Need for Speed: The Run is the boldest departure for a series known for its laser-like focus on fast cars and tight driving mechanics. For the first time in Need for Speed history, you’re not a nameless, faceless driver; You play as an actual person named Jack. And Jack is facing tough times. “He’s a marked man,” explained Product Manager Darin Perfonic in a hands-on showcase last week. “He’s got serious problems with some guys who want him dead.”
Those “guys” are actually wiseguys — the Mafia. And Jack’s last, best hope for survival lies in entering The Run, a sprawling 3,000-mile cross-country race from San Francisco to New York City. With a cool $25 million for a first-place finish, The Run represents Jack’s last chance for salvation before the goodfellas find him and settle Jack’s debts — permanently. “Imagine a Michael Bay summer action-driving movie and that you get to play it,” Perfonic elaborated. “That’s our vision. We want to create a playable summer blockbuster.”
Sitting behind the wheel of The Run, I was struck by the game’s gleaming graphical fidelity and huge draw distances. The graphics are based on the Frostbite engine, better known as the rendering technology that powers the Battlefield series. “Frostbite allows us to iterate really quickly and to create a lot of environment depth,” Perfonic noted. “It’s also allowing us to make the biggest Need for Speed game ever — more than 300 kilometers of track.”
The cross-country theme and new tech also lends The Run some welcome visual variety, with tracks ranging from the heavily populated downtown urban settings of San Francisco and Chicago to the lush valleys of Yosemite, the imposing mountains of Colorado, and the sprawling plains of the Midwest. You won’t only be battling fellow racers and the mob, but also the elements. In The Run, environmental hazards such as dust storms and blizzards are just as dangerous as an aggressive competitor.
With The Run’s emphasis on cross-country pack racing, you’ll begin the game dead last in the race and slowly work your way through the pack as you approach the final showdown in New York City. Each state in the game tasks you with passing a certain milestone. “If you don’t make the cut, you’re out of The Run,” Perfonic added ominously. “It’s a new element we haven’t had in the series before, and it pushes you forward in the game.” When you win races and completing challenges, you’ll earn XP that you can use to access new cars, new challenges and other rewards.
The Run includes another first for the venerable Need for Speed series: the ability to leave your car. “You can’t get out of the car whenever you want,” Perfonic clarified, “but the narrative will force you into certain situations and you’ll have to advance the story.” The out-of-car sequences help provide some context for why you’re switching cars mid-race — especially once the mob catches up with you in Chicago. “You’ll drive multiple cars. The fiction drives what vehicle you’ll commandeer,” Perfonic explained.
My play session was set early in the game on the outskirts of Las Vegas, a dusty desert track riddled with dirt-road shortcuts. Based on my hands-on experience, the racing physics felt like a hybrid of NFS: Hot Pursuit and NFS: Shift, with the arcadey accessibility of the former and the weightier vehicles of the latter.
After my hands-on time was over, I was left with many, many more questions. Will the racing extend from cars to other vehicles such as motorcycles? “You’ll have to wait and see!” Perfonic teased. Perfonic did confirm that multiplayer will be a major focus and that the social-media-infused Autolog feature will make a return from NFS: Hot Pursuit.