E3 2011: Need for Speed: The Run (Impressions)

by: Tina -
Game: Need for Speed: The Run
Developer: EA Black Box
Release Window/Date: November 15th
What works: Fantastic graphics that rival that of Battlefield 3’s (because they use the same fancy new Frostbite 2.0 engine) and intense action that the NFS franchise is known for runs rampant in this upcoming racing title.
What needs work: Although taking the action on foot is a grand idea, the implementation of it is less grand. Quick Time Events are all gamers have to look forward to. It certainly adds to the involvement of a cut scene, but is in no way the same kind of action that Black Box is attempting to market it as.

Fans of the Need for Speed franchise won’t need to be convinced to pick this next game up. With the same high action complemented by the insanely mesmerizing graphical capabilities of the Frostbite 2.0 engine (the same one being used to make Battlefield 3 look so pretty), it’s probably a no-brainer for many of you. For those of you unaccustomed to the racing genre, or perhaps yet to be consumed by it, Need for Speed: The Run may just be the iteration for you to pick up on all the hype.

The setting and special effects in Need for Speed not only look fantastic, what with glamorous explosions and destruction, but the development team put stock into creating a believable protagonist, too. His facial features are recorded in 90 different points, whereas most games will use only 30. They spent time recording the actor’s eye movements with ocular technology because, as the developer giving us the presentation stated, “the eyes are key to selling the performance of the player.”

Whilst most character renders are developed piecemeal, Black Box decided to put their actor into the motion capture studio to get every visual simultaneously. Did you see the trailer’s scene where protagonist Jack is struggling, upside down in his car trying to escape before the train hits him? In order to get that footage, they literally put the poor actor in a car, upside down while shaking to motion capture all of his reactions under a more realistic situation. In fact, all of the technology used to create such a believable performance was the same that was used in Avatar. Whatever your feelings toward the plot line in Avatar, you must admit it looked pretty fantastic. Like a modern-day Fern Gully. Back on track, though, they produced all of these effects along with the audio to bring you the best Jack they possibly could.

The Run is a cross country race from San Francisco to NY, where protagonist Jack will be chased down by mobs and cops alike in an effort to delay him. Along the way, Jack will be burning his tires across desserts, mountains, rivers and a slew of other tracks to be found on the cross country road trip. In total, Black Box tells us that there is around 325 km of track, more than any other NFS game in the past. It is an epic journey to say the least.

Although many other NFS titles have focused on the aspect of simulation to impress their racing-fanatic fans, this title will be something in between Hot Pursuit and Shift. There is still a level of difficulty in mastering both the vehicles and tracks, but it is less focused on trying to be a simulation style racing game. The team didn’t spend time analyzing how these cars handle realistically; rather, they concentrated on amplifying the action component as intensely as they could. In fact, the development team is composed of designers from various teams all specializing in action-centric game. Our host and narrator, for instance, was a developer from Codemasters.

Beyond the facade, Black Box wanted to bring you a unique racing experience that blended with on-the-ground action sequences. I was very intrigued about this fact, but was sad to learn that they only composed of QTE sequences. Even less intriguing, the out-of-car sessions will only compose of 10% of the game. This may be a relief to some, but I can imagine that the game would benefit from introducing more ground action components.

Regardless, Black Box is taking initiative to get you more involved in the game. As your car comes skidding to a stop, confronted by the mob chasing you (who, by the way, also have a helicopter), you’ll indicate where Jack should be performing certain actions. QTEs might not really be the most immersive action, but they at least allow you to contribute to the cut scene, thereby giving you the impression that you’ve connected more with this character that you control. You’ll quickly be jumping back into the car, however, because the developers want to retain the idea that your job is to finish the race in first place.

Finally, the Autolog feature from Hot Pursuit returns to connect you to other players within your social world. This adds a competitive, “multiplayer” feel to the single player campaign now that you can race against the AI as well as your friends based on their times. In addition tot he 150 competitors you play against in the game, you’ll also be able to compete against human players. Information about your friends’ status will be represented to you in real time.
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