I had the less-than-awesome experience of playing Need for Speed: The Run at E3. There are good convention demos and there are bad convention demos. Initially, I was just worried Need for Speed: The Run was going to be an underwhelming game, but after playing the demo they Electronic Arts and Black Box had available at PAX Prime, turns out E3 may have just had an underwhelming demo for a better game.
While the E3 demo featured a Ford Taurus police car and 40% of the demo was out-of-car quick-time events (QTE's), this new PAX Prime demo featured the new Porsche 991 in the desert and a BMW M3 GTS on snow-covered mountain roads. There were also no out-of-car portions, though I did discuss those much-maligned out-of-car sections with a developer. Basically, they stressed it too much and the amount of that gameplay was disproportionate to the actual game. The out-of-car sections are just to advance the story and will account for less than 10% of the total game. They wanted to advance the story, but allow players to interact rather than just watch movies since The Run is a story-driven racing game.
On to the meat and potatoes of the demo. The first part of the demo was in the desert. It wasn't an off-road race, but took place on those deserted stretches of highway that run across the American Southwest. This was a basic race in which you had to pass 10 opponent cars before the end of the section. The race was fairly easy, with only a couple section with tight corners or a bit of sand on the road, none of which were an issue for the 2012 Porsche 991 with all-wheel drive.
The second race in the demo was a one-on-one affair in the snowy Rocky Mountains, the same race featured in the trailer above. We get a BMW M3 GTS racing against an Audi R8 V10. This was a bit more tricky. Not only was the road snow-covered, but there were patches of ice and partway through the race avalanches of snow and boulders start to rain down on the road. The Frostbite 2 engine really showed its colors here with effects that were no only awesome to behold, but directly affected the race in a very dynamic way.
Need for Speed: The Run is going for an experience that lies somewhere between Shift and Hot Pursuit, and it shows. Visually, the feel is very akin to Hot Pursuit, except the backdrops are more varied. The Run is also utilizing the Frostbite 2 engine just like fellow EA heavyweight Battlefield 3, so the backgrounds and particle effects are top-notch. As far as driving is concerned, the feel is closer to Shift and Shift 2: Unleashed. The driving is tight and less arcade-like than Hot Pursuit.
So put your fears to rest when it comes to Need for Speed: The Run. The fast cars are still there, the environments look to be more varied than any Need for Speed ever, Frostbite 2 is making it look really good, and very few out-of-car sections means this is still a true Need for Speed.