9 Reviews

Need for Speed: The Run

Don't believe the hype

The Run is impressive in many ways, though none of them are the obvious ones. Much has been made of the 'interactive cutscenes' and the story in general, but these are actually the weakest elements.

The strongest - thankfully - lie in the racing itself. These cars and roads are exciting, sexy and fun. Turns out that's a good way to make a racing game. Who knew?

The concept is that you, Slick McDouche - he must have a name, but we don't care - are in an exclusive, high-stakes, coast-to-coast race across America. What's more, you've only just escaped the mob, who drop you into a car crusher during the game's opener.

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They must really hate you, as you were in a rather nice Porsche at the time, so along with the other racers, the weather and the cops, you must occasionally contend with machine-gunning nutters in black cars. The Run is admirably varied and actually - creatively - uses the structure of an FPS instead of a racing game. To great effect, too. More on that in a moment.

In many ways we sympathise with the mob, because your character, along with all the others, is a self-regarding arsehole. Everybody speaks in movie poster quotes. Everybody is street tough. Everybody is smug. You can't blame EA so much as Hollywood, because the inspiration is obvious: the adolescent posturing, macho fantasy and cowboy-made-of-testosterone looks of The Fast & The Furious.

That said, Slick looks for all the world like Tom Cruise in The War of the Worlds - all no-nonsense leather, hardwearing jeans and audibly brutal Frankenstein boots. In fact, no driver in the history of the world has worn less suitable footwear.

So much for empathy, then, especially as the excitingly-shot cutscenes are actually dulled by the annoying 'Simon Says' button-hammering. Happily, they're actually pretty rare, despite the advertising - mostly you're just driving flat out on often fantastic roads.

It's a surprisingly common misapprehension in racing games - all the beautiful licensed cars in the world are boring if there's nowhere fun to drive them. The quality of Polyphony Digital's fictional tracks is what, in truth, saves Gran Turismo 5 from complete obsolescence. And here, EA has found a brilliant balance between sweeping, 200mph curves and oh-God-I-should-have-braked-sometime-last-month tight turns.

It doesn't do this through slavish realism - the handling is a weighty, feedback-rich cavalcade of drifts and squeals - but through keenly observed fantasy.

Running in the Frostbite 2 engine, last seen powering the impressive Battlefield 3, the route snakes through every kind of environment you could wish for: cities, deserts, canyons, mountains and plains. The roads weave constantly out of sight, with crests launching you into the air, cambers sucking you down into banked corners, dusty rally-style cuts tempting you on the inside and all manner of deceptive telltales to contend with.

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At its best it recalls the classic Burnout 2. There are plenty of useful shortcuts too, and even the main roads can feature, say, rock faces on one side and sheer drops or massive trees on the other. Sudden and total write-offs are just frequent enough to remain shocking.

And then there are the dust storms, the wet patches, the flying debris of destructible objects, the distractions of booming waterfalls or crashing waves, the drifting snows and the problems of darkness. It's one of very few games where the mini-map feels truly integrated - we found it invaluable for judging speed and line, yet it's often tough to find a second to glance at it.

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