercive than ever. It’s nowhere near as protruding as it was in Hot Pursuit – no female voices crop up to tell you that your friends have just given your latest high score a battering – but every time you finish a mission a small leaderboard pops up to quietly let you know where you stand amongst your friends.
Collisions are back to pre-Hot Pursuit levels of realism, so even ramming straight into the rear bumper of an opponent is going to fling you off course, and thus pitch-perfect execution is what’s always most important. Vehicle handling varies wildly but you’re never left without several different options, and the XP system allows you to unlock new abilities as you progress. Fans may have been worried that Black Box would have felt compelled to simply have a crack at making Hot Pursuit 2; instead they’ve played to their strengths and also made something that feels more like an interactive action movie than any racing game ever has before. It’s a blend that works – even with regard to the brief QTE scenes – and we are looking forward to seeing how the finished article shapes up a bit later this month.
Need for Speed: The Run is currently due for release on Friday November 18th on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC, Nintendo 3DS and Nintendo Wii.
When you pre-order the game on Xbox 360, PC or Playstation 3 you earn some free, zavvi exclusive DLC. For more info on that, click here.
Watch the Need for Speed: The Run ‘Michael Bay’ trailer here: