Need For Speed The Run Preview: White Knuckle Arcade RacingBy Miguel Concepcion - Posted Sep 29, 2011
I'd like to think that I am an equal opportunity player when it comes to game genres. Yet if I had to pick a 'desert island' genre that I would play above all else, it would be the arcade style racer. Moreover, when it comes to game modes, I have the softest spot for single player stories. It's quite a rare thing to have both in the same game, but EA's Black Box studio is surely making a solid effort in an attempt to win me over with Need For Speed: The Run, an arcade racer that is built around a story-driven premise.
Our most recent hands-on session took us near the halfway point of this San Francisco-to-New York City drive: the Plains Interstate of Nebraska. This stage makes for one of the more scenic sections of The Run, highlighting the endless fields of America’s heartland. And with all the vehicular aggression taking place in this rural backdrop, I couldn’t help but wonder when EA will finally come out with a new Road Rash.
The format of this leg of the journey involves overtaking three other racers. You focus on one car at a time, where a countdown starts each time you begin your pass. The interesting part about this format is that you don't need to maintain the lead during the entire countdown; you just need to be ahead of your opponent when the counter reaches zero. It's a very sensible approach in a game where other cars stay assertive and can regain the lead at any time. Obviously you can be equally aggressive and it can feel very rewarding if you get your timing right, like getting the gratification of shoving an opponent unto oncoming traffic. It’s harder than it looks as the route is sufficiently stocked with slower cars on the lane you’re flowing with as well as a challenging amount traffic coming from the other direction.
Like the other stages, there’s a boost reward in risky behavior especially when it comes to driving toward oncoming traffic. Reminiscent of EA’s Burnout: Paradise and Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit, there’s a thrill in threading the needle between two cars, which is especially the case in this level where it’s just a two-lane road. If you don’t get your pass just right, you most likely end up crashing. The collisions are not as spectacular as the crashes in the Burnout series, but it still delivers that helpless sense of impending doom the split second before the crash. This stage is also quite unforgiving when it comes to veering off the road. Along with crashes, this is where the game will most likely trigger the rewind, an automated feature that resets your car at the last checkpoint. It’s a curious design choice. Other games give more control over timeshifting rewinds.
The second portion I got to experience was one of The Run's survival modes, taking me to an earlier portion of the trek to a snow-packed section of Colorado, specifically Independence Pass which happens to run along the Continental Divide. It begins with a glimpse of our protagonist driver Jack pondering a Closed Road sign blocking his path, which is due to a series of upcoming timed avalanches. Considering his presumed boldness and aggression leading up to this point, it seems a tad out of character for him to meditate over a flimsy roadblock. Thankfully a rival gives him the nudge he needs to take on the treacherous ride, as this other driver just obliterates the sign with his Audi R8. It’s a hazardous route that features slippery blue ice and many opportunities to fall off cliffs, especially if you don’t respect corners. I was punished for doing so at one point, where a guard rail wasn’t enough to stop me from plummeting to my death. Yet unlike the Plains Interstate, there’s no drastic auto-rewind; the game simply placed me back on the last straightaway.
Of course, the triggered avalanches still commence as scheduled which involves a series of flared projectiles hitting mountainsides. It's reminiscent of the grand set piece disasters of Split/Second and Motorstorm: Apocalypse, except with more natural obstacles like snow and rocks. The larger rocks complement the other aforementioned challenges of the course though it’s nothing as demanding as the car weaving in Nebraska. Out of the dozen or so boulders I had to negotiate past, there really was only one tense needle-threading pass. Some players will be able to spot the race's end pretty clearly, when the last avalanche comes straight at you while also trying to block you from one the course's tunnels. It makes for a thrilling finish to just floor it with your remaining boost. You charge into that wall of powder with zero visibility and trusting that you'll come into the tunnel unscathed.
While this was not an opportunity to further explore the on-foot quick time events, the fact that Jack is taking on the Colorado mountains in a Lamborghini while blazing through Nebraska farmland in a Porsche implies that there might well be a heated scene in between where Jack is forced to change wheels. We’ll find out when Need for Speed: The Run comes out on November 15.