This Generation’s Cannonball Run?
Need for Speed is the best-selling racing franchise in video game history. I’m assuming that this is at least partially due to the fact that they’ve been releasing about one game per year since 1994. To put it into perspective: roughly one quarter of the current population has never lived in a world where Need for Speed did not exist.
The original Need for Speed title was intended to be a realistic racing simulator. The developers at Electronic Arts even teamed up with Road & Track magazine to get the physics just right. But the game had one important feature that distinguished it from other racing titles: players were constantly being chased by the police. This spawned an avalanche of similarly-themed games and taught a generation of gamers how to outrun the police. The upcoming release in EA’s Need for Speed franchise is no different.
Need for Speed: The Run places players behind the wheel in an illegal cross-country race from San Francisco to New York. For those above the age of 40, this plotline should seem suspiciously familiar. Now, I don’t want to accuse EA of stealing, but those among you with a taste for fine cinema will be familiar with Burt Reynolds’s seminal film Cannonball Run , which is also about an illegal cross country race. Obviously EA was banking on the fact that most of their fans had been born after 1981 and therefore wouldn’t remember this exquisite piece of cinema history, but they forgot to consider that some of us might have an obsession with watching the Turner Classic Movies channel at 2am every weeknight.
Cannonball Run thievery aside, Need for Speed: The Run is a classic NFS title. Actually, The Run is a welcome addition to a franchise that was noticeably starting to cannibalize itself. The cross-country racing motif adds just enough variability to make The Run’s strengths really stand out. The driving, for instance, feels a lot like NFS: Underground, which should bring a smile to most racing fans’ faces. It’s also important to note that EA hasn’t lost their talent for subtlety. Players will immediately notice that each car has a distinctive sense of weight. Heavy cars with rear-wheel drive handle far differently than lighter front-wheel drive cars. This should come as no surprise to the NFS fan base.
However, unlike most Need For Speed titles, The Run isn’t focused on finishing the race in first place; it’s about endurance. “You’re not trying to get first, you’re trying to make up ground,” said Alex Grimbley, the producer behind The Run. “Get to 101st by the time you make it here, get to 50th by the time you make it to Chicago, get to the top 10 by the time you make it to New York … so this is a different take on a sprint race.”
This probably goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Need for Speed: The Run is graphically spectacular. Drivers will enjoy generous amounts of perfectly-rendered countrysides and cityscapes as they make their way to New York. The crashes are realistic enough to show in a Drivers Ed class, and players have the ability to rewind them just in case they want to show their parents why they should never be allowed behind the wheel.
All of this should sound pretty familiar to the seasoned Need For Speed player, but EA has made a strange—and somewhat controversial—addition to The Run: running.
That’s right, Need for Speed: The Run features several foot pursuits that require players to hop out of their car, dodge a few helicopters, find a new car, and hit the gas. Fans of the franchise have been criticizing this move since EA showed the game off at E3, but Alex Grimbley has been constantly defending the title to its critics: “We wanted to get out there at E3 and show everyone that, ‘Hey, we’re doing something different.’ The reaction hasn’t really changed anything. We’re still making the game that people were asking about at E3. It’s still there—you’ve seen all the locations, you’ve seen that we’re a racing game. So we’re pretty confident that we’re making a really, really cool racing game.” Grimbley also added that “less than 10 percent” of the game involves running.
I actually have no problem with EA attempting to keep The Run fresh with a few out-of-the vehicle scenes. Anyone who’s ever driven through Nebraska knows that driving can get a little monotonous—no matter how many Police cars are chasing you.
Need For Speed: The Run will hit shelves in November, but if you’re anxious for a little illegal cross-country racing, go rent Cannonball Run (or one of the hundreds of other cross-country racing movies from the 1980s). Your parents will think you’re the coolest kid in town.