Need for Speed: The Run – E3 Preview

It seems to be a given these days that at anything EA related the mere glimpse of a car will signal that a new Need for Speed title is on the way and, sure enough, at E3 the latest installment of the ‘seventeen games and counting’ franchise was shown off to the world. Need for Speed: The Run is being developed by EA Black Box who have a few NFS titles under their belts already in the form of Carbon, Underground, Most Wanted and, more recently, the PC only MMO Need for Speed: World.

Dubbed the “ultimate high stakes chase” you find yourself involved in a relentless and pulse-pounding race from San Francisco to New York; so, from one side of the United States to the other for those of you who skipped geography class. The premise is simple: you have to get to New York by any means possible; along the way you’ll find yourself in various climatic predicaments but the end goal always remains the same – get to New York and get there first, whatever the cost.

I had seen the trailer a day earlier at the Electronic Arts press conference, but now it was time to get the all-important hands on with the title. Nestled precariously outside of EA’s showing of Star Wars: The Old Republic, the Need for Speed: The Run area sat precariously in the shadow of the gigantic TV screen which continuously played trailers and the like.

The game starts with you out of your car, a first for the Need for Speed series, and in need of a new set of wheels. A conveniently placed police car catches your eye but there’s still the matter of the two police officers who need dealing with. Your character approaches them; you’ve been spotted. Combat begins, which is dealt with via a series of quick time events, and before long you’re behind the wheel. Driving through a built up city landscape, the first thing you notice is how the car handles; you can’t help but acknowledge the fact that it doesn’t actually feel like it’s sat on the ground, instead, seemingly hovering. The whole thing must be what the puck feels like on an air hockey table – no matter how hard you try you’re never quite in control.

So, you’re driving through the city when the token helicopter decides to begin pursuit. It’s here that you are first shown a glimpse of the almost cinematic shift in camera angles; as you drift around a corner the camera pans out to an almost top down view before returning to its original state. It’s a rather nice feature and one which possessed a level of finesse; it didn’t subtract anything from the gameplay and, if anything, added that little bit extra; a good touch.

The helicopter continues in its pursuit, opening fire with its machine gun at any given opportunity; a game of cat and mouse in full swing. Swerving left and right out of the glare of its spotlight resulted in a brief moment of calm while the conveniently placed tunnels, which, despite being only half built, offered a more permanent level of protection.

The pacing picks up and towards the three minute mark you soon find yourself driving alongside a train track when the ultimate action movie cliché happens: you crash in a cinematic extravaganza, resulting in you upside down on the tracks. A quick close up signals a sigh of relief; you’re ok… and then you hear it. The alarming sound of a train bell getting louder and louder and the best you can hope for now is a quick fade to black transition effect, but developers Black Box have another idea. Another round of quick time events results in you fighting with your seatbelt and various other car escape mechanics before you finally wriggle your way free; missions accomplished, job done.

Graphically, the game is looking great and so it should, bearing in mind that it’s using the Frostbite 2 engine – the very same one that’ll be powering Battlefield 3 later this year. The demo on display featured plenty of eye candy such as lighting and shadows, but even the basics have been done right, with textures and models (of the cars in particular) looking very nice. There’s clearly nothing to worry about on the aesthetics front, Frostbite 2 has it covered.

The game certainly has a particular Need for Speed feel to it, but whether or not it will follow in the success of Hot Pursuit and Shift 2 remains to be seen. The driving aspects are showing some good promise but still are a long way from being the finished article. The whole “get out of your car” mechanic has left me tentatively biting my lower lip in uncertainty. It could work and if it does then fair game, however, there’s a very real possibility here that through their aim of putting some fresh life into the series the developers could well end up alienating all that was good about it.

It’s perhaps worth noting that the demo on show was played on both the Playstation 3 and Xbox 360 and no noticeable differences were apparent.

Need for Speed: The Run is due to ship on Nov 15th in North America and Nov 18th 2011 in the UK. It will be available on the Nintendo 3DS, Wii, Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and PC.

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  1. Samuel Samuel says:

    It feels to me like Hot Pursuit and SHIFT 2 have only just come out. Fine, Hot Pursuit will have been out a year when this drops, but still. EA flogging the shit out of a franchise yet again, resulting in my finding it hard to really care. Six months between titles for any franchise is over-saturation, and especially pointless when the current generation of consoles have more or less peaked in terms of graphics in racing games, and all of these games are basically the same with the fundamentals. Right trigger accelerate, left trigger braking, same licensed cars, and try not to crash in the bends. Some do it better than others, but essentially the racing genre is a one-trick pony. I say that as someone who has spent literally weeks of my life playing games like Forza and Test Drive Unlimited.

    Good preview Ben, but this just isn’t something I can bring myself to be excited about to be honest.

  2. Edward Edward says:

    I think the use of out-of-car sections and QTEs are putting me off this. If I play racing games, I play them to race, not faff about with QTE sections and run around outside the car, and from what you’ve said about the handling I doubt I’d actually much like the sound of the way the cars control, either.
    So for that reason, I guess you’ll have to count me out.
    Great write-up though, Ben :D

  3. Madusha says:

    Frostbite 2 is gonna take NFS to a whole new level! The graphics, without a doubt, look outstanding.

    The gameplay is also looking very nice as normal for NFS games. This seems to be like an improved version of NFS underground.

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