The Run spent three years in production before hitting the PC. Three years for a handful of single-player time on Hard, just as much in Challenge mode, plus the multiplayer where you choose how much time to spend. Three years for a game I left out after a week-end… and it’s pity for Black Box’s work, a great one from many points of view. I don’t know who has the design ideas or imposes limits in the Need for Speed series, but he should find another job. The Run is very limited and lacks elements that should be on the list of any decent racing game, arcade or not.
Jack and the Mob
The Run has a story. Or at least it tries to, with a protagonist that does enough stuff to upset the Mob. But our Jack Rourke manages to escape and a nice girl offers him a deal: she gets the bad guys off his back if he enters and wins an illegal race stretching between San Francisco and New York (around 4000km, going through Las Vegas, Detroit and Chicago). How can she help him, we don’t know and it’s not something I would’ve bothered to find out anyway. It’s easier to ignore the narrative; and if you still listen to the dialogues and read the texts about Jack’s rivals, all you get is clichés.
The subject isn’t new or original. There actually is an international race (Gumball 3000) around the world, with different routes each year. More to that, some classical movies use the idea, the first candidate being The Gumball Rally (1976), probably the inspiration for the real race. In any case, the movie isn’t Oscar good, but it is way more interesting than the unfortunate try at a story in The Run.
Nevertheless, something stands out: for the first time, a driver exits the car. But it’s all scripted in Quick Time Events: just push the keys at the right moment, otherwise you get busted, crushed by a truck or by a train. If this is OK for a console game, it’s totally not right on the PC; even more, NFS is a racing game! For God sake, why jump fences by pressing X or A (please don’t specify the keyboard keys, we’re not on the PC) instead of a car chase? I would’ve liked a Burnout style chase, not a foot run where all I do is press a button every now and again.
Probably beyond the story, the idea of making the driver get out of the car comes from the graphics engine. Frostbite 2 was only used for Battlefield 3 and it took a year just to adjust it for cars and tracks, not for armed to the teeth soldiers. Don’t get me wrong, the engine is great and there are areas where you restart a race just to see the vistas and the control is good for a FPS engine.
Move and you are dead
The San Francisco-New York race is split in 10 stages, the goal being to win everything on the way to the Big Apple. The races aren’t varied, only 4 types and some variations, from aggressive police to avoiding avalanches that threaten to engulf the road:
- Sprint – the classical race, win it or try again;
- Checkpoint – the track is split in stages and you get a set amount of seconds to get to a fixed point; the time shortens depending on difficulty level;
- Rival race – you against some dude/girl plucked out of the 200+ drivers in the race;
- Opponent catch – an advanced form of checkpoint where instead of getting to a fixed point, you have to take over a car and maintain the lead for a number of seconds.
Actually, the race type matters little since you have to win them all. No matter if you have to overtake 10 opponents, kick the ass of 5 rivals or catch 3 cars, all you have to do is be first. Taking the story into account, it’s logical, but it’s also boring. Around half the campaign, I was like “what do I do this time? Oh, just beat them all… ok…”
The variations come from the police and some special events that I would have liked to see more than three times. The police is taken from Hot Pursuit and has the same behavior: ramming in order to wreck you, organizes road blocks and follows you obsessively. The AI is very stubborn, the police cars are tough, but you still get the occasional “cop takedown” with the dedicated cinematic. On the other hand, I really don’t see how a cop in a Subaru SUV could outrun me when I drive a Lamborghini. Yeah, the AI cheats big time.