Need for Speed has been on fire lately. First there was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, an open-world arcade racer with lovely visuals and lots of high speed action. Next came Shift 2: Unleashed, a straight-up racing simulator that is as much about car porn as it is about technique. The hope at Electronic Arts is that Need for Speed: The Run, which is due for a November release, strikes a balance between those two approaches to a racing game. It’s hard to say how successful the formula is at this point, but the E3 2011 demo of the game definitely paints the picture of a more Hot Pursuit-inspired experience.
The Run is a story-driven game built around a cross-country race. The star of our show is Jack, a racer who has somehow managed to piss off just about anybody who is in a position to mess with him, including the police and the mob. The bulk of the game, which is being developed by EA Black Box, unfolds behind the wheel of some fast automobile or another, but roughly 10 percent of the time Jack will be out of his car and on the run...on foot.
The Run kicks off in San Francisco, California, moving across the country with stops in other real world locations – a first for the series – at key moments in the race. The endgame goal is New York City, which means that the Chicago-set E3 2011 demo is most likely roughly two-thirds of the way into the game. Whoever Jack pissed off, and the reasons why, have long since been established…now those same individuals are out to get him. With an attack helicopter, naturally.
The Chicago stage we saw starts off with fairly standard race-type action set in the night-shrouded streets of the Windy City. Black Box’s use of the Battlefield 3-powering Frostbite 2.0 engine is immediately apparent. The urban environment looks gorgeous, from the intricately detailed buildings and storefronts to the light reflecting off of the asphalt and car surfaces. The race seems to be going just fine for Jack, until a car comes out of nowhere to ram him from the side.
Kicking open the driver’s side door, Jack takes off at a dead run – oh yes, we’re out of the car now – and makes his way onto the rooftop of a nearby building. A chase ensues as the aforementioned chopper shadows Jack with a spotlight and a fast-firing machine gun. This all unfolds as a quick-time event. Tap X repeatedly to run, press triangle when prompted to take a flying leap, that sort of thing. We see a bit more complexity when Jack takes on a pair of cops in a fistfight, but Black Box says that none of the out-of-car sequences are as elaborate as what’d you’d see in a third-person action game; these sections mainly exist to give the player more involvement as the story moves forward.
Officers downed, Jack hops into their waiting patrol car and speeds off with the attack chopper quickly picking up the chase behind him. We hear over the radio about Jack’s altercation, and about a helicopter terrorizing the civilian-filled streets. Imagine that. As Jack races through traffic trying to get away, he weaves in and out of the airborne pursuer’s spotlight. The camera occasionally pulls back as the action slows down, to better highlight some spectacular explosion or another.
The chase ends when a stray bullet strikes a nearby gas truck, which promptly explodes. Jack’s ride is sent flying and flipping, and our hero blacks out. He comes to upside down and still strapped into the driver’s seat. Another QTE ensues as he tries to work himself free. After a few moments of struggle, a ringing sound kicks up. Jack’s car is caught on a set of train tracks. He kicks up his efforts and manages to wiggle loose, just in time to clear the car before the train strikes it. And that’s where the demo ends.
The EA rep emphasized repeatedly that the out-of-car segments of The Run are minimal and primarily serve the purpose of moving the story forward. The focus is on the racing, as it has always been. Autolog returns from the two most recent games in the series, and players will be able to take cars for a spin in standalone competitions and online matches in addition to the story mode. There’s not a lot more to say about the game right now, but more will certainly be revealed as the November 15 release date approaches.