The Run starts off in memorable fashion - with Jack Rouke being taped in his Porsche above a car crusher in a junkyard. After escaping that via a QTE, you find out that this is your playable character and that he’s on the run from the mob, who chase after him with machine guns in tow. You escape to a Chinese restaurant where a friend, Sara offers to pay a quarter-million dollars to get you into The Run - a San Franciso to New York race with 250 racers and a $25 million purse, netting you 10% of the bounty if you win. It’s an intriguing enough plot, and then…things just kind of go downhill.
This story mode makes up the entirety of the single-player game, outside of an optional challenge mode, and the storyline doesn’t get as much focus as you’d expect. New characters are brought in via a single paragraph in the loading screen, with nothing else to make you care in the slightest about them as either allies or rivals. Every now and then, the narrative will come up, but most of your time will be spent trying to overtake opponents or make up for lost time in checkpoint races, with some combinations of doing those things at night, in a storm, or against cops to mix up the formula that becomes repetitive pretty quickly. QTEs pop up rarely, but are quite exciting. Unlike most that just require one button press, you’ll often have to keep tapping a button and then quickly switch to doing that for another - the perils are pretty non-stop here, but there are areas you can fail and not have to worry about having to retry, so it’s somewhat forgiving.
What isn’t as forgiving is the core racing game. The Run features the most blatant rubber band AI I’ve seen in an arcade-style racer. No matter how well you do, you’ll almost always win by a razor-thin amount of time between you and your rival. And the same holds true for losses as well, but those are also aggravating due to the cheap traffic setup. There was one area in stage two of the cross-country trek (out of 10 stages total, each with at least three races) where I’d get in the lead, make it to the final corner and actually end the race with the HUD saying I passed all six of my rivals only to be greeted by a Try Again? Screen. It was either that or I’d turn that last corner and run right into a semi truck that came out of nowhere. This kind of game design crosses the line from being challenging into being aggravating. Other issues cause frustration that really shouldn’t - like selecting a car. Instead of a pre-race menu, you can only change cars during a race, and even then, only after you’ve found and driven through a gas station. While selecting your car, other drivers can pass you by, so unless you’ve somehow got a massive lead, you’ll probably wind up losing a position or two and then scrambling to try and make up for lost time. The selection process is unique, but an example of unique also not necessarily equaling good since it gets in the way of actually racing.
Thankfully, while the core game is tough, sometimes frustrating, and pretty limited as far as what it offers, it’s also pretty good. The racing action is intense and the cars control responsively. One advantage to the rubber band AI is that it does keep the action pretty fast, which means that races will never be boring. It helps that the integration of cops, who naturally oppose this massive underground cross-country race, is done so well because their presence adds a lot of excitement to things. They’ll go after EVERYONE, not just you, keeping things somewhat fair. Seeing their lights go across the screen and hearing the sirens blare, while trying to maintain your position is thrilling, as is slamming one of their cars into a rival, or vise versa. While there are some flaws with the execution, the developers really did capture what one would expect the excitement to be in an outlaw cross-country race. There’s rarely a dull moment, and while that can work against the player since you’ll definitely have to retry some areas, it does work at creating an exciting game.
While there are multiple racing options available in the Run, the mode is still pretty limited as far as giving you a lot of options for racing. Sadly, this trend continues in the challenge mode. Like the Run, it is a bit rigid in its structure. You have to complete set goals, like overtaking and getting in first place, in various settings from the story mode, so your progress there ties into this because without making progress in the Run, you won’t have much to choose from here. Car selection is a bit more robust in the challenges, giving you at least a half-dozen options for vehicles at first, and then going from there as you unlock more cars in the main game. Success is measured in PGR-style medals, which earn you more XP and can give you bragging rights for Autolog scoreboards. Autolog integration is better here than it was in Shift 2, and now tracks you in real-time on the upper-right hand corner with your top-ranked friend, before breaking everything down into a more thorough post-race screen.
Like the single-player game, the online multi-player aspect of the Run stands out for its unique execution that helps the game stand out, but also winds up offering players fewer choices than they may like. Instead of picking one course and racing, you have to pick a set play list of courses for the group to use. Eventually, you’ll play on a track you want, but you’ll definitely have to wade through some races you don’t want to take part in to get there. At least doing so will net you XP that’s good for every mode in the game, and I like the little slot machine wheel that spins before each set of races to set a bonus for that play list. Sometimes the reward is a ton of XP, sometimes it’s a new (and rare) vehicle. The online play is fantastic overall - while it’s a bit short on freedom, it does at least run really smoothly without any noticeable lag during my experiences with it.
The Run uses Battlefield 3’s graphical engine to great effect, making this one of the best-looking racing games ever in some ways. The environments look fantastic, with rain-slicked streets being lit by street lights and the red and blue lights from cop cars being one highlight, and the massive dust storm conjured up in the desert acting as another. Their draw distance is also impressive, normally allowing you to see upcoming obstacles long before you’ll ever encounter them during the race. The character models and their animation look fantastic so long as long hair isn’t required - that is rendered terribly and looks very artificial. Car models look fine but won’t blow you away.
The Run’s in-race soundtrack is a bit of a letdown compared to recent NFS offerings. Shift 2 featured an incredible soundtrack that I wanted to purchase ASAP. This one has a diverse soundtrack of rock, some country, and even wacky Vegas-style music that fits the area you’re driving through well but doesn’t stick with you after playing. The cutscene music impressed me quite a bit. A lot of orchestral music is used, and it manages to set just the right mood for everything that goes on. The voice work is also pretty good for what little there is, but the cast really wasn’t given much to work with here given how few characters are given a chance to develop in any meaningful way. The sound design adds a lot of excitement during races. In the rocky mountain area, you’ll hear an avalanche coming, but know all you can do is try and avoid the massive slabs of snow as they slam onto the track in front of you. Sound also adds a lot to integration of cops as well - taking part in races with cops is more exciting not only due to the sheer panic they cause on the track, but also from hearing them bark out their commands over the radio during the race. It adds another layer of depth to things and really makes what’s going on seem as real as possible.
Need For Speed The Run is a good racing game that I was hoping would be great, and instead wound up being greatly hurt by its difficulty and lack of content. It’s disappointing to see a Need For Speed game that isn’t worth full-price and really is better as a rental, but that‘s the case here. The Run mode can be beaten in a day, and there simply isn’t enough other content here to warrant a full-priced purchase. It’s a short-lived, but incredibly exciting thrill ride that I’d recommend paying $30 or so for if you must own it, but not $60.