With a cinematic slant, a Gumball Rally premise and the in-game assets of Mad Men star Christina Hendricks, Need for Speed: The Run is EA's latest and in many ways most interesting attempt at keeping the ageing racing brand relevant.
But is a cross-country race across America, women in tight pants and on-foot action sequences enough to get this game past the chequered flag? Only our guts know the answer to that.
Luke Plunkett, who drives fast (virtual) cars for a living: Aaarrrgghhh, this game starts so well! You're told you're racing across the United States against 249 other cars, and by the time you get to New York, you have to be in top spot. Which sounds awesome. There's slick camera cuts, sexy cars, maniac cops to beat, even a story. On PC, at least, DICE's new Frostbite 2 engine looks amazing. For thirty minutes or you, you're thinking this is the best arcade racer in a long, long time.
But then, over the first few stages past an explosive San Francisco opening, the smoke starts to fade, and the mirrors lose their sheen. You realise you're not actually racing 249 other people across America. You're racing 6-10 of them at a time, and have to beat them to continue, making your progression feel artificial. And speaking of artificial, that's how racing anyone in this game feels, because they're not really driving, they're just rubber-banding around you, so obviously (I once saw a car waiting for me on the side of the road) it can at times be hilarious.
Then you get to Vegas, and the game's first on-foot sequence (propelled by naught but awful QTE design), and everything just falls apart. Need For Speed: The Run is an empty quest being propelled by monotonous racing events through which you must battle boring course design and muddy car handling, everything propped up by a story so vaporous and uninteresting that it barely qualifies as such at all.
So, yeah. That makes it a No.
I like a lot of the elements I've seen in Need For Speed: The Run. I like the idea of a narrative-driven racing game, I love movies like Speed and Cannonball Run (and even, gasp, The Chase) that chart the course of an epic car chase. I like Christina Hendricks. And I've always liked Need For Speed games. But I'm not sold on Need For Speed: The Run.
Maybe it's the clichéd narrative setup, which sounds like a knockoff of The Fast and the Furious. Maybe it's the trailers' flat-sounding voice-acting, and the distinct impression that for all its focus on story, the game won't feature a single likable or memorable character. Perhaps it's the fact that that Michael Bay trailer made The Run look more cinematically exciting than it could hope to be. And it's certainly not helping things that in the demos I've seen, the non-driving action sequences look gimmicky and loaded with quicktime events.
I suppose all of those things contribute to my skepticism. There is a great idea at the core of Need For Speed: The Run, but it's an idea that I fear the game itself won't realize particularly well. No.