Itâ€™s annoying isnâ€™t it? You wait ages for a quality arcade racer to come along, then two arrive at once. Almost going head to head, bar a week, are Split/Second and Blur, but donâ€™t discount the latecomer just yet. With the games offering two distinctly different racing experiences, thereâ€™s probably room in your collection for both. But this is a Blur review, so letâ€™s get to it.
Bizarre Creations built up their reputation by producing fantastic racing games using real world cars and locations, while always erring slighty more towards fun and action rather than an outright simulation. Metropolis Street Racer was almost glued into my Dreamcast for the space of six months, and I instantly fell in love with the risk/reward dynamic of Bizarreâ€™s Kudos system in that game.
That formula successfully carried the team through four multi-million selling Project Gotham Racing games, and aside from a quick dalliance with The Club (an action arena-based shoot â€˜em up) theyâ€™re now back firmly where they belong, in the driving seat.
Blur is an entirely different type of game from Project Gotham, and though itâ€™s already becoming a clichÃ©d comparison, it really is like a slightly more grown up version of a Kart racer. The slippy-slidey emphasis on drift, the insane powerups and multiple opponents all sound like elements youâ€™d expect to see in a racing game fronted by a certain Italian plumber on a rival console. Has Bizarre successfully managed to transfer the idea to a more real-world setting?
Partially yes, in fact it feels like the developers have taken great pains to include as much as possible in Blur on both the single and multiplayer sides of the game. Blurâ€™s career mode breaks down gameplay into a series of challenges laid down by a bunch of supercool racers. Each one of these opponents will feature heavily in the stage races you enter and if you nail enough gold medals (by lighting all the challenge lights in a particular race) youâ€™ll unlock the chance to go head to head directly with the challenger in question.
Blurâ€™s world takes real-world cars from various auto manufacturers and places them in a surreal alternate reality. Locations are recognisable but feel like theyâ€™ve been pumped up with a slightly cartoonish look and feel, for instance one of the early races takes place along the promenade at Brighton, a place I know like the back of my hand â€“ and theyâ€™ve almost nailed it exactly but thereâ€™s something oddly out of place about the way it looks. Youâ€™ll see what I mean if you have ever visited any of the race locations in real life yourself.
The plus side of this is that each track is designed purely to test your driving mettle. Picking your car for a race becomes more of a strategic decision rather than just picking something that looks nice. Each carâ€™s characteristics are well suited to different types of racing. Making the right choice is the difference between getting into and staying in first position, or languishing at the back of the pack fighting to keep up with your opponents.
Blurâ€™s powerups are the core of the game. A mixture of offensive and defensive pickups are at your disposal, scattered throughout each track. Like Kart racers, you drive over these to store them in one of three slots at the back of your car. You can juggle them around and deploy them at will, or drop them if you spot an upcoming powerup that looks more useful.
Breaking them down, the offensive power-ups are:
Shunt â€“ A homing ball of energy that can be fired forwards or backwards. A successful hit on an opponent will flip them into the air.
Bolt â€“ A miniature straight-line offensive weapon that allows you to fire a set number of projectiles at your opponent. Slot enhancement mods will allow you to increase the number of bolts you can fire each time.
Barge â€“ A shockwave that ripples out from your car, causing opponents to be unceremoniously barged out of the way.
Mine â€“ Staple fodder of powerup racers. Drop it behind you to cause mayhem in a trailing pack, or fire it in front of you to catch leading racers unawares.
Shock â€“ The â€œblue shellâ€ of Blur. Firing off a Shock power-up will scatter energy bubbles towards the front of the race. Hitting these will cause a vehicle to sputter to a halt.
On the defensive side you have:
Shield â€“ Does what it says on the tin. Surrounds your car with an impenetrable energy bubble for a limited time.
Repair â€“ Fixes any damage to your car. Vital if youâ€™ve been smashed from pillar to post by opponent fire.
Nitro â€“ A massive speed boost, handy for overtaking.
As you can imagine, these powerups can completely change a race in the blink of an eye, and storing up a selection of different items is a wise strategic decision.
Race modes are varied and challenging right from the word go, and though the initial few races can easily be breezed with your first selection of cars, nailing gold and winning fans (a nod to the old Kudos system, with stylish driving increasing your fame and notoriety) becomes more difficult with each progressive challenger.
Thankfully Blur allows you to revisit a challenger or race at any point in the game. Cars are divided up into classes though, so you can only ever use the most powerful car in a challenger class to compete.
Where Blur scores highly is in the variety of races and the challenges you’ll find at each tier of the game’s career mode. Straight out first-past-the-post stuff is awesome enough in both single and multiplayer, but there are also timed challenges, checkpoint races and even races more focused on destroying a field of AI opponents. Earning the ability to customise your cars with power-up and perk-like slot enhancements is also a great incentive to keep you playing long into the night.
Blur forms the hub of a more sociable type of racing game than the norm. Youâ€™re constantly reminded that the game will happily Tweet or blab your best achievements to Facebook, or even pester your Xbox Live friends list with your latest moment of glory. You can even take photos of your glorious victories and send them to your friends. Like â€˜em or loathe â€˜em, social networking sites are becoming vital tools in a gamerâ€™s arsenal so itâ€™s nice to see more games using them in creative ways.
Single player challenge mode is all well and good but Blur destroys the opposition online. Massive 20 player races were what won me over while playing the closed beta before the game was released. Iâ€™m happy to report that the full release is just as superb online as the Beta was. Dedicated servers mean that races are blissfully smooth and lag free, and facing off against human opponents really gets the adrenaline flowing in the multitude of online race modes available. Just like the single player game, multiplayer becomes a bragging contest with racers competing for the highest ranking, the most fans and the best unlockables.
Multiplayer is customisable to your own gaming requirements, so thereâ€™s plenty of scope to get a whole extra chunk of play time out of the game once youâ€™ve polished off the massive single player mode.
Though gamers may be forced to choose between this and Split/Second, both games offer a distinctly different racing experience. Split/Secondâ€™s trademark is the sheer amount of destruction and chaos in each race, whereas Blur feels slightly more strategic and measured.
Both games are superb quality but if there is room in your life for two high-octane arcade racers this month, then definitely give Blur a try.