So, a chance to focus on one of my favourite games from Gamescom so far, Need for Speed: The Run. So, before I jump in and babble on about the adrenaline fuelled fun you can have in-car in this game I want to talk about Autolog. It is not often that the social mechanic of a game is worthy of mention before the core gameplay, but I really do feel like Autolog was, is, and will continue to be, a real game changer. For perhaps the first time in online gaming a developer sat down and really put some thought into how to improve the gaming experience for every gamer, not just the hardcore, or mainstream, the enthusiast or the new comer, but try to bring to the table a development that could be a universal boon to anyone who wants to pick up a controller and games with friends online. So what is the biggest problem for the modern gamer? Well that’s pretty easy really, have you ever tried to organise your friends for a gaming session together, I certainly have and even more certainly failed!
Again and again I know we’d be enjoying a battle royale if only people would actually be available at the same time! For too long developers have empathised with our plight but never had the insight to find the solution to it, develop it and actually make it happen. That is until the Need for Speed team conceived of Autolog. So powerful, enabling and revolutionary was this technology that it is now being applied to many other completely unrelated games. But why is it such a success? Well Autolog and all its sister technologies finally allow you to compete fully and accurately against any and all of your friends regardless of whether or not you can organise yourselves to actually get together online. You can race track for track and mode for mode with you buddies even if they live on the opposite side of the world and thus sleep straight through your available gaming hours. How? Well Autolog’s “asynchronous” enabling approach allows you to race any track and your best time for it will be posted to all your friend’s games so they can attempt to best you on it whenever they are available, equally you will know, immediately, what times all your friends have achieved on each and every track they have completed so you can jump on that track and see if you can better their best time.
The sense of connectedness this delivers is, as I said, a real game changer, regardless of your / your peer’s skill levels there is nothing better than beating your best friend’s time, even if you came 5th in the race itself in your play-through. But never ones to rest on their success Black Box have pushed this further and extended the competitive element to cover the game as a whole. In Need for Speed: The Run you can compete against your friends best track times, but also now their cumulative time across the entire race / story length, and this where The Run really ups the ante in a number of departments, firstly it has a much deeper story behind it’s experience and secondly it features over 300km of track covering varied environments across the 3000km trans-continental American journey the game takes you on, and last, but by no means least, it throws considerable challenge variety you way by pitting you against not only fellow racers but also the weather, the night, the clock, the police and, most excitingly perhaps, mother nature herself in the form of avalanches which must be negotiated to ensure your survival in this race for your life.
Ok, a pause, that’s a lot to take in.
We haven’t even started to discuss the impact of the incredible Frostbite 2 engine on the game’s visuals which is, in a word, immense. Numerous times I found myself careering off a snowy road so rapt was I by the stunning mountain views, and on at least one occasion I found myself in mid-air, over a considerable canyon-side void, having spent a little too much of my attention on the beautiful, sprawling desert before me. Lucky it was then that the “rewind” feature came to my rescue, another essential racers aid, when you consider that any minor mistake is otherwise likely to cost you any time you had spent on the track so far as you are forced to re-start the race, but the rewind system also grants you one other, very significant, advantage, the ability to efficiently learn from your mistakes in real-time. Messed that hairpin up? Try again, immediately, and again, and again, until you master it, no more time wasted completing whole laps hoping you won’t crash out at that one point you haven’t yet nailed.
And this is doubly welcome, because the driving experience itself is as smooth, clean and intuitive as you would expect from a Need for Speed game, so you really do feel that any errors are definitely your own, but again the frustration at one’s own failure is very cleverly tempered by the rewind. This frees you as a driver to just attack the track, slipstreaming, tailgating and risking it all with some off-side lane shortcutting against oncoming traffic, knowing that, worst case, you can always rewind yourself back out of trouble and re-think your line, and let’s face it, it’s the risky overtake that is the apex of the drivers life. Eat up the asphalt, the road is yours.
The final cylinder of the V8 that drives this vehicle is its powerful narrative, no longer are you simply racing on a seemingly random selection of unconnected tracks, with no reason to why they have been selected, and contending only with disembodied names and times as opponents, in Need for Speed: The Run you are on an end to end race for survival, moving across America city by city battling with fully fleshed out characters as they also struggle to escape their fate. This adds real peril to the mix and keeps the heart pumping and the foot to the floor.
If you like driving, and racing to be specific, you are in for a rare treat. The Run? It’s never been so much fun to be on it.
Richard "Rax / Raxous" Burley
News Editor, Staff Writer & Resident Bore | ;-)
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