Video game review: 'Need for Speed: The Run'

Select a vehicle and race from one end of the United States to the other in ‘Need for Speed: The Run.’
Select a vehicle and race from one end of the United States to the other in ‘Need for Speed: The Run.’ ELECTRONIC ARTS

The “Need for Speed” games are all about flashy cars, police pursuit and, of course, driving as fast as possible.

Those elements alone wouldn’t support a series over 18 games in such a popular and competitive genre — the franchise has adapted with the times.

The latest version, “Need for Speed: The Run,” has you in the role of Jack Rourke, an expert driver in bad trouble with the mob. He narrowly escapes being crushed in an Oakland scrapyard’s compactor at the start of the game, flees under gunfire in a stolen mob car, and finds himself joining an illegal cross-country street race called The Run, with a $25 million purse that will pay off the debts he owes and hopefully get him out of the hot water he’s in.

Trouble is, there are more than 200 drivers ahead of him, police in pursuit of all of them, and more than 3,000 miles of road between San Francisco and the end of the race in New York. Jack doesn’t just have to stay in the race —he has to reach certain placing milestones, such as 150 or higher by Las Vegas, or be cut from the running. It’s a long haul.

You won’t be doing all of it, though. The game is broken up into segments, each a self-contained track with a start and end point. You’ll escape the police on the way out of San Francisco, then cross the Altamont Pass on the way to the Yosemite area, then on to points further east.

Breaking up the game like this is surely necessary — 3,000 miles takes a long time to drive, even at reckless speeds. But it does rob the cross-country race concept of some of its potential — it’s hard to feel like you’re really traveling across numerous states when the driving you do is in increments of just a few miles, with hundreds of miles being traversed off-screen between playable events.

There are several types of racing events in “The Run” — racing against other cars to overtake them is a given, but there are also checkpoint races and battle races in which you have to overtake opponents within a tight time limit or be disqualified. The police will often pursue and set up roadblocks, and progressing through The Run opens up a variety of challenge events for play outside of the career mode.

There are also online multiplayer races for up to 16 players, though offline races are limited to a single player—always a disappointment in a racing game.