The Need for Speed (NFS) series has never been shy of re-inventing itself from time to time, and that is one reason why the series has managed to stay in the collective consciousness of gamers across generations despite having wildly buffeted between the best damn racing game out there to being written off as a dead horse. As much as we appreciate EA trying something other than the expected, the latest turn that NFS has taken seems to be leading the game down a road that will either end in Amazingville or a dead-end.
The change that we are talking about here is the introduction of on-foot sections that developer Black Box seeks to introduce with Need for Speed: The Run, the latest iteration in this long running series. The game will chronicle the flight of a young man across continental USA as he tries to escape the mob as well as the law. Along the way, there will be encounters in various cities, which may end in having to abandon the car and hot-foot across streets and roof-tops.
Aiding the on-foot and other non-vehicular sections is the use of quick-time events; there will not be any GTA-like sequences, where you can dump your crappy car for a better one that catches your fancy. Instead, they will be more like interactive cut-scenes, much like those in Heavy Rain. Certain QTEs would be straight up timing-based ones, where you press a button in time or fail, while in others, you must figure out exactly what you need to do to get out of the mess you are in, like a train threatening to obliterate your totalled car.
This sequence played out at the EA booth at E3 2011. You’re tasked with escaping from your turned-turtle car before the oncoming train got to you. I tried getting to the passenger-side window, but couldn’t even though the game showed me the quick-time prompts. Then I tried the driver-side window, but the prompts literally disintegrated after a couple of tries. Finally, when I pushed the thumb stick to look up, the game prompted me to unbuckle the seatbelt. Once unbuckled, I was quickly out of the car after smashing through the window.
Other aspects of the game played out more conventionally, with me having jacked a cop car and tearing through the Chicago streets while being pursued by an armed helicopter. I had to constantly swerve to avoid the helicopter’s spotlight and its blazing guns, while avoiding the collateral damage piling up on the road. The camera would pull in and out from time to time to emphasise on the action going on at any given time, giving it a more cinematic feel.
With the Frostbite 2 engine beating under the hood, the game looked amazing. Lights bounced off the pavement and the red and blue lights of the cop car against the low roof of a tunnel were mesmerising. Handling was a bit iffy though, with turns being particularly difficult to navigate at times, while other times a breeze to drift into and accelerate. I once veered on to the pavement and the game thought I was going the wrong way. The cop car seemed to be incredibly slow too.
The on-foot sections did not bother me much. Ever since NFS: Underground, the series has featured excellent, if campy, cutscenes, and if I can interact with them now, that’s even better. However, I can also see how the same can be no-go territory for certain section of gamers. All I can say is that at the moment, it will be better to sit on the fence with this one and see how the whole thing pans out rather than panning the game for trying something new.
Need for Speed: The Run is scheduled for release on November 18, 2011 on Xbox 360, PS3, and PC. The PS3 and PC versions will be available via Milestone Interactive for Rs 2,499 and Rs 999 respectively, while the Xbox 360 version will be released by Redington at an estimated price of Rs 1,999.