With a cinematic slant, a Gumball Rally premise and the in-game assets of Mad Men star Christina Hendricks, Need for Speed: The Run is EA's latest and in many ways most interesting attempt at keeping the ageing racing brand relevant.
But is a cross-country race across America, women in tight pants and on-foot action sequences enough to get this game past the chequered flag? Only our guts know the answer to that.
Luke Plunkett, who drives fast (virtual) cars for a living: Aaarrrgghhh, this game starts so well! You're told you're racing across the United States against 249 other cars, and by the time you get to New York, you have to be in top spot. Which sounds awesome. There's slick camera cuts, sexy cars, maniac cops to beat, even a story. On PC, at least, DICE's new Frostbite 2 engine looks amazing. For 30 minutes or you, you're thinking this is the best arcade racer in a long, long time.
But then, over the first few stages past an explosive San Francisco opening, the smoke starts to fade, and the mirrors lose their sheen. You realise you're not actually racing 249 other people across America. You're racing 6-10 of them at a time, and have to beat them to continue, making your progression feel artificial. And speaking of artificial, that's how racing anyone in this game feels, because they're not really driving, they're just rubber-banding around you, so obviously (I once saw a car waiting for me on the side of the road) it can at times be hilarious.
Then you get to Vegas, and the game's first on-foot sequence (propelled by naught but awful QTE design), and everything just falls apart. Need For Speed: The Run is an empty quest being propelled by monotonous racing events through which you must battle boring course design and muddy car handling, everything propped up by a story so vapourous and uninteresting that it barely qualifies as such at all.
So, yeah. That makes it a No.
Stephen Totilo, who only recently figured out that the Cannonball Run included some dirty jokes, because he is no longer young and naive: I'm all for high-concept racing game. I'm not for racing games that begin with quick-time events involving a man's escape from a garbage compactor. I'm all for the idea of building a racing game on the idea of a high-speed drive from one coast of the United States to the other. I'm not for a racing game that gums that up with uninteresting, extraneous races in places you've already burned rubber through. There is something wonderful about having to floor it to get from 250th place to 240th place in the next leg of a game-long race, but I had more fun driving this year in the mind-bending, car-hopping Driver: San Francisco. And if I wanted to ogle cars I'd shift to Forza. The Need for Speed brand has been so diluted lately, that I'd just wait for the next one made by Criterion before coughing up some cash. Should you buy this one? The answer is behind the green door: No..
Kirk Hamilton, Who Hasn't Played NFS: The Run but likes Cannonball Run more than Heavy Rain: I like a lot of the elements I've seen in Need For Speed: The Run. I like the idea of a narrative-driven racing game, I love movies like Speed and Cannonball Run (and even, gasp, The Chase) that chart the course of an epic car chase. I like Christina Hendricks. And I've always liked Need For Speed games. But I'm not sold on Need For Speed: The Run.
Maybe it's the clichéd narrative setup, which sounds like a knockoff of The Fast and the Furious. Maybe it's the trailers' flat-sounding voice-acting, and the distinct impression that for all its focus on story, the game won't feature a single likable or memorable character. Perhaps it's the fact that that Michael Bay trailer made The Run look more cinematically exciting than it could hope to be. And it's certainly not helping things that in the demos I've seen, the non-driving action sequences look gimmicky and loaded with quicktime events.
I suppose all of those things contribute to my scepticism. There is a great idea at the core of Need For Speed: The Run, but it's an idea that I fear the game itself won't realise particularly well. No.
Gut Check is an off-the-cuff impression of what we think of a game: what we'd tell a friend; how we'd respond on Twitter or Facebook or over a beer if someone asked us "Would you buy this game?" Our lead writer, who has played a lot of the game, decides. Other writers chime in for additional points of view. Stay tuned for our full review.