Since the first The Fast and Furious movie, EA's guiding inspiration for the Need for Speed series has often been clear — starting with the somewhat unexpected hit Need for Speed: Underground. And while past games successfully emulated the driving action from the films, Need for Speed: The Run is the first to really nail the plot progression and "coolness factor."
The story in Need for Speed: The Run doesn't play out like past games in the series. Instead of free-roaming in a city that looks like a bizarre combination of the major urban centers in the United States, the player must drive an epic cross-country race from San Francisco to New York City. Thankfully, this means that the story now has a sense of momentum, unlike previous titles, which seemed to wander a bit. Just as Fast Five progressed towards the climactic heist at the end, The Run has a clear direction: the finish line at the end of a 3000 mile journey.
If the Fast and Furious movies are famous for anything, it's the completely over-the-top action of the main sequences. The Run is one of the first games I've seen that really tries to go for that same sense of "that was so completely unbelievable, but oh my God did you see that!?!?" I'm not talking about cars somehow jumping hundreds of feet and somehow continuing to function perfectly well, as that's standard fare in gaming at this point. I'm talking about quick-time events where a burning tanker nearly crushes you, or you have to jump your car in front of a train to avoid the bad guys. And like the movies, these events are spread out enough through the time spent playing so as to not become repetitive.
Obviously, previous games in the Need for Speed series have let players drive all kinds of crazy supercars. Where The Run succeeds, however, is in the beginning. Unlike most racing titles, the game doesn't start players with an average street car and expect them to tune it to the point of respectability. Like in the Fast and Furious films, the main character somehow has access to a garage full of amazing rides: a Mustang GT, a BMW M3, and a Nissan "Fairlady" 240ZG. As with the movies, you don't think about how a character so down on his luck has access to such expensive vehicles: You just want to see what the cars can do.
While critics complain that the Fast and Furious movies keep churning out the same thing every two years, moviegoers continue to flock to each new release in (generally) increasing numbers. I'd argue that a big part of the series' success comes from not taking itself too seriously — not worrying about realism and just delivering an experience that keeps viewers engaged. The Run also manages to pull this trick off, and the experience is better for it — no one really cares that a Ford Taurus shouldn't be able to catch a Nissan GT-R, or that stopping for gas would essentially cancel out any gains made in a cross-country race. It's all about having a fun time driving and looking really cool while doing it.