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Need for Speed: The Run – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Sunday, 27 November 20115 Comments

False starts: the nitrous, coast-to-coast racer, Need for Speed: The Run has had a few. The big one happened at its unveiling at E3, when the debut trailer worryingly focused on the game’s, erm, innovative QTE-led cutscenes. The trailer, unsurprisingly, was met with a mixture of confusion and bafflement.

Do we really want cinematic on-foot sections in our arcade racers? More important, do we want QTE sections that are as bland and emotionless as the one shown? The trailer cast an unnecessary shadow over the project by drawing attention away from the series’ trademark high-octane racing to wonky cinematics. The bad news is that the rest of The Run’s QTE cutscenes are equally poor, but thankfully they are few and far between — so few, in fact, that they are barely worth mentioning.

Nevertheless, Black Box Studios’ eagerness to establish a Hollywood story does lead to The Run stuttering early on. We start by escaping a car crusher (Our guy Jack owes the mob a lot of money, you see), before jumping into a car. It doesn’t really properly take off here, though, because we’re taken back into cutscenes after our very brief getaway. Subsequent races are also very short, and all of this is broken up by loading screens.

The first half hour, or so, of The Run is a lot more stop–start than we had anticipated, but it does thankfully open up once you escape San Francisco and head out into the open rural area, where the driving takes its rightful place at centre stage.

Nevertheless, it’s still some way off the point where The Run truly hits its stride, due to the way Black Box drip-feeds players key driving components, e.g. drafting and nitro boosts. Initially it’s just you and your heavy and unresponsive low-spec car, which really isn’t as satisfying as it ought to be.

However, as you progress through The Run, you gain XP and unlock new abilities that will open up the gameplay and, in the process, generate more excitement. The main ability is Nitro turbo — which essentially has your car fire some flames from its rear end to propel it on to some insane speeds. It’s perfect for long straights and for boosting out of tight corners and it also adds a heightened sense of danger, especially once you unlock the faster cars.

The standard way to fill your boost meter is to drive quickly, but later unlocks provide new ways, such as driving in the opposite side of the road or narrowly avoiding a collision. Basically, it’s encouraging you to play on the edge. Later, you unlock the drafting ability, so if you hang in behind the car in front, your draft meter will fill before slingshotting you ahead. Drafting is nice in theory, but its slow charge renders it difficult to use in most situations.

The Run is definitely a game in which players have to be patient early on, in order to allow the game to fall together, because some of the racing later in the game is brilliant. You will find yourself driving at ridiculously high speeds, narrowly avoiding head-on collisions, taking sharp turns and taking off. It makes it all the more frustrating that the annoyances mentioned above, and others stop you from properly enjoying the game in the early stages.

The Run has a great premise, which works perfectly as a game even if it doesn’t necessarily work as a story. Basically, Jack owes some nasty mobsters a lot of money, and the only way he can get it is by winning a cannonball race from San Francisco to New York. The story is full of inconceivable moments and plot holes — and leering views of woman over bonnets — but does that really matter?

Does anyone actually pay attention to the story in a game like this? Unlikely, most will be too busy wondering what they’ll face next on a journey that moves from San Francisco to the deserts of Nevada, up through the Colorado Mountains and into Chicago before finally reaching New York.

The journey also sees Jack racing against star opponents (good), evading the police (also good), dodging mobsters (mm, less so), surviving a helicopter attack (mostly good), dodging trains in the underground (very good) and even fighting the natural world (hell yeah). It’s quite a ride.

The tight corners and sameness of the city locations can disappoint, but the open-roads and mountain paths are where The Run is at its fastest and most dangerous best. The winding roads, bathed in autumn leaves, on the way into New York are especially memorable.

The game isn’t one continuous run, for obvious technical reasons. It is broken up into lots of different stages, with each stage offering a different objective. These objectives vary from ‘overtake eight opponents’ to ‘reach the checkpoints within the time limit’. The idea is that Jack is at the back of the pack and he has to desperately catch up.

It, as expected, is a very linear game, and this isn’t a problem, but some gamers may find the more challenging sections frustrating. You cannot proceed to the next stage unless you complete the objective, and some of the later stages are pretty brutal. However, you do have resets, allowing you to retry those less than glorious attempts. The number of resets that you have depends on the difficulty level.

Aside from the main story, you also have a series of unlockable challenges, which are essentially the same as the challenges you do in the main story, but the main difference is that your performance is graded. A great performance will be rewarded with a gold medal, for example.

You also have online multiplayer, which is simply racing against others in a playlist, made up of various stages from the campaign. Making things more interesting, players also have local objectives to perform. These could be ‘nitro boost past three opponents’ or possibly ‘finish in the top five in three races’. Players gain extra XP and unlock cars and playlists when they complete objectives.

As is now standard for all EA racers, Autolog holds everything together by feeding you the race times of your friends and challenging you to beat them. Your friend’s time is constantly with you as you drive through the country, always there in the top corner telling you how many seconds you’re in front or behind. This constant pressure to stay on top or catch up is what will fuel most players through the campaign. It’s a real highlight.

It’s not the longest game. This writer clocked a time of 2hr 19min 51sec, but that doesn’t include cutscenes, loading times or the numerous retries. The true time was more than double that, and there are the challenges, multiplayer and repeat playthroughs available to ensure those who do fall for the gameplay will have reasons to come back again.

Graphically, it is very inconsistent. The textures often lack detail and can sometimes fail (even in cutscenes), which is hugely disappointing for a game running on DICE’s Frostbyte 2 engine. However, there are moments when you can’t help but marvel at the vistas or the lens flare effects that are produced from the low-lying Nevada sun. Nevertheless, it’s still not as good looking as you would hope.

The Run is guilty of a lack of polish in many areas, and this is why we couldn’t wholeheartedly recommend it to all racing fans. It certainly has plenty of fist-pumping moments, but it’s also hampered by its awkward early stages and niggling issues — like heavy rubber banding. The fact it’s also the third Need for Speed in 12 months doesn’t help either, although it should be stressed that this is a different beast altogether from Hot Pursuit and Shift II.

If high-speed, drifting gameplay is what you’re looking for, The Run is probably worthy of your attention. It will, at the very least, plug a gap between Driver: San Francisco and Ridge Racer: Unbounded. Just don’t go expecting exciting QTE cinematics.

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