Thanks to last year’s Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, this franchise has become inseparable from the revolutionary social aggregating system Autolog which catalogues player performance and compares it with their peers. Even though 2011′s entry in the popular series has been developed by EA Black Box rather than Criterion, those finger prints are all over NFS: The Run. Even during the single-player campaign players will find their times continually compared with their friends during the different stages, but now all times are compared in real-time thanks to a display in the UI’s upper right corner, so you know exactly how many milliseconds you’ve gained on a particular bend or how much time that collision with traffic has cost you.
Having this information streamed to you constantly is a considerable improvement over last year’s implementation, but NFS: The Run isn’t only about comparing times! Sometimes the only way to determine the best driver is to occupy the track at the same time and for that there’s online play. In total, races can accommodate eight players on a dizzying number of tracks which range from inner city suburbia to wide open freeways.
There are six different series of events in total with different car requirements and race structures and as you’d expect the action often gets very chaotic. Despite featuring a similar slew of cars to last year’s NFS, online play seems to have slowed down a little bit from the blistering pace forged by Criterion. Instead Black Box’s creation is more embedded in the real-world with a handling model which is a bit more realistic and less reliant on the almighty handbrake.
Us and our European chums selected the mixed competition series which consisted of between three to five different races that would determine a points victor. Everyone in the field chose surprisingly different cars, some going for the McLaren MP4, others the ballsy Bugatti Veyron and one in the bunch selected an ancient looking Volkswagen GTI Mk1, which despite its appearance kicked a surprising amount of metallic keister. It was admittedly a strange sight to see the souped up classic car mixing up with the modern motor industry’s finest, but it’s all about providing a level playing field to all competitors. A similar equalisation was found in Bizarre Creation’s Blur, and like that under-rated racer certain tracks favoured some cars more than others. Obviously each vehicle will still have a different performance and top-speed from another, but the differences don’t seem massively apparent during events.
Races lasted between four to ten minutes, and the on-track action was very entertaining mainly due variation inherit in The Run’s different tracks. In one event we were racing inside the urban scrawls of New York, whereas the next we wear careering down the tight, twisty mountain roads which flanked Yosemite National Park. Races were often fiercely contested with our local network neighbours constantly bashing into each other before misjudging turns, crashing into bollards or meeting with oncoming traffic which made us feel instantly thankful of the rolling start which commenced each event.
What surprised us the most is that NFS: The Run maintains that fun and chaotic multiplayer action which made last year’s game so popular, despite being from another studio, and they’ve even added a few tweaks to make proceedings a bit more seamless.
For instance now players no longer have to wait for races to end when they join a session in progress. Instead they’re plonked down on the race track at the last checkpoint passed by the leaders – usually the field spreads out quite a bit. Now obviously the chances of doing well in these races is somewhat slim as you spawn low down the field, but it’s a great way of eliminating that annoying wait which plagues other racing games.
Black Box has also added a badge-based reward system which offers up extra experience points when certain goals are met in races. Some are for rewarding good behaviour like starting last and finishing first, whereas others function more like a consolation prize, for instance scraping more barriers than anyone else – but it’s all in good fun and works towards unlocking new cars, icons and backgrounds to customise your online profile.
Additionally during every online championship a cylindrical ‘Wheel of Fortune’ styled contraption gets spun to determine rewards for those that finish in the top three or the entire field, which vary from cars to bonus XP offering an incentive to finish the multi-race championship, rather than quit out when you know you aren’t going to win.
If all that wasn’t enough there’s also a myriad of individual and group objectives to be met during races, such as all hitting top speed at once or tackling a corner without anyone making contact with each other, which unlocks even more XP gains. Honestly it’s all a bit overwhelming when you first jump in, but when you see those rewards pop up at the bottom of the screen you’ll be glad this element is there to attract your attention. This inclusion also means you’ll employ different race strategies at times in order to attain certain badges, at least that’s the theory. There may be an issue that all these extra challenges and badges could muddy the racing waters, but in our experience that certainly wasn’t the case.
Up until recently the Need for Speed series has tackled multiplayer with a middling amount of success, but like its predecessor, The Run seems to have all the functionality one would expect from a premier console racing experience.