Need For Speed Shift 2
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Need For Speed: The Run turns its back on circuits in favour of a story driven point-to-point race. Blessed with Hot Pursuit's Autolog system and Battlefield's Frostbite 2 engine, it delivers a good game that should have been a lot better.
The Need for Speed series has had something of a turbulent time. Once the (slightly air-headed) darling of arcade racing fans, it slowly slumped into a yearly cycle of average street racing shenanigans. But then last year, the Burnout developers were brought on team and soon had things going in a much more positive direction with Need For Speed: Hot Pursuit.
This not only returned to the classic cops 'n robbers modes of earlier Need For Speed titles but injected some of the Burnout dare-devil magic into the mix at the same time. Since then Need For Speed Shift 2 has been allowed to straddle the annual releases with its more serious racing.
That brings us to this year. The main responsibility for Need for Speed now falls to Black Box, who used to work on the franchise back in the day. The idea is for them to build on the technology pioneered by Hot Pursuit: the Frostbite 2 graphics engine, and socially nimble Autolog system that connects your game with friends and family in creative and intelligent ways.
As a multiplayer fanatic, having Autolog was enough to grab my attention. Last year it revolutionised how I played Hot Pursuit with other people online. I was no longer tethered to making appointments for races. I could simply clock-in at will safe in the knowledge that my competitors would see my activity next time they went online.
Need For Speed: The Run not only takes full advantage of these Autolog features but also looks fantastic. The slightly drab visuals of previous versions are happily banished. But, perhaps more importantly, the cars also handle much better. Like in Hot Pursuit things feel incredibly fast and respond quickly to your input. I found myself instinctively picking up where I left off last year -- classic Burnout drift racing at it best.
The Run not only takes full advantage of these Autolog features.
I'm not a huge fan of single player modes in my racing games but Hot Pursuit managed to get me interested. You take the role of Jack Rourke as he heads into a Point-to-point race from San Francisco to New York to win a big cash prize. This is split into nine legs each made up of a series of stages.
Beyond this unusual approach to a racing game -- which usually recycle their courses -- things are a little tame. While tactical elements exist, like changing your car to suite the weather and road conditions, the process of doing this is often enough to lose you the race.
This frustration is offset somewhat by some varied challenges on the different stages. For instance, sometimes you have to gain a certain number of places while other times you have to stay ahead of a particular rival. Alongside these are the more traditional against the clock modes and straight up races.
While the components are all here, it lacks the sparkle and coherence of Hot Pursuit. Where as that really pushed its concept to the bring with layer upon layer of imaginative element, The Run plays things pretty safe.
The Run feels a little waterlogged.
For some this will be no bad thing. The central mechanic of getting all these miles under your belt in the allotted time is a familiar and compelling idea -- this could almost have been called "Need for Speed Canonball Run". This focus does a good job of removing any extraneous activity that doesn't contribute to your progress toward the simple goal of crossing that finish line first.
But unlike Hot Pursuit's wringing out of every last drop of racing goodness, The Run feels a little waterlogged. If you are after a point-to-point racing game, you will love all this, but for those who need a bit more variety in their speed, this has failed to top last year's outing.
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