E3 2011: Need for Speed The Run

By Andrew Yoon, Jun 14, 2011 2:30pm PDT

QUICKTAKE: I have to credit EA for trying something new with Need for Speed The Run. No one will be able to criticize it as being another cookie-cutter sequel in the long-running franchise. Still, EA appears to have missed the mark with its narrative-heavy twist to the series.

THE DEMO: EA's focus for their E3 reveal was Chicago, more than halfway through Jack's cross-country race. For some reason, he needs to make it from San Francisco to New York, and he's made some tough enemies: the police and the mob. In the E3 demo, Jack steals a police car, rushing away from a chasing helicopter. After crashing onto some train tracks, Jack must figure out a way out of the hurled car before the oncoming locomotive flattens him.

DETAILS: Developer Black Box calls this Need for Speed "to the next level." And on paper, it certainly is: ambitious cross-country scale, its new cutting-edge graphics engine (Battlefield 3's Frostbite 2 tech), and a narrative to tie it all together. However, none of these elements felt like they came together in my E3 preview.

The idea of cross-country racing is exciting, but the journey is broken up into such small segments that it's hard to get a "feel" for the setting. The level I played didn't particularly look or feel like Chicago. The graphics engine is targeting the next generation, but I certainly wasn't floored by what I saw. Granted, the code was running on a PS3 and not a high-end PC -- but I didn't feel as if The Run looked any better than Shift 2 or Hot Pursuit before it.

Given Black Box's long relationship with the franchise, one would expect the cars to handle much like they did in previous Need for Speed games. However, I found the police car in the demo to be incredibly sluggish. Perhaps the title refers to my desire to go faster; I felt as if the game were running in slow-motion. Given that there was a helicopter chasing me, shooting bullets at my car, you'd think I could feel a bit more excited.

While I walked away from the racing segment unimpressed, I'm hoping the final build will play more to my liking. (This is an early build, after all.) What made me really concerned were the on-foot QTE segments that define "The Run." Trapped in an upside-down car with button inputs appearing on the screen, I couldn't help but feel as I've done this before.

The similarities between the QTE section of The Run and the car chase sequence from Heavy Rain invite further comparison. The two scenes are very similar, both conceptually and mechanically. However, Heavy Rain adapts to failure, with the story changing based on your performance. The Run, on the other hand, simply presents you with a Game Over screen. More importantly, the story gives you reason to care about the peril of the characters -- will The Run be able to do the same? I'm not entirely sold on Black Box's storytelling capabilities based on the E3 demo.

I'm glad to see EA try something new with the series, and I'd love to see Black Box succeed with this concept. But with an uninteresting, and possibly misguided "story" mode, and a racing segment that felt sluggish and boring, Need for Speed The Run was one of my disappointments at the show.

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