You can read this review in full in our print edition.
Our January issue, which is on sale December 20, will include a Post Script article that looks at the Need For Speed series' breadth and, even though it means it doesn't always hit the right note, admirable experimentalism.
The notion that playing games is a waste of your time is nonsense, of course, but unfortunately ?Need For Speed: The Run lets the side down. ?Stuffed with a procession of long-winded loading sequences, protracted menu flipping and unskippable cutscenes, it often feels like there’s as much watching ?as there is playing. Time wasted, in other words.
The Run’s problems are manifold, and loading is ?only the most acute. In singleplayer, each stage requires a loading screen of well over a minute, the gap from one race to the next a yawning chasm. In multiplayer things are worse: loading can take anything up to five minutes, and often simply gives up altogether and remains in limbo. This is on a patched retail copy, and impossible to defend. As one online compatriot muttered while Las Vegas loaded: “You could drive there quicker than this”. Purely in terms of the respect it has for its players’ ?time, The Run is a failure.
Regular framerate drops and glitchy physics add ?to the general shonkiness, and even Autolog is spoiled. Its incorporation in The Run makes last year’s chic and slick innovation feel like an irritant, wheezing for yet more minutes between races while connecting rather than telling you anything useful.
Even ignoring these many technical failings, and despite an excellent concept, The Run still falls far short of being a good game. The idea is a non-stop race across America: San Francisco to New York, taking in Vegas and Detroit, against more than 200 other drivers. The reality is a series of short A-to-B stages that mix up their objectives but never quite hit the right balance, ?a disjointed presentation that turns promising-sounding stretches like The Great Lakes into disconnected vignettes.
This chopping up of the long route into smaller chunks could work if you were still responsible for ?your overall position in the race, but The Run never allows this, instead dictating your progression up the ranks rigidly, each stage setting a target ranking, with no wiggle room. This is in part because The Run’s singleplayer has a heavy narrative focus. This is a car game in which the driver is a character.
Inevitably, he’s an unlikeable goon who smirks his ?way through a mob/girl/redemption story that feels ?like The Fast And The Furious machinima. This might be forgivable if you could skip cutscenes, or if the occasional QTEs weren’t devoid of imagination or engagement. Instead you’re essentially playing Simon Says to unlock the next part of a video, and while the setups – escaping the police, fighting crooks – have ?a keen cinematic eye, any tension is wasted. Surely players expect more in 2011 than tapping ‘X’ to run?
There are three viewing angles: thirdperson, firstperson and a bonnet cam. Choosing between the first two comes down to preference, but the latter is spoilt by wavering and occasionally absent textures ?on the bonnet itself. Sometimes the lighting effects ?mix textures into strange oily swirls, while at other times it feels like you’re driving one big polygon.
The campaign’s five-hour running time is ?doubled by Challenge mode, which goes over the ?same tracks with different conditions, although, like ?the main game’s objectives, they rapidly begin to repeat. In both modes The Run manages to throw up high-octane sequences and the odd neat trick, but it’s all undermined by the same problem: cheating opponents.
Success in the racing genre relies on great opposition. In The Run you will catch up to racers at 180mph, only to see them accelerate away at an impossible pace. Later, these speed demons will slow ?to a crawl on a predefined stretch of road to allow an overtaking manoeuvre. And it gets worse. We’ve been ?in the lead and driving at top speed with boost engaged on a straight line to the finish, only to watch in disbelief as an opponent in the same car cruised past to steal the win. Then there are the non-racing cars on the road, which have a habit of turning directly into you for no reason and with no warning, a lousy trick that’s impossible to avoid and feels rigged. It’s a frequent ?and simply unforgiveable piece of rule-breaking.
Online multiplayer tops everything. The races are built around a neat structure whereby participants sign up for a short series of stages with a random prize at the end, rather than a single encounter. But in-game the races regularly suffer from framerate drops, ghosting from opposition cars, and collision physics that behave inconsistently or just don’t work at all. Sometimes it all goes very wrong: on one terrifying occasion the track just plain disappeared, leaving eight racers tumbling through a texture-free brown vacuum, chatting about how this never happened in Hot Pursuit. That The Run crashed a retail PS3 five times during our review sessions says a lot about its all-round flakiness.
Perhaps half of our online races worked as they should. For those brief snatches, The Run gives glimpses of a different game, a tight and thrilling urban racer in which cars weave loops around oncoming traffic, drift around corners and boost out with jerks of inertia. But then it’s time for another long loading screen and the taste is soon forgotten.
The Run doesn’t have the structure or production values to carry off its concept. Even if it did, its successes would be smothered by a procession of awful technical flaws. Lacking charm and polish, only the Need For Speed name will sell the game – which will no doubt mean that it fares well enough. But in a year that has seen gaming’s biggest franchises one-upping each ?other and demanding players’ attention like never before, The Run simply doesn’t cut it.
PS3 version tested.