There are about a dozen named characters in Need for Speed: The Run, but aside from some incidental cops and gangsters, only two characters are actually voiced: Jack and Sam, the protagonist and his sidekick. Despite the marketing for the game, it’s clear that The Run doesn’t really care about the story of The Run, yet it still manages to hit one right chord. The characters that don’t have a voice still have a name and a back story, and those simple bits of story make it more fun to race against them than against the other nameless drivers.
The Run at least has good intentions in attempting to tell a story, even if its execution is poor. There mere fact that other racers get names, let alone back stories, suggests a desire to expand the story beyond Jack. The fact that those back stories are often provoke sympathy with the characters only furthers that idea.
Nikki and Mila are the first to be introduced (they’re also the only rivals to get a cut scene introduction but that’s likely only because they’re modeled after actual swimsuit models for cross promotional purposes). Beyond their looks, their relationship offers some of the better story possibilities thanks to the introduction of a racing partner. Do they try to stick together through the race, or if one is clearly better, does she go ahead alone? If one crashes, does the other go on alone or stop to help? What if it comes down to just the two of them, and then one gets greedy? What if Jack was caught in the middle of that fight while racing down a highway at 120mph? Their story, regardless of whether or not Jack gets involved in any way, could be interesting if it was given more thought.
There there’s Cesar DeLeon, who “made some bad choices growing up [but . . .] the love of a good woman, and the impending arrival of their first-born have made Cesar change his ways.” Racing against him could have been used as a moral dilemma, forcing us to wonder if Jack should let someone more deserving win the award money. Or maybe we just have to save him from an overly aggressive driver at some point because Cesar is clearly a sympathetic character. There’s more Black Box could have done with this cast rather than just have us race against them once and be done with them.
Some characters do appear twice, and those races are more exciting because now our opponent is someone familiar. Even if they’re nothing but a familiar name, that familiarity adds an extra level of suspense because the race has become slightly personal. Introducing them again also grows the story. While we’ve been fighting our way, to the top so have they.
One of the more interesting moments happens near the end of the game when we have to race against Mila again, but not Nikki. It’s hard not to wonder what happened. Did she crash? Did she just get left behind? There’s a story there begging to be told.
But the game just focuses on Jack — to its determent since he’s a rather boring character — and he is by far the least interesting and least developed of all the racers (I suppose that’s something of an accomplishment in and of itself). At least The Run proves that story does add something to racing games, a genre that has traditionally been focused solely on gameplay. Racing against familiar names does add suspense. Establishing a cast at the beginning that remains intact throughout the game could make the last couple of races very exciting since you’ll be knocking out friend after friend. I look forwards to that eventual game because The Run is at least an effort at proof of concept.
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