From the Golden State to the Empire State
"The sun is starting to set on what seems like a very long day, and I’m getting hungry. I look over at the nearest sign and see I’m nearing Park Ridge, Illinois. There’s supposed to be a churrascaria around here, and a steak would really hit the spot right about now. Suddenly, the Chevrolet El Camino I last saw in Nebraska thunders past, and my hunger dissipates. The engine roars in anticipation for the inevitable battle to Chicago."
At least, that’s how Need for Speed: The Run tries to portray itself. A great American road-trip across the breadth of the country, experiencing the beautiful and forever-changing vistas the United States has to offer. All while jostling for position in a 200-strong race where your life is part of the high stakes.
The reality is markedly different though - as the game proudly states, there are roughly 3,000 long and treacherous miles between San Francisco and New York City. Understandably, game developer Black Box decided to only show the highlights between these two destinations. Scorching Nevada Deserts, the freezing snow of the Rockies, lazy corn fields of the Great Plains, and bleak industrial complexes in New Jersey are just some of the varied locations The Run takes place in. Five miles at a time.
While the locales are very pretty, and fairly true to life, it’s how they’re used that is the most disappointing part of the experience. In the first race, you need to exit San Francisco, avoid the cops, and pass a fixed number of other racers. Barrelling up and down the hilly streets like Steve McQueen in Bullitt, it doesn’t take long to realise that the fixed number of cars to pass is the exact number of cars on the track. The rest of the game plays like this, always putting you and up to ten other racers on each course.
It feels inorganic and separate from the “greater race”, and because of this there’s a distinct lack of tension to meet the target positions across the country. Failure to pass all the other cars means starting the race all over again, and you will always be at the position the game wants you to be in at a certain point.
The incredibly short tracks only act to exasperate this. While there are about 40 tracks in the game, all but the last race will take three to five minutes to complete. At roughly five per cent of the entire 3,000 mile route, Black Box attempts to convey the grand nature by having the sun rise and set a few times throughout the game. While it does give a bit of variety to the tracks, it never quite gets the passage of time across effectively.