NFS The Run Preview - E3 2011
E3 11: Racing on the streets of Chicago
Need for Speed has been falling into a dangerous trend lately, with yearly releases. Even further, with the sim spinoff Shift, it can be a legitimate concern that the series is becoming overly crowded in its own market. But, EA wishes to continue the ball rolling with the release of Need for Speed: The Run this fall. Developer Black Box’s last NFS title was quite poor, as NFS Undercover was considered a broken mess by many players. However, with a restaffed studio and following the path carved out last year with NFS Hot Pursuit from Criterion Games, Black Box hopes to deliver another hit Need for Speed experience.
The demo being shown behind closed doors is actually nothing new – if you have watched the EA Press conference during this year’s E3 proceedings, you’ve already seen all that is being shown at the floor. The demo involves a chase through Chicago, towards the end of the game. Players are involved in the race until the mob interferes, causing a crash and player leaving his vehicle. For the first time in the series, players will be involved with out-of-car action, though it doesn’t look like they will be ever fully in control of the character. After a breakneck chase across rooftops, the main hero is brave enough to beat up a cop and take his cruiser. Being unhappy with the situation, the cops call in an attack helicopter that begins spraying the car with bullets, until it eventually causes a gas tanker explosion. Swerving, the main character avoids the debris but crashes the car onto a railroad. And of course, there is an oncoming train just down the track. As the action shifts to the character once again, we’re able to escape the car in time and avoid certain death.
As the demo was already shown, the developers instead talked more about the game and the story behind it. The Run is set in a variety of real world locations, a first for the franchise (excluding Shift spinoffs). Players race from San Francisco to New York, and though the motivations were not revealed, an involving story is promised to explain the premise of racing across the country. Black Box were well aware that their last game wasn’t well received, and have undergone significant staff changes since then, hiring experienced industry professionals, and even luring away some key players from expert racing devs like Codemasters. They also claim that there was enough time to properly develop the title this time around, something that didn’t happen for previous games.
Black Box also partnered with DICE to bring many elements of the Frostbyte 2 engine into The Run. This finally allowed the developers to include the human aspect of the gameplay mentioned above. Full voice, body, and even eye motion capture was conducted to bring the drivers to life outside of the car. But to be clear – devs emphasized that this is still a racing game, with on-foot sections being only 10% of the gameplay, and the goal being to always find a vehicle as soon as possible. From the demo, it is also clear that action outside of the cars will consist of simple QTE events, with players never actually gaining control of the character.
The developers also noted that much of the game’s world was recreated from real world locations, resulting in over 300KM of track, more than any other title in the franchise. Thanks to the new engine, it was also possible to further tweak the physics of The Run, resulting in unique controls that aren’t as arcade as Hot Pursuit, but not as sim as Shift. Black Box claims the controls will be easy to learn but difficult to master.
The Run will also include Autolog, as has become a standard in EA’s racing titles. The system will provide all the expected features of connecting friends, providing social interaction, and consistently updating leaderboards. For The Run, Black Box took a step further and introduced in-game real time tracking, which actually shows how close you are to beating your friends on a particular race. Time is shown based on where your friends where located at any particular second of the race, providing a HUD timer that shows how far ahead or behind the leader you are, at the particular spot on the current track. It’s a neat addition to Autolog that lets players see how well they are doing during the race, instead of just after its conclusion.
If all goes well, Black Box will at least be able to produce a worthy title in the arcade Need for Speed series. They are facing an uphill struggle, coming off the poor Undercover effort, and with Criterion releasing the good Hot Pursuit just a year ago. However, with new staff and time allocated to development, the project is looking promising. A new story mode with interesting progression, on-foot action set pieces, and a revamped engine are a great mix of ingredients that will hopefully produce a successful racing game.
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