Need For Speed: The Run


Written by Chris Price
05 Monday 05th December 2011

Need for Speed has always subscribed to a simple formula - going fast, in exotic cars. Normally in straight lines too. With the success of big-money/fast-cars films, and the cultural positioning of The Cannonball Run and The Gumball Rally, it’s only surprising that a race across America has taken so long to manifest itself. The Run is wafer-thin on plot – something about a winner-takes-all $25 million race purse set-up by a shadowy ne’er-do-well who lives above a Chinese restaurant (taking the Barksdale approach to money management).

Plot excuses a high-stakes race across various sumptuous backdrops – hilly city streets, dusty interstate tracks, snowy mountain tops – interspersed with a series of quicktime scuffles, stunts and evades that would make Die Hard Arcade proud. A European setting might’ve seemed more logical with the wide array of scenarios; the Frostbite 2 graphics engine depicts each in its trademark gun-metal and halogen tinge, with an ever present lens flare and bursting lighting effects. Being on the lam has rarely looked so gratuitously stylish. The forward momentum of the game, to chase down and hold a lead over a particular opponent or to overtake a number of racers before hitting a the finish line is palpably exhilarating. Ushered on by an eclectic selection of mood setting tracks from The Black Keys, Dead Weather, Mastodon and Reverend Horton Heat injected with ascending orchestral scores to get the blood flowing, it’s all very enthusiastic and rather charismatic too (unlike the hero of the piece, who’s about as ambient as albino tofu).

Developers EA Black Box are obviously very proud of their cars – because they take up a whole quarter of the centre of the screen. Even though the ‘3rd person behind-the-car' view isn't the only one, it’s the one arcade-ardent fans would default to. And it can be problematic, with a voyeuristic camera which drifts below the car on hill ascent and into the boot on breaks - all too often obscuring your view on more winding tracks causing you to career off mountain roads and force the use of one of your ‘Resets’.

NFS:TR shouldn’t be a massively challenging game, but artificially pumps its difficulty by constantly throwing problems in your path, often due to awkward handling - you never feel fully in control of your breaking & acceleration. Car spin-outs feel unfair, and the control of high end ones feels more reserved for the likes of pro-Forza drivers wielding full manual control. This makes simple navigation of other traffic tricky and tight winding roads almost impassable without collision, or tripping over the odd invisible barrier which will trigger a reset – and add to this a pack of cars who never seem to more than a few inches behind you, and seem intent on liberally shaving your car of its wing mirrors.

The world alludes to an open-world race track, with alternate routes cross country, but with the cinematic tracks taking you along cliffsides and hilltops, scrapes on the sides will often see your car auto-corrected back onto the track when it starts to teeter off a mountain edge on a perilous hairpin bend.

It’s not that these problems are insurmountable, it’s more that the only ways of dealing with them are by either driving slowly and methodically (not the Need For Speed way) or bouncing off walls, opponents and oncoming traffic in an effort to bully yourself around the track – something which feels at odds with the ‘racing’ game described. It obviously holds the legendary crash-and-burn elements of Burnout 3 in regard, and NFS:TR is ripe for shoving opponents into traffic for a glorious Frostbite 2 rendered takedown – and it’s a huge shame that they didn’t go that one step further, because it seems like such a natural progression from where The Run resides.

Online the game fares far better, using a similar Autolog system of racking up gaming stats, vehicles and achievements to be downloaded into the game on connection. The plethora of online options is heady, as is competing against far less erratic real life opponents. Race across various tracks against online players, and earn experience currency for the single player game and the purchase of customisable bits and pieces as well as shiny new cars and tune-ups. A natty ‘award-roulette’ decides on a random bonus for each chase. Generous distance tracks and less pressure on catching and overtaking allows for unfettered enjoyment of the blistering pace of race, the throttle under your fingertips and the pleasing shunt offered by a boost of nitrous – the only real difference maker mid-race.

NFS:TR deals in repression  - coercing you into doing one thing but then forcing you to do another. There’s an absolute surfeit of great ideas packed into it (your map across America depicting your times, police car radio interceptions narrating chaos, explosive surroundings and hazards), it’s just a shame the core of the game couldn’t pick what it wants to be. As a whole, it’s a sensually sumptuous piece of cinematic gaming, blighted by erratic controls and frustrating little errors. Although never debilitating, it’s enough to blight Black Box’s shiny chase across America’s badlands.  An overwhelming sense of ‘what if?’ casts a shadow of potential greatness over the whole package, but in the light of such strong racing competition in 2011 it feels needless. Still, if your aspirations are to be Rémy Julienne, you’ll be pleased as punch to star in your very own slab of action cinema.


Need for Speed: The Run is out now on PS3, Xbox 360 and PC. 

Don't Panic attempt to credit photographers and content owners wherever possible, however due to the sheer size and nature of the internet this is sometimes impractical or impossible. If you see any images on our site which you believe belong to yourself or another and we have incorrectly used it please let us know at and we will respond asap.