Need for Speed has experimented with more styles than Lady Gaga’s wardrobe throughout its history, and this time around, EA Black Box is looking to bring story driven drama and a $25 million cross-country race to the table. Featuring Hollywood talent behind its cast, the game moves between sequences of the actual race and on-foot chase scenes with the lead protagonist, Jack Roark. The Run’s driving style looks to appeal to the adrenaline junkies whose thirst for action can’t be quenched by Forza or Grand Turismo. It also employs the use of the new Frostbite 2.0 engine, which is getting some attention in another game you might be familiar with.
In the demo that released on October 18, players are given the opportunity to play through two of the driving stages in the single-player campaign. You also have two cars to choose from: A 2010 Lamborghini Gallardo or a 2010 Porsche 911, although the latter is locked unless you recommend the demo to a friend.
The first stage in the demo takes place in the desert en route to Las Vegas, on the path of eventually reaching New York City. You’re given the task of passing 10 other racers, which in this stage are placed at around 160th. The goal seems to be to marginalize the cars you pass in each race to the point where you’re in striking distance of 1st place by the last stage in NYC.
Right away I noticed how different The Run feels from a traditional racing sim. There’s no real-time damage recognition unless you total your car by slamming head on into an obstacle or sailing off a cliff. In such an event, one of a set number of rewinds is used to return you to the last checkpoint. Cars respond well to adjustments on the wheel, and those who prefer a more arcade driving style will feel right at home. Standard braking can oft be disregarded, but it’s a cinch when needed– even though drifting with the handbrake is surprisingly challenging. Call me crazy, but I find that the best way to reduce speed occasionally is to slam into opposing cars at the turn and use their bumpers as leverage.
While I only played the demo on normal difficulty – the second setting in a set of four calibers – I was still impressed with the challenge The Run seemed to exhibit. AI opponents are no light foots on the gas pedal, and passing was made even more difficult by pedestrian drivers that dotted the highway.
The second course in The Run’s demo takes us to the Colorado Rockies where Jack has to descend a huge mountain amid blizzard has blanketed the track with snow and stretches of ice. In what’s going to be a recurring mode in The Run, the main objective for this course is survival, and it’s no Sunday drive. Driving over the ice patches leads to a big loss of traction and can make maneuvering a real hassle (Apparently driving upwards of 150 down a snowy mountain road in a Lambo is okay otherwise though). For some reason that I’m not sure is made entirely clear in the demo, rockets are being shot into the side of the mountain, causing chunks of boulder and other debris to fall onto the track. Not only does this obstruct your vision, but occasionally a large enough rock will land on the track and make for a deadly obstacle. Needless to say, there’s no shortage of white knuckle moments during the descent, and it’s quite possible you won’t make it out alive on the first try.
I came away impressed with the Frostbite 2 engine and the level of detail it rendered on each car. The courses make for some massive yet beautiful set-pieces where only minor design flaws are noticeable. The frame rate, while obviously not at 60fps, is consistent throughout every point in the race – an important aspect considering everything The Run wants to throw at you.
Hopefully each track can be as unique as the two I got to play because I’m definitely intrigued by cross-country race concept. Not only does the storyline have potential, but it harkens back to the days of the old “Cruis’n USA” games for the N64, and from what the demo showed there are a lot of gameplay elements that can be exploited by America’s varied landscape.
The demo doesn’t offer us the chance to play any of Sean’s on-foot sequences, and I’m hoping this was done to prevent too much from being given away as opposed to covering up the fact that they’re just humdrum, change of pace filler scenes. We won’t know for sure until the game releases on November 18 for PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC, but right now the game appears to have a shot at a strong finish.