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Submitted by Joel Windels on June 20 2011 - 14:42

EA Black Box returns to the Need For Speed series for the first time since 2008's NFS Undercover...

The past twelve months have already seen the release of three different Need for Speed games, from Slightly Mad's simulation Shift 2 to Criterion's highly acclaimed Hot Pursuit, as well as the experimental online game, NFS: World. In a return to the franchise's homeland, Need for Speed The Run is an upcoming action-adventure racing title in development by EA Black Box in Canada, scheduled for release this November.

Alex Grimley, a Producer at Black Box, was able to guide us through the current build of the game as we got our hands on the demo at this year's E3. We were in control of Jack, an American from San Francisco who has somehow got himself into trouble with the kind of people that you really shouldn't be getting into trouble with, as well as becoming tangled up with the police. His dire situation has meant that he is now tasked with participating in an illicit, high-stakes race across the land of the free, with salvation the prize for being the first racer to make it to New York.

In a characteristically thrilling move - rather than framing the game around boring, thousand-mile endurance cruises along never-ending American freeways - The Run sets players in Detroit, Las Vegas and other cities in which to race head-to-head with other drivers to compete for the best time. The action is as ridiculous as ever, with our demo actually beginning with Jack being chased over rooftops with no car in sight whatsoever, demonstrating the first ever out-of-car gameplay in a Need for Speed game. After a number of QTE prompts to shake off our pursuers by jumping and dodging across the buildings, Jack steals a police car from two unsuspecting cops.

In the more comfortable four-wheeled format, The Run starts to feel a lot more like a normal Need for Speed title. The shiny, neon-illuminated roads are dashed with flecks of rain as we zip our way through traffic to get out of the city. A helicopter flies overhead and it isn't too long before it opens fire on our car. Bullets are unable to penetrate the car exterior, but they are hugely frustrating as turning becomes harder and visibility takes a hit for the worse. Staying out of the chopper's spotlight is key here and tunnels provide a welcome respite from the constant harassment.

It's not only the cops that are chasing you, and it's soon clear that the pilot of the helicopter must be working for someone else entirely, as they recklessly open fire on other vehicles in the road. On at least two occasions, oncoming cars were shredded by the aerial onslaught, and later on an oil truck exploded right before we pulled up behind it. However, these events are quite obviously tightly scripted, as the slow-motion stylised camera tricks strongly suggest prior planning by the design team; a notion confirmed when we get a chance to play through the section another few times.

The handling is much heavier than many of The Run's competitors, though remains precise and realistic. It's very forgiving too, probably a concession to the arcade feel of the game and so that, unlike Shift, it remains accessible to newcomers instead of just veterans of the genre. The demo ended with a scramble to get out of the car after a scripted collision left us stranded on rail tracks with a train hurtling towards us, prompting a QTE sequence for us to exit the car just in time.

The Run also borrows some features from the popular Hot Pursuit game released late last year, most importantly the Autolog component. This much-heralded innovation gives players near-constant access to their friends' track times, their overall distance travelled to New York and a whole host of social media utilities. The game looks elsewhere across EA's portfolio of studios for other inspiration, even implementing EA DICE's Frostbite 2.0 engine, its first use ever for anything other than a first-person shooter. This will hopefully mean that the courses and cars are able to take believable damage, with the possible inclusion of deteriorating structures and forceful impacts so keenly associated with the technology. The cut-scenes are better than ever, using full motion capture with real-time audio recording to accurately recreate the actors' performances. Black Box is even using eye tracking to trace the actors' optic movements, a long-time difficult ingredient when depicting graphical versions of humans.

It appears that with Need for Speed The Run, Black Box is looking to take the action up a notch, outside the car, and across the country. With an appropriately bombastic setting and a continuation of the series' notoriously competent driving gameplay, The Run looks set to be yet another runaway holiday racing hit for EA. Wise choices in sharing the qualities of other EA studios will also help the success of this coast-to-coast thrill-ride.

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