Cake or death? It might look like an easy question, but what if it’s death by cake? An easier question is: ‘Race or be tortured and killed mercilessly by the mob?’ Race please!
That’s the central premise of the latest Need for Speed game, where you play racer Jack Rourke on a pan-America race from San Francisco to New York, helped by childhood friend (we think – it’s a bit ambiguous) Sam Harper. The prize is a 10 per cent cut of the $25 million prize and Sam sorting out your little problem with the mafia. That’s about all you need to know about the plot, as The Run is all about the racing.
This be Jack. He's not a pirate, but don't be holding that against him
Not that you’d know that from the QuickTime Event opening, where you mash buttons to make Jack bite through the gaffer tape that’s holding him to the steering wheel of his Porsche as it’s being compacted. After escaping the mafia and imitating the plot with Sam, you need to race to the start point of the Run, except it’s already started and the police are desperately trying to close San Francisco. You’ve not only got to race to get in the race, but to beat the cops setting up the roadblocks. The tension doesn’t really fall from that point, as you’ve then got the width of America to make up 150 places.
This task is broken down into events, whether it’s overtaking a certain number of opponents, making up some time via a time-trial or battling particular rivals. This might sound like it would get repetitive, but each stage is crafted to be challenging, rewarding and often ludicrously enjoyable. Even with the first batch of fairly lumpen cars to drive, clashing with other racers as you hurtle along highways and dirt tracks is exciting; just as you get used to the game, though, it throws a surprise at you to really increase your heart-rate.
Racing down a mountain during an avalanche - our idea of fun!
A favourite event of ours is the chase down the Rocky Mountains through an avalanche-causing weapons test. Not only are you clashing with a series of rivals in better cars, but boulders are crashing into the snowy road just ahead. By this point you’re in a respectively fast car and living off driving instinct alone to screech your way through the obstacles as they tumble just ahead. Admittedly, the boulders fall in scripted locations, so you can learn how the avalanche falls, but we aced it first time and were left panting at what we’d just experienced.
There are plenty of incredible set-piece moments during The Run, from trying to race at 130mph through a dust storm in Death Valley to evading a mafia helicopter gunning you from above as goons in vans try to smash you off the road. The latter events are all about surviving; sod the race. The feeling of tension is present even between these set-piece moments, with some clever scripting of certain vehicles in certain points mixed up with random events and cars. We appreciate the craft that has gone into making sure a truck is just on the apex of a blind corner as you approach it, making a relatively easy corner a wild twitch of reaction and instinct.
And once you’re done with the singleplayer story, there’s a huge range of challenge events to keep you busy, as well as the online multiplayer mode. All your times get recorded to Autolog too, and the game will notify you if your friends beat your time, tempting you back into the driving seat. We didn’t have an opportunity to try this, as none of our friends had a copy. Plus we don't have that many friends on Origin either (this is an EA game, after all).