[Games] Review: Blur

Yes, another old game, but I only decided to check Blur out after the sad demise of its developer Bizarre Creations prompted several people to tell me how good it was.

“It’s Mario Kart with real cars”, “it’s Project Gotham with power ups”. You’ll have heard both of these phrases bandied around when discussing Bizarre Creations’ final major release, Blur, and while both have some degree of truth behind them, neither quite does justice to a wonderful and sadly underrated multiplayer racer.

The key conceit behind Blur is indeed that it features real life cars, realistic tracks and entirely impossible energy weapons with which you can blow the crap out of your opposition. Much like Mario Kart, the power ups come thick and fast, and are sufficient to gain or defend one or two places at a time, rather than smashing people from the front of the pack to the back, a la Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit. Like Project Gotham Racing (Bizarre’s previous, weapon-free racing series) the cars are licensed and the handling is arcade-oriented, but with a nod to realistic physics. So you can hang 200 foot drifts in your Mustang easily enough, but try it in a race prepared Ford Focus and you’ll be dialing in armfuls of opposite lock to avoid a costly spin.

Another system borrowed from Project Gotham is the means by which you progress through the game. In single player mode you must earn medals by placing in the top three of races. Said medals unlock new tracks and race series. So far, so predictable. You can, though, also earn fans. Fans are won by taking out opponents, completing certain challenges within time limits and generally, you know, winning stuff. Fans rack up by the thousands, and passing certain milestones give access to new cars and, in multiplayer mode, new perks and add-ons. Whatever you call them, fans are basically XP, and as in Call of Duty they’re won by completing secondary tasks and can often be more worthwhile to secure than high place finishes.

The graphics are lovely, in a sort of PGR meets Halo kind of way

The graphics are lovely, in a sort of PGR meets Halo kind of way

So to the racing itself then. The tracks are generally quite simple. There are a few branching routes and jumps, but there’s no Burnout Paradise style open world or Need for Speed Style outrageous shortcuts to contend with. That keeps the action contained and simple, and means the focus falls on tactical collisions and well timed power up use to secure overtakes and defend positions. Indeed the handling model is reasonably forgiving, and often times driving Gran Turismo style at full speed into barriers can be as quick a way around a corner than drifting or braking effectively. So the onus falls on power up use.

Weapons, shields and repair icons are picked up by driving through neon icons on track. Much like Mario Kart, they’re presented in lines of three or more icons, spread across the track at pre-set points. Once an icon is collected, it reappears within a couple of seconds, meaning the leaders don’t get the fun all to themselves, but also making it possible for a driver to grab an icon ahead of a closely trailing opponent, denying him the chance to power up. None of the weapons themselves are too surprising. There’s a red-shell equivalent homing weapon, a turbo boost, a mine, a close range shunt, a green-shell-alike three-at-a-time projectile as well as the usual shield and repair options. There’s also a weapon that creates patches of electrically charged, car-damaging blue light in and around the lead vehicle, giving those behind a chance to catch up. None of the weapons is too overbearing. Even a direct homing missile hit will only flip a car end over end before setting it down in the right direction at a reasonable speed, causing all but the unluckiest driver to lose no more than one or two places as the result of a direct hit.

The real skill comes in knowing which weapons to use when. Players can collect up to three at a time, cycling between them with a button press. It’s therefore a good idea to grab a shield and keep it handy in a spare slot while firing off homing missiles as soon as you get them. Cleverly, almost every weapon can be fired backwards as well as forwards, and each can be used defensively as well as offensively. A homing missile fired rearward will destroy an incoming attack from behind, meaning drivers have to be just as aware of the cars behind them as they are focused on the next opponent up the road.

Four-way splitscreen, it's like the Nintendo 64 never left us

Four-way splitscreen, it's like the Nintendo 64 never left us

Unlike Mario Kart, your vehicle has a finite amount of health. Take enough hits and you’ll wreck, giving the driver that fired the final shot a big bonus and resetting your car several places down the field. Wrecking is not terminal, like it is in Hot Pursuit, but it can still take you from a top three finish right down the field, so it’s worth keeping an eye on. Fortunately you can always pick up a yellow repair icon and max up your health to keep the wolf from the door.

In addition to power ups that can be collected on track, perks are also on offer in multiplayer mode. Drivers can equip three at a time, choosing between extra offensive power, greater resistance to damage or options that mean higher places and opponent takedowns earn more fans. It’s a nice touch, and allows players who are repeatedly pummelled to offset some of the damage they suffer, or to beef up their own weapons to cause some pain themselves. Equally a wide range of vehicles allows players to find a car that perfectly suits both their style, and the track they’re racing, be it a light and grippy hot hatch, or a huge V10 powered pick-up that will slam opponents around the track and resist all but the most powerful collisions.

Together, these elements combine to create what Blur calls “powered-up racing”. It forms the meat of much of the single player campaign, alongside more traditional hot lap, checkpoint and overtaking-based challenges. Honestly the single player experience is average at best. There’s not enough variety or depth to the environments or weapons to make things anything other than a pleasant diversion for a few hours. Online mutliplayer, on the other hand (there’s also four-way splitscreen on offer), is fantastic – and along with Hot Pursuit is probably the best online racing action on the 360.

The simplicity of the tracks and relatively small range of weaponry are offset by races that involve up to twenty cars on track at any one time. The action comes thick and fast, and its rare for a player to be left out of range of an opponent for more than a few seconds. The XP “fan” system does mean that the best players have access to the best cars, so your first few hours will probably be spent busily scrapping over a top ten finish, but when everything is so much fun you won’t care about not winning.

Cars and fans unlocked in single player do not  carry over to the online side of the game, so I’d recommend you leave the offline side of things well alone, unless you’re desperate to earn some Gamerpoints. Instead get yourself logged into XBox Live, pick up a copy of Blur and enjoy some of the most frenetic, fun-packed hours of racing you’ll ever see.

8/10

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