We've all agreed on a time and place, and with just seconds to go until that agreed moment, I'm making the final adjustments to my vehicle. I say "adjustments," but what I really mean is choosing the colour of my selected vehicle: a McLaren F1. Flame red it is, then.
Following more in the footsteps of Criterion's Hot Pursuit as opposed to the more simulator-leaning Shift, Need for Speed: The Run has a much more arcade feel, focusing on slamming the pedal to the metal as opposed to fine-tuning every mechanical part. In fact, colour selection and body kits are about all the customisation options you can get. The multiplayer is pure speed and nothing else--no cops, no mobsters, and no quick-time events to get in the way. Here we just have long-distance runs, a handful of racers, and a thirst for victory.
Due to the game's cross-country nature, The Run forgoes traditional track loops in favour of highways and mountain tracks that lead into each other. So instead of navigating a circuit three times, in each session you'll race through three or four different areas, with the winner being crowned as they hurtle through the final flare signals.
These races are frantic and aggressive; while the single-player sees rival drivers stick to racing lines, online opponents are violent and use the roads to their advantage. Oncoming traffic becomes a key weapon in your battle to finish first; slamming your opponent to the side at the right moment will cause a head-on collision that could mean the difference between a podium position and failure. Your car and your wits are the only resources, so quick on-the-fly thinking is required to spot shortcuts to gain the upper hand and know if it's safe to bash rival racers out of the way.
The Run certainly captures the speed of each vehicle; when racing the McLaren, heavy use of the brakes is required to veer from lane to lane without obliterating your car through collision with bollards, rock faces, and other traffic. Less-aggressive cars are easier to handle, and the sprint-like nature of many of the sessions are easily tackled with the help of a NOS-boost unlocked early in your career. Upgrades such as NOS help you gain an edge for a few seconds, but during our hands-on time we didn't unlock anything as game-changing as Hot Pursuit's EMP blasts or road spikes. The Run feels far more race-focused compared to Hot Pursuit, despite its cinematic single-player mode.
The modes available are what you'd expect, offering up races for American muscle cars, European exotic sprinters, underground racing, and sessions specifically for NFS-grade vehicles--cars that have been tuned beyond that of their normal capabilities. Each session starts with a map vote and also a spinning wheel that randomly selects a modifier; this could be anything from bonus XP for podium finishers to new car unlocks.
From our hands-on time, The Run looks to be a solid addition to the Need for Speed series' multiplayer options. Yet while everything about The Run's multiplayer worked fine, it felt a little dull compared to the cops-and-racers action of Hot Pursuit or the breakneck simulation of Shift 2. Perhaps more time spent with the game and with a higher driver level and more unlocks will add a bit more excitement to The Run. We'll find out when the game is released on November 18, 2011.