Need for Speed: The Run Hands-On Preview -- Running is Better Behind the WheelBy Adam Rosenberg - Posted Jul 27, 2011
Need for Speed: The Run didn't receive the warmest of receptions at E3 2011 this year. While the Frostbite 2.0-powered game -- the same engine running Battlefield 3 -- certainly looks pretty, the E3 demo's focus on the game's move to out-of-car action left more than a few racing fans ruffled. Although Black Box promised that only around 10 percent of the experience unfolds outside of a car, and that these moments play more as interactive cutscenes, it was enough.
How fortunate then that Electronic Arts brought a different look at Need for Speed: The Run to New York City last week as part of its annual holiday preview event. Producer Alex Grimbley spoke a little bit about the game's focus on racing, reemphasizing that the E3 demo didn't exactly paint the most accurate picture.
The Run delivers a story-driven experience in which players are drawn into a cross-country race, west to east, as part of a larger plot involving shady underworld figures. The full details haven't been revealed, but they didn't really matter for the purposes of the demo.
Instead, Grimbley used that setup to demonstrate the range of different environments this game will explore, including the tree-lined forests of Yosemite National Park, the rocky wasteland of Death Valley and middle America's various farmlands, plains and snow-capped mountains. Urban environments too, as the E3 demo showed. A screenshot accompanied each location, which Frostbite renders with an impressive amount of detail.
On the play side, racing fans can expect new and old challenges, including sprint races, time attacks, rival battles, cop pursuits, survival scenarios (like speeding away from an incoming avalanche) and big action moments, like the helicopter-on-car chase shown at E3. The underlying story also creates some unpredictability here, the potential for in-race events to occur that completely alter the flow of your play.
A brief hands-on taken from the first third of the game came next, a modified sprint race in which the goal was to advance 10 places in the overall race by passing that same number of opposing drivers. All of this unfolded against the backdrop of a Death Valley environment, a location that is heavy on brown hues and open skies.
Even the U.S. desert's relatively lifeless surroundings burst with detail with the game's supercharged engine. Reflections off the pavement, brush at the sides of the road, civilian traffic... all of it pops off the screen like any quality photorealistic game experience should.
Fans of the series will be familiar with the simple controls. One gamepad trigger manages gas, the other brakes. Beyond that are two face button commands, one for e-braking and the other for engaging and stored up boost juice.
Cars -- at least, the car I drove for the demo -- feel hefty and a little bit sluggish at high speeds, which is actually realistic. It's not quite the level of simulation that Gran Turismo or Forza MotorSport are after their driving aids have been turned off, but it also doesn't feel nearly as arcade-y as something like Burnout.
The big remaining question mark for now is Autolog and how online functionality will be implemented in The Run. Grimbley didn't reveal anything more than the fact that the racing game-focused social network would once again be integral to the latest Need for Speed game, but exactly what you'll be able to do to embarrass your friends online remains a mystery.
We'll surely hear more soon of course, what with Need for Speed: The Run leaving the starting line on November 15. This week's hands-on demo did exactly what it was meant to do: prove to fans and critics alike that the core racing that's made Need for Speed such an enduring success as a franchise is still very much intact in The Run.