Need for Speed: The Run preview: Getting back behind the wheel

"You're not trying to get first, you're trying to make up ground," Need for Speed: The Run producer Alex Grimbley explained to me during a demo session in midtown Manhattan last week. Rather than putting priority on being the absolute first during individual races, The Run focuses on an overall place in a cross-country race, amounting to roughly 200 miles of in-game track spread across the US. And yes, it'll allow you to go back to individual areas and work on improving track times.

"Get to 101st by the time you make it here, get to 50th by the time you make it to Chicago, get to the top 10 by the time you make it to New York ... so this is a different take on a sprint race," Grimbley continued.%Gallery-129279% "This is a game I've wanted to make for awhile," Grimbley explained as I looked on. He was commanding a sparkling black Porsche GT3 RS40 through the dustier sections of Nevada, as demonstrated in the video above. After watching a bit of the game, I was having a hard time understanding where it fit in with EA's other NFS titles, Hot Pursuit (an arcade-style racer) and Shift (a simulation racing game). "It's a game that I can play with my uncle, who plays games occasionally and has fun. But also me and my friends that are hardcore. So there's a range of options, handling modes, manual and automatic -- there are things that can level the playing field," he added.

That bore out when I got a chance to take the wheel. The RS40 had a real sense of weight to it, and, as expected, the backend slid out generously around curves. Though sticking to a driving line helped my chances, the nitrous button was always just a push away, reminding me that, yes, this is not quite the strict sim that Shift is. "Racing fans like myself, I wanna be rewarded for learning the cars and understanding the nuance," Grimbley added.

Aside from the "racing across the US as fast as possible" theme, The Run's driving actually reminded me a lot of an older, very popular branch of the NFS franchise, Underground (also developed by Black Box). Unlike Underground, however, The Run features a new flair in between races: on-foot running. Rather than watching a cut scene, players will navigate quick-time events to get the game's main character to his next vehicle and destination. "We wanted to get out there at E3 and show everyone that, 'Hey, we're doing something different.'" That was Grimbley's diplomatic response when I asked about the negative reaction most press had to the running sequence shown during EA's E3 presser.

And while his studio hears the complaints, "The reaction hasn't really changed anything. We're still making the game that people were asking about at E3. It's still there -- you've seen all the locations, you've seen that we're a racing game. So we're pretty confident that we're making a really really cool racing game." He also reiterated that "less than 10 percent" of the game is comprised of said running sequences (it's a drum he's been banging since early June).

When I asked who decided to lead the game's first showcase with running rather than driving, Grimbley laughed knowingly and dodged the question, indicating to me that his studio may have preferred a different debut. "It's just about getting noise and getting people's attention," he admitted.

Nonetheless, The Run got that attention, though perhaps for the wrong reasons. Aside from a slightly lacking sense of speed, the game's looking great, feels distinct, and once again features Hot Pursuit's excellent Autolog system. Autolog has been upgraded, showing friends' locations in real-time across the main screen's US map and constantly goading you to beat their times. Now that's more like it.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.