So, armed with a new computer, and with a recent Need for Speed review in the bank, I decided to check out some more recent entries in the series.
Following the relative disappointment of Carbon, EA Black Box, the team responsible for NFS games since Underground (on PC at least: they also did the good version of Hot Pursuit 2 on PS2 in 2002 – the PC version was developed by a different team and, by all accounts, wasn’t so great) were given two more bites at the cherry. Pro Street was derided as a dull track based racer, while Undercover’s attempts to return to the ‘roots’ of Underground and Most Wanted were considered largely unsuccessful. (Disclaimer: I haven’t played either – one day FFG may have its own opinions to offer, but for now, we’re only repeating those read elsewhere.)
I guess Michael Bay would have liked this bit.
Anyway, the license passed to other hands for a couple of years while Black Box worked on The Run, the 2011 instalment of NFS. The concept – a coast to coast race on the open roads of the USA – was very appealing to me, and although I was put off at the time by slightly smelly reviews, I was tempted back by cheap copies several years after the fact (it was ever thus).
As a kid, films like Smokey and the Bandit and Cannonball Run were among my favourites, while Test Drive 2 and the original Need for Speed were the kind of games that promised something similar (within the limitations of the time). Despite technological advances, though, there has never really been such a thing as a great long-haul racer, with the low key charms of Euro Truck Simulator 2 being the closest we’ve come to a driving game that revels in the experience of getting from A to B.
The Run does look very nice, and it’s not entirely without thrills – this ice-dodging section is particularly good.
Hopes that The Run might be that game are soon undermined by a host of obvious flaws, including – but not limited to – a dreadful and somewhat underdeveloped plot, an unsympathetic main character, a desire to combine missions and scripted gameplay with the open road, and a misguided focus on Hollywood set pieces at the expense of open world driving.
You are Jack, a guy who – as far as we can tell – is in some financial trouble that appears to be entirely of his own making. Instead of being deservedly murdered by Chicago mobsters, he is instead bailed out by a woman called Sam – who, for reasons unknown, helps him enter a race called The Run, the prize money for which could ease his woes, in exchange for a significant cut.
Jack is the kind of dickhead EA think people playing the game would like to be.
Depending on your point of view, it’s either deliberately minimalist, or they didn’t have time to finish it. There was a big song and dance about Michael Bay’s involvement (although I think he just directed a trailer) and also regarding the inclusion of out-of-car sections using QTEs, so it’s a surprise that there’s so little to it, story-wise.
The main problem I have with the game is that you have to drive flat out all the time to stay ahead of opponents and – when they appear – the police. Inevitably, you’ll crash or go off road multiple times and then the game force-resets you back to a checkpoint, which sort of undermines the free-wheeling spirit of a drive on the open road. Also, there are action movie bits where you have to avoid gunfire and explosions – but, unlike a movie, you fuck it up several times because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
The Run is short, and your time (roughly 2 hours) is logged, implying that repeat plays are encouraged. Which would be fine if this wasn’t such a choreographed, rubber band experience in the first place. A slightly more realistic driving model, with more emphasis on being careful, some evident love for the vehicles available (like the original NFS or Test Drive Unlimited) and abandoning the story and associated set pieces altogether would all make this a more appealing proposition.
But, as it is, it’s a bit like watching a slightly crap film again – not too demanding in terms of energy and time commitment – but still not something you want to be doing.