Last week EA flew out a few members of the game media out to San Francisco to get a sneak peak at Need for Speed:The Run. While there we got the full overview of what Black Box is trying to do with the franchise and how they are putting their own touches on it.
Need for Speed: The Run is comprised of three main pillars, single player campaign, challenge sets, and online multiplayer. The details on the single player campaign and and challenge sets are embargoed until Friday so today we’ll be focusing on the tweaks they’ve made to the multiplayer mode.
First things first though, before we get too far in I need to cover the Driver Level system that spans the three modes. As you play the various modes of the game you earn experience points for performing certain actions (drifting, passing another car, or completing an objective). These points go to your driver level which unlocks driver abilities (like being able to use nitrous), cas, and other items in the game. It’s a nice way to get you to try all three modes and it provides some replayability as you can always go back to sections and retry them once you level up in pursuit of a better time.
If you’re familiar with the multiplayer component of the last few Need for Speeds you’re going to feel right at home with the core mechanics of multiplayer in NFS:TR. Instead of fixing something that was broken, the folks at Black Box have worked to make it more accessible and keep people engaged.
The biggest addition in NFS:TR is the addition of playlists. A playlist is a collection of maps with a collection of cars tailored to that map set. This tailoring ensures that no player will have a car that’s beyond all the cars in that group and helps prevent people from making exceptionally poor choices for a particular series of maps.
This means that instead of picking a map, picking a car, racing a race, going back to the lobby, and starting the process all over again you just pick a playlist, a car, and you’re good to go for four maps or so. There is a little bit of down time between races to grab something to drink or make a quick bio break but the playlists help keep things going.
The game tracks which place you came in in each race and let’s you know an overall position when you finish the playlist. Completing a playlist provides players with a spin of the bonus wheel where you can earn anything from extra experience points to extra items for your online profile page.
During a playlist you’re not just competing against your fellow races as you have the chance to work on Solo Objectives within a playlist. These objectives provide another way to earn experience points and include things like having 5 clean passes during a race, doing X number of slingshots in a race, or passing a certain number of people in the playlist. It’s a nice addition to the game and helps keep players engaged in the game when they might be out of contention for first place.
My experience with the playlist was fun with one exception. The first time in a playlist I was slow getting into the map which meant that my time to select a car was quite short and in my rush to pick a car I got stuck with a purple Dodge Charger. While that’s not a bad thing if you are used to driving a muscle car, my purple piston pusher's lack of cornering ability and abundance of raw power meant I was constantly sliding off the road in turns. This meant a rather embarrassing DNF although I was able to place fourth in a few maps that were less curvy. Once I got into something with a bit more road feel and nose for the corners, I was finally able to avoid last place altogether and place consistently in the top half of the lineup.
I did have an absolutely blast playing the game though and I’m not really much of a racing guy (that’s why we have Dave on staff). I loved battling it out with my fellow journos and all the battling reminded me of fighting for crease space in front of the net in hockey except that I could knock my opponent off a cliff if I timed it right. The constant back and forth and running into each other was thrilling and the quick return to racing that the playlist system facilitates helps keep those rivalries going.
The only negative is that the game is exceedingly strict with the boundaries of the race track. In order to prevent racers from taking shortcuts the game automatically resets you if you try and cut through a chicane or if you try and cut off too much of a corner. This isn’t too problematic in most of the maps but it does kick in if you try and cut corners too much and is exceedingly frustrating until you learn what the game does and doesn’t let you do. There aren’t any visual cues in the game that tell you it’s coming which means it’s trial and error until you learn the maps in depth.
While it doesn’t seem like a big thing on paper the playlist system is a solid addition to the franchise. We’ve seem other systems like this on the FPS side and Rock Band and it does a great job of keeping you in the game and getting you setup for the next race.
Thanks to EA for providing me with the airfare to the event, a hotel for the evening, two bottles of wine, and four delicious cheese burger sliders.