Need for Speed: The Run is Electronic Arts’ newest installment in the long-running franchise and the next try at restoring the series back to its glory days. After long hours of race after race, and car after car, EA convinced me it is taking a step backwards yet again by providing one of the biggest letdowns of the year.

With hype surrounding the title, gamers are up in arms about EA’s new story-driven approach in The Run. Taking the series in an entirely new direction, EA’s hope is to return the series to its former self-full of innovation and quality. Hiring Michael Bay, well-known film director of the Transformers films, started the new approach by directing the trailer for the game. Bringing in a big time director for the trailer was supposed to get people’s attention. It was a success in doing that, and even brought a little faith and hope to the franchise, however short lived it might be.

From the franchise’s introduction in the mid 90’s, Need for Speed made a name for itself by providing racers with a huge library of cars, always entertaining tracks and a new, imaginative approach to racers. As the demand for the series skyrocketed, so did the production, but as time passed, EA tried to make too many of the games, and the quality suffered tremendously. As this happened, sales dropped substantially, and a total reboot was in order. The first reboot product was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit, released last year, and critics raved that Need for Speed was back on track.

Now, in an industry full of good, quality racing games such as Forza, Burnout and Gran Turismo, the need to stay on top has never been more present. Need for Speed: The Run was supposed to be the outstanding continuation of the series, but instead, falls short of expectations and it is doubtful that it will match its predecessor’s success.

The Story is the Fast and the Furious Gone Wrong 

After seeing the trailer for the first time, I thought the game looked absolutely intense. I was never overly thrilled with the storytelling of Need for Speed games, but this one looked to be the one to change it all. The story revolves around Jack Rourke, who is singled out by the mob. Needing a lot of money to pay them off, he takes a job to race across the U.S. to hopefully change his luck. To me, it sounds like you could do a lot with that premise, and the trailer portrayed the story as nothing short of amazing. Unfortunately, playing the story mode won’t give you much more insight than that in regards to the main character and why he races across country for the cash.

Although it does try to present a “story,” the cut scenes (movie-like animated sequences) are unexciting and at times downright cliché. The dialogue tries to be dramatic, but ends up being a minimal attempt at something that could have been special. At the end of the day, it was too generic and never goes into any detail about the mob or why Jack owes the money.

Another point of game play implemented in the newest installment is the button mashing cut scenes, which made it even worse. I was thoroughly disappointed with the story and pressing certain buttons at certain times to break away from the cops or run away provided a crushing blow to the game that promised an awe inspiring story with its trailer.

RESET, RESET, RESET

Whew, while playing through the game and now writing this review,  the word, reset, keeps playing over and over in my brain. Need for Speed: The Run has incorporated a new way to keep its games a little less monotonous while also providing a “redo” if something goes wrong. They chose to bring this in, and I’m getting off the fence and walking away from this new “help.”

I do welcome any help to the Need for Speed series in changing the restarts. I don’t know about the rest of the racing gamers out there, but I thoroughly despise getting to the end of the race, having kept the lead the entire time and then losing in the last second. That forces you to start all over again and have the outcome up in the air every time. The idea of the reset is one of absolute genius. However, the idea on paper isn’t realized well in the game.

The game resets too many times with terrible reasoning. For instance, there is an out of bounds to the racetrack. At times, you can drive a little off the track, and it will reset you to the last checkpoint you crossed. This is extremely frustrating when you have veered off just a little to avoid an obstacle or to pass an opponent, knowing you can easily counteract your mistake and be  fine. Instead, it will reset to a previous time often too far in the past causing curse words to spew out and controllers to be thrown.

It will also reset if you lose the race or wreck the car. For me, it was hard to watch as it reset every time I crashed into something. This is the Need for Speed series, which I thought meant I could use my usual method of crashing into all types of objects and still be able to keep going. I was wrong in this assumption. The reset is all knowing and will not allow crazy driving shenanigans.

Overall, the resetting was too much to handle. If the kinks are worked out, it would be something nice to have as an option, but until then, it should be left out.

Not all of Need for Speed: The Run is wrecked though. The story and some design flaws weigh it down heavily, but EA does reset to a time of quality over quantity in some parts, offering more than meets the eye.

Content, Content and more Content 

When first loading up Need for Speed: The Run, I thought to myself that there probably wasn’t much other than the story. And to be completely honest, my thrill and love for Need for Speed faded into its second generation. Since then, I’ve been hoping for an experience that harkened back to the days when everyone you knew couldn’t go a day without their “Need for Speed.” Hot Pursuit was definitely a step in the right direction, but now, I wanted to see NFS: The Run complete the transformation.

Upon looking around the menu and playing the main story mode, I realized I was completely wrong. There is actually a lot of content involved with this game, and players will rejoice in trying it all. Not only does it offer an all-out brawl to the finish in the story mode, The Run, but it offers a Challenges mode where players receive medals by achieving certain time goals on different races such as checkpoint races where you have to make the checkpoint by a certain time or just an ole classic race against other drivers. The Challenges section could be considered a mini-game itself. It offers over 70 races and tons of achievement points.

The Run (story mode) offers a lot of content, but in a different manner. It is a gut-wrenching race across country for a whole lot of cash, and it is a sprint the entire way with boss and rival battles popping up once in awhile. It also offers a break in between by throwing a “Make Up Your Time” course, which is a checkpoint race. No other racers are involved, only you and a few cops every now and again.

Autolog is back, and as usual, is a cool addition. If you are new to the NFS series, Autolog records everything you do in-game. Whether it is your fastest time on a course or which modes you like to play, Autolog offers a way to present competition by showing your friends’ course times and also recommending certain races based on what you are playing.

Along with that, there is a driver-level system, which lets you gain experience based on driving skills and if you win. Players will get experience points for winning races, driving hard and pulling off some mad racing skills. By gaining experience points, you will continue to level up, which unlocks certain items throughout the game.

With all of that implemented in the game, there are also a ton of cars from a variety of different carmakers. All your favorites are back, along with some new remixed and tuned out models. Everything from muscle to import to super car are available and unlockable, but the list of cars offers a great selection that players won’t be disappointed with.

Imagine all the content I’ve mentioned above and add in a justifiable, absolutely thrill of an online multiplayer and the content seems endless. In multiplayer, there are six playlists that involve different types of cars and environments in each. In certain playlists, there are rules such as a Tuner playlist where you can only use tuner cars or muscle cars where players can only race with muscle cars such as the Chevy Camaro or the Ford Mustang. The multiplayer is the best part of this game, hands down. Heading online, I found myself losing all sense of time as the races, online competition and absolute trash talking kept me addicted for hours on end. The menu, ease of use and addition of the bonus wheel, which offers a bonus such as extra experience among other rewards, provides another outlet in this game to help forget the lackluster story.

After actually seeing all this content, it was a complete relief. Players and fans of the franchise will have no problem immersing themselves in every aspect that Need for Speed: The Run has to offer.

Environment is Everything 

As it is with any video game, the world around you makes the difference. The beauty around the character is as important as the character itself. In this case, the character is the car and the racetracks are your environment.

That being said, Need for Speed: The Run offers one of the coolest and more in-depth environments available in the series. Not only is it beautiful to look at as you race around at top speeds, but it also effects what kind of condition you may be driving in.

For instance, as you progress through The Run, it is a cross-country race. Obviously, racing cross-country won’t provide the same weather throughout. As you race in different areas, you will be subject to rain, snow, lightning and all types of weather projecting a more realistic environment than is usual for the NFS games.

The weather isn’t the only part of the environment that will be haunting you. I’m not going to give away everything, but this is a Need for Speed game, which means the police will be everywhere testing your skills. The mob starts chasing and attacking you too, providing intense gunfire and spectacular explosions to make your life difficult.

Implementing the weather and outside forces is common in racing games, but Need for Speed: The Run pulls them off perfectly in such a way that is extremely refreshing. In each race, I found myself strategizing through every turn and straight away for any opportunity to gain a position. In one instance, a thunderstorm was literally pounding down on the car with the Xbox 360 controller vibrating and the lightning flashing on the screen, which felt somewhat close to what you might experience while driving in your everyday life. It was exactly this type of experience convincing me that NFS: The Run wasn’t all bad.

Game play Saves it from Mediocrity 

At the end of the day, players will be disappointed with the story and design flaws. It almost looks as if there was a backup plan in case the epic story approach didn’t work, and that backup plan is the game play. It is well done and is strong enough to continue the game and enjoy it.

The story mode is a different world than in past games. Instead of competing in different courses such as the sprints and circuits we’re used to, you will step into your car and deal with only sprints, one race with one lap. With each new race, the player drives into a different type of sprint. The only thing that changes is the challenger. Sometimes you will have to pass a certain amount of opponents to win. Other times, you will have a certain amount of rivals to pass and hold the lead for a specified time to win. Other races also include boss races, which usually pit you against a boss in an epic, zero mistake race to the finish and checkpoint races that I mentioned above.

The customization many Need for Speed titles are known for is replaced with a great selection of high-powered cars that handle and run differently with each one you drive. There won’t be any time spent on choosing the right spinners or  paint color. Fortunately, more time is spent with the cars and driving.

It is hard to pin down exactly how the game play comes together so eloquently. But, for a resurgence of the Need for Speed series, the  game play had to hit spot on, and it got closer than I originally thought. Still fresh on my mind, this game will definitely stay in my library for a bit longer as it offers so much to do. With an insane amount of races and cars to drive, it is a great game to get out and play with friends or to have around when you want to grab extra achievement points.

The Finish Line 

With the trailer and all the hype around Need for Speed: The Run being the forerunner to get Need for Speed consistently back on top, I, for one, was very hopeful and ecstatic to get a chance to play this game. That hope faded with the false promise of a story and a reset that is overly hasty.

Fortunately though, the developers took a lot of time perfecting what is truly fun about a Need for Speed game, the experience and the cars. A great selection of cars and tons of unique and creative tracks is likely to have Need for Speed fans happy for now. Sure, there are definite flaws where perfection was wanted, but overall, Need for Speed: The Run continues the series while offering up a potential new future for one of the top racers in video games since its berth.

Need for Speed: The Run on the Xbox 360 drifts right into a score of 68 out of 100. In the end, game play and environment don’t win out in a race against the atrocious story and the too-happy-to-reset flaw.