Mirror's Edge meets Need for Speed: That's what I was expecting, hoping for as I stood in line last week to see Electronic Art's new racing game.
The brief glimpse I caught of Need For Speed: The Run prior to my meeting showed a racing game that let you get out of the car and run. Run from bad guys with guns, run from cops, run from helicopters and trains.
But that's really not what the game is about. Those out of car experiences are meant to be mostly non-interactive set pieces designed to move the story along and move your from one car to the next. Sure, The Run lets you step out of a car, but really only to get to another one.
"We wanted to get the character out of the car to tell the story, but it's less than 10 percent of the game," said Jason DeLong, executive producer for the game. "Mostly it's to switch cars, get into different race modes.
"Whenever he does get out of the car he is forced back into another car as soon as possible. We don't want to have characters wandering around, going window shopping and buying a donut."
The out-of-car experience I saw had the game's hero, a man named Jack forced into a San Francisco-to-New York illegal race, thrown from his car in the middle of a race through downtown Chicago. The game quickly transitions from gameplay to interactive movie.
The player can't just sit back and watch the events unfold in what is essentially a long cut-scene. A player has to press X to run faster, another button to jump occasionally, triggers to grab a railing after a fall. All of the button pushes are prompted on screen with an icon.
Jack gets into a fight with cops, failing the correct button push leads to Jack's eyes rolling up into his head as he is choked out with a baton pressed against his neck... and a chance to try again. Succeeding leads to Jack jumping into the cop car and the game essentially continuing with a different sort of race, this one running from cop cars and a non-police helicopter following you and firing.
This second race feels more like some thing out of last year's well-received Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. In this race, gamer's don't just have to avoid the people chasing, but also a helicopter spotlight. If the car crosses the beam, the bad guys in the chopper open up on the car with a machine gun. It doesn't instantly end the race, but it starts to chew into the car and can eventually cause it to explode.
This second, different sort of race, ends with the stolen cop car upside down on a set of train tracks. It's a cut-scene again, but the player needs to press the right buttons enough to get Jack out of the car before the train runs it over.
Once free the level is over, wrapping up with a completion time.
While most of the time-saving gamers will do in these levels of driving and running will come from how you handle the car, you can do things to speed up or slow down those cut-scenes.
Need For Speed: The Run will also share out your scores with friends and other gamers, relying on the same autolog that made asynchronous racing in Hot Pursuit such a blast.
The premise of The Run will take Jack on a race across the width of the United States, having him driving not only in cities like Chicago, Las Vegas, Denver and Detroit, but also some of those expansive places between cities.
"It is an epic journey across the country," DeLong said. "There is 300 kilometers of track in the game and it's not just about cities you're visiting. It has huge deserts, mountain treks, dusty back roads."
This is also the first Need For Speed, the first non-shooter, built on the Frostbite 2.0 game engine that powers Battlefield 3.
"There is great world destruction and visuals and killer audio," DeLong said.
The game also features more detailed character animation, with not just voice, body and face capture, but a tech used to capture the movement of the eyeballs on a character. DeLong called it ocular tracking.
The traditional face in a video game is made up of 20 to 30 bones, he said, the faces in The Run has more than 90.
All of that detail to animation leads back to the entire point of a racing game that includes moments outside the car. While The Run in the game's title refers to the illegal race, not the act of running, it's still an important element of the game.
"We wanted to tie a story into the game in a way we haven't before," DeLong said. "That makes the journey feel more personal for players."