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Need for Speed: The Run - Deeper than Hot Pursuit, prettier than Battlefield?

Hands-On with EA's new Challenge Series mode

Let's be honest, in between the Battlefield's, Uncharted's and Arkham City's, Need for Speed: The Run so far hasn't got the attention it deserves.

Press pause on the Assassin's Creed trailer for a moment though, and you might be pleasantly surprised by what's fast becoming one of the most improved franchises in gaming.

EA Black Box's latest technical tarmac-tearer looks stunning, handles with depth and, in terms of pure racetrack, it's the biggest Need for Speed ever - in fact at 300km, it's more than double the previous record holder.

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What's most promising though is it seems to have found a middle-ground between the compelling arcade gameplay of Criterion's Hot Pursuit, and the technical corners and cop-evading of the series' past.

RUNNING MAN
The Run is a premise long-time developer Black Box says it's wanted to create for a long time; a coast-to-coast race from San Francisco to New York City, covering every landmark and metropolis worth twisting a Porsche round along the way.

300 illegal racers are signed up for the challenge, and playing as a somewhat mysterious shaven headed racer (EA wants to keep the whole setup under wraps for now) you're out to finish on top.

It's a setup that again hits the middle notes by pleasing both racing heads and those looking for a story from their Need for Speed, without resorting to loads of bloated cut-scenes starring Kelly Brook (although that would be nice).

That said, The Run is still a very cinematic experience, with your female 'handler' (played by Christina Hendricks) occasionally barking out orders from your car radio and the odd petrol station story section looking well animated and generally polished.

Then of course there's the out of vehicle QTE sequences, most famously showcased during The Run's e3 reveal, which have garnered quite a bit of attention among the gaming public.

It's probably fair to say that the prominence of these sequences has been blown out of proportion - we played for a good few hours and encountered only one, which to be honest broke up pacing quite nicely.

The Run kicks off on the West Coast, after a pre-game cut-scene shows our man meeting with his red headed handler in a Chinese restaurant, who promises him lots of money for getting to Manhattan in the number one spot.

During our hands-on session Black Box insists The Run "is not Hot Pursuit." It explains: "you won't see any 200km drifts in this game". And it's right; kicking off our cross-country race in a chaotic San Francisco cop chase, the very first corners demand the brake pedal's pressed firmly to the ground.

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The handling of our BMW certainly isn't a full simulation, but the technical cornering and overarching feel of danger - that one misjudged U-bend could end with our motor wrapped around a steel girder on the Golden Gate Bridge - is pleasantly unexpected.

The Run certainly is a stunning game and the sense of speed generated by Battlefield 3's powerful Frostbite Engine is impressive. In sections - gliding through dusty desert fog or along snowy mountainsides - Need for Speed even surpasses what we've seen of DICE's game. It really is gorgeous.

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