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Need for Speed: The Run

Nice narrative pacing, but what about the racing?

Games might be making more cash than Hollywood these days, but that hasn't stopped the gaming industry from desperately trying to imitate it. Regardless of genre, it seems like 'narrative' is the big buzz word in 2011 - and Need for Speed: The Run isn't any different.

Dropped into the shoes of a man named Jack, the premise is a simple enough cliché: race across America; win a $25m prize; stop a bunch of currently unspecified bad guys from trying to kill you. Imagine a remake of Wacky Races in which of all the characters are Vin Diesel, and you're probably not too far off the mark. Debuting at E3 with an ill-advised focus on out-of-car antics, our initial thoughts weren't wholly positive.

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After assurances that these scripted bits only represent a tiny slice of the action, the road ahead looks a lot smoother. Now we've finally had a chance to take it for a spin ourselves, the journey on offer feels much more appealing. Making your way across a sequence of courses spanning San Francisco and New York, the team have used DICE's Frostbite 2.0 engine to create an impressive sense of scale - something particularly prominent in the desert hills track we got our hands on.

Using the incredible landscape of America, the aim with The Run is to create an experience that feels like one cohesive journey rather than just a sequence of unrelated courses. The linearity of this approach gives Black Box the opportunity to develop a much more interesting sense of pacing - something that was demonstrated well in the build we played.

Opening with a twisty clifftop hustle the first section felt tight and intense, with racers aggressively trying to push ahead of the pack before things break into a dusty off-road section loaded with devilish corners. Swerving through sparse patches of incoming traffic, the roads start to straighten out for the race's high-speed climax: awkwardly hitting an unexpected jump, we regain just enough control to hurtle down the hill to the finish line at the bottom - having successfully overtaken enough racers to continue the overall arc of the story.

In contrast to the scripted sections we've seen at E3, it seems like the The Run can handle itself even without the crutch of explosive set-pieces - combining an intense soundtrack and unexpectedly aggressive AI to impressive effect. Now that the bread-and-butter racing has our seal of approval, it's just a matter of how well the developer is able to handle the trickier stuff. With a variety of scenarios promised including rival battles, police pursuits, and surviving against the elements, we're looking forward to seeing how this road trip shapes up.

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