When Project Gotham developer Bizarre creations separated from Microsoft exclusivity, many anticipated their next move. Would they sustain the PGR franchise on multiple platforms? Or continue to dominate the digital download market with games reflecting the quality of Geometry Wars? Turns out they decided to do a bit of both. Blur has the precision arcade racing of PGR and the garish visuals of Geometry Wars, borrowing liberally along the way from several other racing franchises.
Released shortly after the explosive Split Second, Blur reflects that game’s penchant for blockbuster set-pieces and wanton destruction, the two games together seem to have birthed a sub genre of ‘Hollywood racers’, in which track wide cataclysm and spectacle overtakes traditional racing tenets.
Blur is not original, nor does it aspire to be, it is merely entertainment in its purest form, candy coloured destruction for the masses.
Visuals (4 out of 5)
The aforementioned Geometry Warsesque visuals are Blur’s main graphical attraction. Separating itself from the rest of the racing pack by possessing its own unique visual identity, Blur presents a neon drenched, almost sci-fi universe that still manages to be grounded in reality. At first it’s strange to see real world car models in such fantastical situations but one soon realises that this part of the game’s goofy charm, after all, what’s more fun than taking out a Dodge Challenger with a giant lightning bolt while driving a beat up old VW Beatle?
The environmental design and track composition is erratic but satisfying, death defying jumps and huge, drawn out corners take the lions share of the races, while elemental effects and bombastic incidental events keep the synapses firing while you struggle for first place. Throw into the mix all those glowing neon power ups and how they adorn your cars bumper before use and you have one sumptuous visual feast.
Gameplay (3 out of 5)
Many have dubbed Blur ‘Mario Kart with cars’, and while that game is undoubtedly the progenitor of power up based racing, Blur has more in common with the likes of Wipeout and Burnout, possessing both the weapon based strategy of the former and the euphoria inducing speed of the latter.
Blur is a racer in which consistent forward motion is a requisite rather than a goal. Cars cannot spin, nor can they be set off course by a ridiculously damaging energy blast, they only slow down, the slightest bit of oversteer more often than not resulting in a black screen and a few lost positions. This is jarring at first, but soon encourages the player to come to terms with Bizarre’s twitchy control scheme and floaty driving model. Cars drift over the considerably large tracks with reckless abandon and as the lights and the incidental phenomena whiz by it almost feels like a theme park ride.
Power ups are Blur’s chief gameplay mechanic and for the most part, they don’t disappoint. First up are the basics, the nitro power up offers a short sharp boost that doesn’t last long enough to be a sought after commodity but does give the upper hand in those one on one struggles. Then comes repair, which is indispensible in most races because it’s so easy to take a harsh beating from the other cars weaponry. Shunt is the most overpowered weapon in Blur, it sends a giant orange energy ball towards the car directly in front of its hard to avoid and its effect can often cost you the race. Barge is a great way to shake off attackers, its repulsive energy power sends other cars flying into the barrier should they decide to ram you. Shock is perhaps the most strategic of the power ups, it conjures giant, incapacitating lightning bolts on the track in front of you, meaning you have to be weary of when to place them and how to avoid them once you have. Then there’s the mine power up, which is self explanatory and very tedious.
Each power, and your resistance of it can be augmented with ‘mods’ that can be attached to cars, thus adding variance and a generous sense of diversity to a system that didn’t really need it. Blur’s racing model can be very addictive but it’s flaws at times are hard to bare. The aforementioned oversteer punishment is unacceptable and the balance of the power ups aren’t quite up to scratch yet. Hopefully these problems can be fixed in a future patch because aside from these minor gripes, Blur is a rewarding experience.
Multiplayer (4 out of 5)
Burnout and Wipeout (Blur’s main influences) have proven that destruction based racing can make for a great multiplayer experience and Blur doesn’t disappoint in this department. The online experience is largely lag free and finding a race is never a chore. It quickly becomes evident that practise will be needed when venturing online, human players are much more ruthless than the AI pushovers to which one becomes accustomed in single player, attempt the exploits you have learned in the career mode and you will soon be trailing behind the pack.
Elsewhere, there is the blessed inclusion of split screen multiplayer for local racing hijinks and also a neat feature that allows players to tag friends as rivals and set challenges for them to beat (similar to EA sports Tiger Challenges). Overall the multiplayer caps off a robust package and lives up to Bizarre creations previous, stellar work on PGR.
Blur feels like an accomplished racing developer having fun. With Project Gotham Bizarre creations proved their worth while remaining stifled by Microsoft exclusivity, going it alone has given them the chance to cut loose and create something that has all the quality of a triple A racing title but nothing to prove.
All style and no substance is usually a criticism but in this case one wonders if that isn’t exactly the point, Blur has bucket loads of style and energy to spare but with zero pretence. Some will argue that it’s speedy, weapon based racing is highly derivative (and some already have), but the fact is that the racing genre hasn’t had an original idea since Mario picked up his first power up. Racing games are about craftsmanship, not innovation and Bizarre creations have shown yet again that if your looking for scuba tight racing thrills, you need look no further than their doorstep.