Thursday, February 09, 2012

Megabits Column: Need For Speed The Run

Megabits of Gaming contributes a monthly column in Charged Middle East – a leading Dubai-based gadgets and games magazine that provides news, reviews and features on the latest home and consumer electronics.

Each month, Megabits takes a look at a new release in a gaming franchise and considers how its evolved over the years and what makes it great!

Here’s the latest of the articles from the January 2012 issue. For more about the magazine, check out its Facebook page after the jump.

If you’re anything like me, an absolute Luddite when it comes to understanding and appreciating cars, then the trend towards realism in racing games leaves you absolutely cold. A game that claims to perfectly replicate the performance of a combustion engine or accurately render some technical wizardry beneath the bonnet certainly deserves praise and adulation. For me, however, I have no real desire to be spending more time tweaking my vehicle rather than driving it. You can keep your garages and stats screens; point me instead in the direction of that virtual road and I’ll speed off, controller gripped and eyes focused on the oncoming traffic.

For that very reason, the arrival of Need for Speed: The Run is the perfect tonic and an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. Granted it’s not the longest game in the world, and sure it isn’t going to fulfil the primal desires of your average petrolhead, but for those of us who don’t know the difference between a piston and a spark plug, Electronic Arts with its 18th Need for Speed game fits the bill nicely.

It’s been quite a journey for the long-running series, with many twists and turns along the way – and plenty of innovation. According to Guinness World Records, by early 2009 the franchise had sold about 100 million copies in the 15 years since its debut.

The Run, from developer Black Box, is the first racer to be powered by DICE’s Frostbite 2 engine, allowing enhanced physics and visuals for some pretty impressive damage effects to the cars and environments.

It tells the story of Jack Rourke, a man who’s upset some dangerous people and needs to pay them a huge sum of money. Fast. Coincidentally, Jack receives a proposition to take part in a 3000-mile race across the US, from San Francisco to New York. With a cool $25m at stake, it’s a bit of a no brainer. Cue an adrenaline-fuelled dash across the continent, loads of smart looking super cars, crashes, smashes and... Quick Time Events (QTE).

The last bit isn’t really something to shout about but it does mark the series’ attempts to do something a little different with a driving game. For the first time, you’re not stuck behind the wheel for the entirety of the game; at certain moments, Jack will have to leave the confines of his car to run, jump and fight his way out of trouble thanks to your button-mashing expertise.

Thankfully, the impressive Autolog function – another EA brainchild - also makes a welcome return to The Run after its introduction in the previous title a year earlier, Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010). This useful widget allows players to track their progress and compare stats with friends. It even suggests events and challenges – and lets you brag about your exploits.

Electronic Arts has never been afraid of shaking up the racing genre. With the original Need for Speed in 1994 it worked with auto publication Road & Track to ensure the vehicles sounded the part – entering the record books for being the first game to recreate the aural effects of the gear control levers.

Even years later, it was trying something new. In 2009, it took the plaudits for having the most advanced cockpit in a racing game. Developer Slightly Mad Studios had accurately modelled the interiors in Need for Speed: Shift, from the dashboard to the driver’s head that reacted to g-force.

Driving games have been loved by gamers for decades, from the glory days of Outrun and Buggy Boy to the advent of the Gran Turismo series and Forza. The wheels have come off many of the studios behind some of the greatest racing games of recent years and, as such, promising series such as Project Gotham Racing (2001-2007), Blur (2010) and Split/Second: Velocity (2010) have run out of gas. EA’s Need for Speed, however, remains firmly on track and shows no sign of slowing down.