The main goal in Need For Speed: The Run is to make it from one side of the United States to the other, racing for your life to win the cross-country event so that the mob won't smoke your rear-end due to bad debts.
'The Run' is the game's single player mode and race stages are interspersed with cut scenes and limited-interaction-action-sequences. In these sequences, you have to press the corresponding key that appears on the screen until it goes green so that you can get your driver out of a jam and progress the story. This is how the game actually starts: your driver is about to be crushed at a wrecking yard and you have to make him escape by hitting the space bar, enter key and arrow keys when prompted on the screen. Throughout the game, you get some advice from a female friend and you also have to race against other notorious drivers, some wishing much death upon you. There's no character development here, it's just a bit of a distraction from all the racing.
The graphics in the game are well detailed and smooth, and there are times when I wished I could just relax and drive at a normal pace so that I could explore EA's recreation of America's landscapes.
I tested the PC version of the game and found installation off the DVD to take over half an hour. That's because it's a huge game with tons of art and it ended up consuming almost 16GB of drive space -- that's more than Battlefield 3. To play The Run, you need to be logged in to EA's Origin, through which you can compare times with your online buddies (via Autolog), and there is also a multiplayer mode, which I found to be problematic at the time of testing -- the audio was horrible and made the game hard to enjoy. (There also didn't appear to be many players.) Multiplayer is a necessary component of The Run if you want to unlock lots of cars; there are 124 cars in total, including the Lamborghini Sesto Elemento and NFS-edition Shelby, Corvette and BMW models among others.
As you progress through the storyline mode, you'll earn points for your driving (jumps, drifts, clean passes, reaching maximum speed and slip-streaming all get you points), your driver level will increase, and you'll end up unlocking cars and challenges, as well as more mundane things such as profile pictures and backgrounds. The graphics in the game are well detailed and smooth, and there are times when I wished I could just relax and drive at a normal pace so that I could explore EA's recreation of America's landscapes.
The game starts off in San Francisco, where you pelt down familiar locations (if you've visited San Fran before, that is) such as the Embarcadero and China Town; you can briefly take in sites such as the Transamerica Pyramid and eventually cross the Bay Bridge. As you make your way towards New York, you'll encounter more eye candy, whether it be the bright lights of Las Vegas, the snow-covered Rocky mountains or the urban jungles of Chicago.
Once I reached Chicago, I again wished that I could stop and take in the scenery around me, especially when I saw the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) looming high in front of me and was transfixed by it while going over 200km per hour before realizing I had to negotiate a turn -- whoops. The driving is relatively forgiving in normal mode and even easier if you choose to drive with automatic transmission; you can use up to five resets per race in this mode. You can pick a car that is right for each race by pulling in to a petrol station, which I thought was a nice touch, but I stuck with my Porche 911, which got the job done in most situations, until I was forced to change to an Audi in Chicago.
The obstacles you'll have to overcome while you race are not just in the form of your opponents, but also the cops and their roadblocks, oncoming traffic and, depending on the stage, dust storms that reduce visibility, avalanches that can total your car and gunfire from mob-driven SUVs that'll cripple you. Barricades along the side of the road can mostly be hugged and bounced off, but there are some in mountainous areas that won't protect your car and you'll end up crashing straight through them and falling off the side -- reset.
If you use too many resets, then you have the option of just restarting the level -- this is to your advantage as the more resets you save, the more points you get at the end of the race. Don't be too cautious though; the main aim of the game, as with all Need For Speed games, is to basically nail the accelerator to the floor of the car -- and use the nitrous bottle that you're given generously because it gets replenished as the race goes on and as long as you drive really fast. It's the way the game is supposed to played -- at speed -- and it's much more enjoyable and satisfying to play it this way. Oh yeah, and if you don't floor it you'll never win anything.
Coming in second is not an option in any race, but winning isn't all that difficult in most stages, To me, it seemed as though the game let me win as soon as I caught up with the last of my opponents. Not only that, in some races where the opponents were seemingly nowhere in sight, I eventually, and quite easily, caught up with them and overtook them to rush through the red smoke finish line in first place. That's not altogether a bad thing; after all, the game is meant to be enjoyable -- it's not a simulator and it doesn't require any technical skills. The only things you have to master are the track layouts and the scenery, and make sure you can handle your car as you swerve to avoid highway patrols and oncoming traffic.
In addition to the main races, the game throws up time trials and battles, but these also aren't that difficult and even if you fail a couple of times, eventually you'll end up winning. If you get sick of the main race, then you can turn your attention to the challenges (as long as you've unlocked some). These are individual races in which you can earn medals based on your finishing times. There is a platinum medal that is almost impossible to attain unless you run an absolutely perfect race. With enough practice, you will eventually.
I played The Run on an AMD Phenom II X6 1055T-based PC with a 7200rpm system hard drive and an ATI Radeon HD 5700 Series graphics adapter with the latest Catalyst drivers at the time of writing (11.12). (I tried playing it with integrated AMD graphics, but the game wasn't at all smooth, even at the lowest possible detail levels.) With this ATI adapter, which is relatively old (so old it's still called an ATI), I was able to run the game at a resolution of 1920x1200 and with maximum graphics detail (sans anti-aliasing) while experiencing super-smooth frame rates and no jerkiness whatsoever.
Using these settings, Need For Speed: The Run proved to be a good looking and exhilarating game, but it felt like it took ages to load and some of the cut scenes in between races, the ones meant to tell the story, were annoying. In a game like this, it's not really the story you need to focus on, but going as fast as you can, having as much fun as you can while doing so, and finishing first so you can progress to the next level.
One thing that I found disappointing was the lack of a free roaming mode so that I could explore the tracks at my own pace and take in the detail of the surroundings. I also repeatedly struggled against errors that served me black screen with a visible mouse pointer whenever I completed some races and Windows 7 informed me that it was an 'APPCRASH'.
That's the major bug in this game, but there are some others, too: it would not always bind my keys properly and I would have to exit a race and head back to the main menu screen to change the controller settings; the Autolog didn't always work either. A patch for this game is desperately needed and I'd recommend waiting until EA releases one before buying this game.
Need For Speed: The Run is a fun racer for the PC, with great graphics, and lot of cars and challenges. However, it's still a buggy game that's unstable in addition to having a few other niggly problems. I'd wait for a patch to come out before investing in this game. Also, be prepared for scripted gameplay interspersed with annoying QTE fueled cutscenes.
Need For Speed: The Run Limited Edition is available in India for Rs. 1,199.