Baby we were born to run

Your body violently jerks into the side paneling as no seatbelt known to man could hold you down from the G-forces you generate as you whip around hairpin corners while flying down a two-lane mountain road somewhere between Denver and Detroit. All the while you’re trying to control a 750 horsepower monster engine and keep all four tires pinned to the gravel as you try to split the difference between an oncoming tractor-trailer and the Porsche 911 Carrera S that is just ahead of you and weaving back and forth to keep you from passing in your Ford Shelby GT Super Snake. You think you get the timing right. You shift into a higher gear. And then you floor it. As horns blare, sparks fly, and paint is lost forever to the road behind you and the driver side door of your competition, you finally move into 78th place in the race for you life.

Sound pretty exhilarating? Well, that description above is hopefully going to describe nearly every moment of Need for Speed: The Run when it drops in November and from the several stages we got our hands on at an EA event in Vegas, it was all that and more. The Run marks the 18th game in the Need for Speed franchise’s history, but is the first to take place in the real world and the stakes have never been higher. You play as Jack, a street racer down on his luck and who owes a lot of money to a lot of the wrong people. Jack’s last chance to pay everyone off and come out on top is to win “The Run”, an unofficial, illicit, underground street-race that spans the entire length of the USA, starting in San Francisco and ending in New York City, with the winner being awarded 25 million dollars. More than enough to make Jack’s problems go away and maybe enough left over for him to start new. But there are a lot of people who don’t want to see Jack win. From law enforcement in various cities Jack will have to drive through along the way to a bevy of rival drivers including some lovely ladies whose physical appearance were based of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models, Jack will have his work cut out from him.

As in traditional Need for Speed fashion, events will force Jack into many different cars including some classic American muscle cars, refined exotics, and high-tuned street racers. Unlike in previous games though, for the first time you can actually step out of the car for short quicktime segments that bridge the narrative gap of how Jack gets from car to car and continues the race. We did not actually get to play one of these events and remained in our car for our particular demo, but we’ve seen them in action before and as we are constantly reassured that they take up less than 10% of the game, we feel we can live with this device for the sake of what is shaping up to be the deepest and most compelling plot Need for Speed has ever put out there.

Aside from the overall race where you will try to overtake dozens of opponents, there is also some race variety dropped in at various points to try to keep the game fresh, like pitting you one on one against a rival as you try to avoid an avalanche caused by an unknown faction firing a grenade launcher into the mountain you’re driving along, or racing between toll booths in a checkpoint like fashion. Mind you, the overall objective is still to end up in first by the time you reach New York, but the only way you’ll do that is if you pass every race and traverse easily the largest series of tracks a Need for Speed game has ever featured.

And rivals and checkpoints aren’t the only challenge you’ll face as I found out in my demo. My biggest challenge came in oncoming traffic on smaller country roads. Trying to pass a series of exotics while big rigs, mini-vans, and other vehicles are roaring down in the opposite lane provides a challenge of timing that needs to be seen to be believed and may have you racing a bit dirtier than you’d expect as sometimes bumping an opponent out of the way is a lot safer than trying to shoot past them through a gap barely big enough to get a bicycle through never mind your Pagani Huayra.

The overall most satisfying aspect I came away with from our demo of The Run though may be the controls. Although they have less of an arcade feel than Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, they’re still very responsive and easy to pick up and just jump into a race with. And with a “rewind” feature that allows you to pick up at various checkpoints throughout the race should you find yourself more of an expert at crashing and burning than handling tight corners, the game is forgiving enough to make it appeal to even the most casual of race game fans.

But what about replay-ability? Once you finish this massive looking race campaign, what would make you want to do it again if you do fall into that more casual category? Well, one thing that did transition over from Hot Pursuit has been Autolog, the social competition functionality for the Need for Speed franchise. You may finish the campaign first amongst your friends, but by participating in Autolog and uploading your best section times, you can see where your friends smoked you and vice versa and maybe even why they had a better overall time. You can even upload race ghosts so that you can actually see how your friends did it and you can feel like you’re racing directly against them even if you’re in a different time zone, work a different schedule, or just are plain never on when they are.

So, if you like supermodels, fast cars, and you’re looking to get behind the wheel of a super car but are a few hundred thousand dollars short, you might want to look into Need for Speed: The Run and get ready for the race of your life when it drops in mid-November.

PARTING SHOTS: It has been a long time since I’ve been this excited for a racing game and with all these new features, a compelling original story, and a whole new twist on the idea of underground street racing, Need for Speed: The Run looks like it could easily be the most exciting game in the franchise to date.

So what do you guys think? Are you pumped up for The Run or is it just another racing game? Do you think the quicktime events will take away from the game even though they are such a small part of it? And what about Autolog? Will this make you want to come back to this more and compete against your friends’ times, or is it a waste of time? Let us know with comments below!