Platform: Xbox 360, PS3, Wii, PC
The 19th game in a series stretching back to 1994 Need For Speed: The Run follows Jack Rourke in an illegal race across the US for a $25 million purse. Developer BlackBox have had an on-again off-again relationship with NFS but they've been given control once again and they've pulled out all the stops to try and keep it.
The story begins with Jack waking up in a car compactor as the Mob try to kill him over unpaid gambling debts. Don't ask me why they didn't just shoot him, maybe they thought it wasn't super villainy enough, but you escape and are offered a chance to take part in a cross country race, in exchange for 10% of the purse if you win. There's nothing wrong with the setup but the execution could be a lot better. Each character has their background laid out plain as day in a short text blurb, and you encounter various rivals on the road that could easily be fleshed out into colourful and interesting people that you encounter along this epic journey, but each one of them takes up so little of the game that they fade into the background.
Controls are near perfect, the game has the sense to copy the driving controls of basically every driving game on the market and the cars that should be responsive but slow are quick on the turns but weak flat out, while the faster cars certainly catch up to other drivers quickly but steer like broken trollies. There's options to change cars mid-stage and depending on the road there is a definite advantage to picking the right car, but most of the time and midway between power and control and a little bit of care will see you through.
While the controls are top notch some of the Gameplay decisions are just bizarre. The game just flat out cheats sometimes. You can close a 3 second gap on a car with ease but start to get close or actually overtake and the AI gets upset and cranks up the difficulty, until you get about a half second past when it just gives up and you open up a huge lead. The absolute worst moment I saw was as I was about to overtake, the game generated an oncoming van on a previously empty road, and that was the end of the race for me. Each race is tense but the stages are far too small, this game is meant to be about a cross-country race across the USA but most races are only a few miles long. Anyone of those races could've been combined together to make one longer, more enjoyable stage, with changing goals rather than the short runs, that are broken up by tedious loading screens that take far too long.
Speaking of the scenery, it's absolutely stunning for the brief seconds you can look at it. This is the first non-shooter to use the Frostbite 2 engine and the scenery and character models it can handle are incredible. It's let down by the camera angles, and there's no zoom that goes sufficiently far out that you really look around, so get used to the back of a car. The character models are fantastic but you don't see enough of them. Sam (voiced by Christina Hendricks) is a particular let down, she starts off as a friend and has the potential of a moral compass but then she hands you a tablet PC that is meant to be a setup for the mini-map. After an hour of Sam squawking down the phone at you to drive really fast, she devolves into your creepy cyber stalker.
In the end this is a shallow but solid game. It would actually improve if the story were just thrown out the window, not enough effort is put into it anyway. It looks great when you can see it, it controls well and the gameplay is never boring. It's worth a look just don't expect a masterpiece.
Replay Value: 2/5
Reviewed by: Tony O'Hare