But – and this is where we start complaining – it can also be a right royal pain in the behind. Someone at EA Black Box decided it would be a good idea to break each event down into checkpointed sections, with a crash or manual reset returning you to the last checkpoint. This is fine – it suits this kind of rough and tumble racer pretty well. However, someone then decided you could only reset five times in Medium difficulty, or a more generous ten times in Easy.
This in itself might not be a problem, but for several other issues. Firstly, the CPU opposition is nasty, forcing you off the road and catching you up within seconds of any minor error on your part, Secondly, each event demands that you finish first. Finish second, and you’ll have to restart the whole shebang. Thirdly, any chasing cops seem to zero in on you exclusively, making your life a misery with barges and road blocks while leaving the other competitors mostly unscathed.
Finally, you can be automatically reset for leaving the road. The actual distance involved isn't consistent from race to race or even checkpoint to checkpoint, and watching the screen fade to black just as you’re about to claw your way back onto the tarmac is very aggravating indeed.
Throw in some very variable handling, with cars that fishtail given the slightest excuse, and you have a recipe for serious levels of stress. While dialling the difficulty down to easy will help, it then makes large chunks of The Run a bit too easy.
Were you to play through the whole race in one sitting, never failing a single event, The Run’s main single player campaign would be over in around two hours. In practice this is extremely unlikely, but it’s not a game where you want to remove all the challenge just to slip past the odd impossible spike.
There’s also a feeling that the game wastes its star cars. At times you’re prompted to upgrade, and there are garages en-route where you can switch from one vehicle to another. There’s also some reason to do so, as muscle cars will give you faster times on straighter freeway tracks, while exotics and sports models cope better with the more demanding, twist courses. All the same, the muscle cars prove so hard to handle that it soon gets tempting to ignore them altogether, and simply opt for the fastest exotic that’s currently available.
Three things ease all this pain. Firstly, completing each section of The Run opens up a series of challenge events for that section, effectively opening up an alternative single-player game. Secondly, this all ties together with the offspring of Hot Pursuit’s Autolog system, so you’re constantly comparing your performances with those of any friends who have also bought the game. Finally, The Run does have a solid multiplayer option, with events organised into specialised playlists that allow you to focus on the styles and tracks that you like best. It’s not hard to find a game, and with no AI to bother you, the action arguably works that bit better. Still, it’s not a patch on Hot Pursuit in this regard.
There’s nothing wrong with The Run’s basic premise, and its impressive visuals and beautiful cross-country courses could be the foundation for a brilliant racing game. Sadly, the execution can be sloppy and the game can be hideously frustrating, while the less said about the storyline and action scenes the better. If EA wanted to build on the successes of Hot Pursuit and Shift 2, this wasn’t the Need for Speed it needed to release.