Need for Speed: The Run - Performance and IQ

Need for Speed: The Run was released today, utilizing the Frostbite 2 engine, same as Battlefield 3, it should have some pretty good graphics. However, after we dove into this game this morning, we found that it falls rather flat for a PC game. We'll talk about performance and image quality in this article.


The Need for Speed franchise has been with us for a long while now, dating all the way back to the original Need For Speed in 1994. These early years remind us of a time when EA cared about PC gaming. The original Need for Speed was published and developed by EA Canada, but had a heavy amount of help from Road & Track to make sure vehicle behavior was the best it could be. During these early versions of Need for Speed EA brought something unique to the PC versions.

EA released a Special Edition version in 1996 that was only available on the PC. This Special Edition for Windows 95 included DirectX 2 support as well as IPX networking supporting, new tracks, and an improved engine on the PC. This continued even through the next game, Need for Speed 2. In Need for Speed 2 a Special Edition was released on the PC that included an extra track, extra cars and support for 3DFX's Glide, bringing 3D acceleration via the Voodoo and Voodoo2 graphics cards of the time. It was this time however, that Road & Track was dropped from the equation, with EA taking full control of the Need for Speed franchise.

Even in the next title, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit EA had extra features for PC players. There was full networking supporting, including Internet play for the first time. There was full DirectX D3D support giving the game 3D acceleration on D3D accelerators. In-game the user was able to change graphics settings such as car chrome effects, car detail, view distance and higher than ever resolutions. In the next titles to follow, a change started to happen though, and that change was that special PC versions started to dwindle.

Since these early days of the NFS franchise quality has been a roller coaster ride. This latest game sits in a valley on this roller coaster, on a down slope of the franchise. Need for Speed: The Run had potential to be a huge comeback for the franchise on the PC, but unfortunately "consolitis" has set in and infected this game with a horrible plague.

PC Version Gimped

Firstly, Need for Speed: The Run uses the Frostbite 2 graphics engine. This is the same graphics engine being used by Battlefield 3. Right off the bat we see the graphics potential this game has on the PC. Never before has any NFS game used a recent and current graphics engine that pushes visuals and uses the latest 3D graphics effects. In fact, this is the first true DX11 capable NFS game. In fact, this game only supports DX10/11 and therefore won't run on a Windows XP machine. The system requirements state that it is required to run Windows Vista at the least, with Windows 7 recommended. The game also goes on to state a recommended setup of an AMD 1GB Radeon HD 6950 or a 1GB NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 video card. These are quite high recommended specs, so with a powerhouse of a game engine behind this game you'd think it would be off to a good start.

30 FPS Cap FTL

Unfortunately, that potential was squandered due to a nasty console reality, this game is locked at 30 Frames Per Second. Even if you turn VSYNC off, you will never get above 30 FPS in this game on the PC. The engine has been locked and there are no configuration file commands that we know of to overcome this game FPS cap. Even RAGE, as bad as that game was, capped its FPS at a more respectable 60 FPS on the PC. It is completely unacceptable for NFS: The Run to be capped at 30 FPS on the PC. This is a racing game for crying out loud, the exact type of game where one wants and needs high FPS for fluidity and control. With the performance that is capable on PCs today with dual and quad-GPU configurations, and displays up to 120Hz, it is absolutely insanity and a nail in the coffin, for NFS: The Run to be capped at 30 FPS. It is a disgrace and an insult to the Frostbite 2 engine.

Due to the game being locked at 30 FPS we cannot show you performance differences between video cards because they all perform the same in this game. We will show you an example. In the graph below we have played for a few minutes in this game on GTX 580 SLI at 2560x1600 Ultra settings.

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As you can see, all that you get is a straight line of performance at 30 FPS. This is what we get on every video card in NFS: The Run. Therefore, we cannot show you performance differences in this game, because there are none. It completely renders faster video cards useless.

No AA Options FTL

Another graphics feature completely FUBARed in this game is Antialiasing. There are no in-game AA controls at all in this game. Since this game is based on the Frostbite 2 engine it should support Deferred AA and Post AA. That is regular traditional MSAA as well as NVIDIA's FXAA. However, we cannot change either of these settings in the game because there are no settings.

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In the screenshots above you will see all the graphics options available. You can select up to "Ultra" settings. You can disable VSYNC. ( Pointless though, why is that even there? ) You cannot change AA settings. AA is applied automatically in this game upon detection of your video card. We think that FXAA got turned on with all the video cards we tested automatically. In the "PROF_SAVE_body" configuration file, the "AntiAliasingPost" option is set to a value of 3. We think this is Post AA or FXAA, and that 3 is the "High" value, but we cannot be 100% sure.

Highest Playable Performance

Due to there not being any AA controls, and no framerate differences, the only options we can manipulate are the resolution and the graphics options. We found that "Ultra" was playable on every video card tested. This means that you can maximize the in-game graphics on every video card. What that means is that no video card had any advantage to the gameplay experience over the other.

GeForce GTX 580 SLI, GeForce GTX 580, Radeon HD 6970 CFX and Radeon HD 6970 were all playable at 2560x1600 "Ultra" settings. All of these video cards had a straight line of performance at 30 FPS. On less powerful video cards, you may need to go down to 1920x1200, and then at that resolution "Ultra" will be playable on them. When it comes down to it, really the only option you will have to change is the resolution depending on the performance of your video card. Lesser powered video cards will have to be played at lower resolutions. Otherwise, you should be able to use all "Ultra" settings on every current generation video card in this game.

Therefore, there is no reason to spend a butt load of cash on video cards to play this game on the PC.

Since that is pretty much all we can test and tell you about performance, the other thing we can talk about is image quality. IQ however is quite good in this game thanks to Frostbite 2.