Need for Speed: The Run
Since 1994 the gaming world has had a serious Need for Speed. In fact, this is the most successful franchise of racing games ever, speeding past the 100 million copy milepost after painting stripes onto 18 installments. (The Run is No. 19.)
This arcade-style racer has always been about putting gamers in the digital driver's seat of a bunch of fabulous cars while offering them lots of slam-bang, grip-the-wheel-and-pound-the-pedals competition on real-world roads and highways. No neat and proper racetrack maneuvering here. The heart of this game has always been about finding the balancing point between raw power and stay-on-four-wheels control.
The creators of Need for Speed: The Run certainly weren't going to mess with that side of their winning formula. But they did decide to drift in a bit of a new direction: They added a story. Now there's a "reason" for all that illegal street racing.
Gentlemen, Start Your … Compactors
To play, you slip into the jeans and T-shirt of one Jack Rourke, a guy who doesn't have a very good sense about how to spend his spare time, or for that matter who he spends it with. So in the opening moments, Jack finds himself strapped into his car while it's being dropped into a giant compactor by a couple of mob guys who hold his gambling debt.
That means driving isn't the first thing you do here. Instead, in a series of Quick Time Events, you're bent on hitting the right controller button at just the right time to help get Jack out of his jam. Then, after he eludes his gun-toting wannabe executioners, he meets up with an old friend/flame named Sam who presents him with a deal: If Jack will do what he does best—drive like crazy—and win a coast-to-coast race against 200 of the world's best drivers, then Sam will clear his name with the mob and even give him a slice of the $25 million prize. Of course, if Jack doesn't beat the nitrous-pumped pack on the San Francisco-to-New York City run, he'll be wishing he'd never escaped that compactor.
Okay, Now You Can Start Your Engines
From there, it's on to the racing. And that's where Need for Speed does what it does best. It offers up 138 unlockable virtual rides, from Lamborghinis and Porsches to Aston Martins and BMWs to American-made muscle like the Chevy Corvette and Dodge Charger. Each car, fun to drive and quick to respond to your finger-flicking commands, has its own strengths and weaknesses that must be mastered to do your best driving. And from the first engine rev, the sense of adrenaline-pumping speed and power that's delivered as you put the vehicles through their paces is exciting.
That excitement is heightened by the graphically impressive environments Jack makes his way through. You don't actually have to drive each and every of the 3,000-plus miles on the race's route from San Fran to NYC; instead, the game wows you with highlights. Death Valley. Yosemite. The Rockies. Chicago. The clogged Interstates east of the Mississippi.
There are a variety of driving challenges to indulge in along the way. Sometimes you're faced with a checkpoint trial to see if you can maintain high speeds and race against the clock in difficult environments—complete with hairpin turns or an unexpected avalanche. Other times it will be an elimination battle, challenging you to slingshot your way past a certain number of drivers before you reach a selected spot on the map. Or you'll have to stay in control as police officers try to slam you off the road for good.
The Speedster Is a Jerk
Which brings us back to the story side of things. I'm sure the game's background tale was dreamed up in an attempt to add texture to the game's tires. But it actually reduces traction. That partly because it's handled poorly and is sketchy at best. And partly it's because of this: Most of the out-of-car moments consist of running from either thugs or cops. So you're ducking from automatic gunfire or pounding some policeman in the face so you can steal his cruiser. You can fall off buildings, get hit by a train and end up riddled with bullets.
Not only do these sequences drag along some (light) foul language, they heighten the game's overarching sense of disrespect for authority. In other words, they put a pair of those nifty new BMW laser-generated high beam headlights on the fact that our "hero" is a cop-assaulting criminal.