There’s no getting away from it. Blur can be downright cruel. Imagine the scenario: you’ve led the race for two laps, and just as your Audi enters the final corner before the finish line, you glance in the rear view mirror and spot a glowing ball of fire closing in on your tail. You try to counter, or swerve to avoid it, but it’s too late. The rear of your car explodes, flinging you spinning into the air, as your opponent, then two, three, perhaps four other cars, sweep to victory. You clatter over the line, your vehicle in ruins.
With Blur, developer Bizarre Creations has created a hybrid of the best games in its own back catalogue, most notably the Project Gotham Racing series, though there are also echoes of Geometry Wars and even The Club, and classic racing games from elsewhere. The most straightforward way to describe Blur would be as a mixture of Mario Kart’s power-ups, Burnout‘s wild turn of speed and Project Gotham‘s realistic vehicles and environments, but this only communicates a small part of what Blur is. Listing the ingredients of a cocktail only gives you a partial indication of the kind of flavour found in the final mix, after all.
Blur‘s most obvious feature is its power-up system, which hits you between the eyes the second you roll over the starting line. Brash, noisy and aggressive, they turn every race into a constantly shifting, chaotic whirl. Dotted around the track, power-ups are collected by simply driving over them. Each player can hold up to three at once, can flick between them with the X button, and unleash their effects by tapping A.
Mario Kart veterans will immediately recognise the similarities between Blur‘s arsenal of power-ups and those in Nintendo’s racer. Shunt, the ball of flame mentioned at the start of this review, behaves in much the same way as Mario Kart‘s red shell, and homes in on the next highest ranking driver. The turbo gives a brief boost in power analogous to the mushroom, while mines are a more violent variant on banana peels.
Of the defensive power-ups, shields give a brief respite from enemy fire, repair fixes any damage sustained, while barge (my personal favourite) flings your opponents aside, often to spectacular effect.
To add extra strategy to the proceedings, these power-ups can be used in several different ways. Shunts, mines and bolts can be fired in front or behind you, while some power-ups counter others in a kind of rock-paper-scissors way. An incoming shunt can be blocked by firing a similar item into its path, for example.
In the context of Blur‘s already high-speed racing, which matches the Burnout series in its delivery of tyre-shredding speed, the need to select and use power-ups strategically, while at the same time attempting to maintain some kind of racing line, create an almost palpable air of barely constrained panic.
This compelling atmosphere of competition and aggression becomes particularly pronounced when you take Blur online. The game becomes not just about blasting your way past the car in front (as is often the case with the offline mode’s more forgivingly dopey AI), but also about keeping a constant eye in your rear view mirror for your opponents, who can quite easily take you out of contention with a well placed shunt or mine.
Ensuring your own car is constantly stocked out with items to attack and defend is vital to success. Should you find yourself in the lead without anything to counter an incoming fireball, it’s not uncommon to find your car battered by multiple projectiles in rapid succession.
Blur‘s online races, therefore, deliver thrills and frustration in equal measure, at least, until the greater depths of the game are better understood. While last minute changes of fortune will still occur, the ability to select mods to tailor your experience to your own style of driving prevents too much joypad-gnawing annoyance. The aggressive mod will give you greater powers to batter your opponents into submission, while the defensive mod allows you to soak up more hits, giving you a little more time to concentrate on the racing line.
Blur‘s fan system, meanwhile, provides constant incentives to improve. Fans are earned by performing tricks and completing challenges (driving between glowing posts is a common one), which in turn unlock new cars and raises your RPG-like level.
Played offline, Blur‘s campaign mode provides plenty of varied challenges aside from the usual A to B battles. These range from checkpoint challenges, which are a simple point-to-point race against the clock, one-on-one races, and the brilliantly arcade-like Destruction, where you blast away at opposing cars with bolts
Progression through the campaign is achieved by fulfilling requirements. Once these are fulfilled, and the requisite number of fans have been earned, you get a crack at racing the current stage’s champion. Beat them, and you’ve unlocked the next stage.
Filled with variety and cars to unlock, the offline campaign will provide a good few hours’ entertainment, though we suspect that the multiplayer mode is Blur‘s strongest asset, with its wealth of leaderboards, unlockable content and Facebook/Twitter connectivity.
Visually, Blur‘s aesthetic is a sometimes jarring collision of the realistic and the exotic. Its 55 cars are both detailed and authentic, yet the neon glow of power-ups and explosions gives Blur an almost science fiction feel akin to the pod racing sequence in The Phantom Menace. It’s a look that, while sometimes a little odd to look at, is both distinctive and provides a visual link back to Bizarre’s earlier games, including the neon bullet hell of Geometry Wars and The Club‘s icon-infused third-person shooting.
The sound also provides a suitably visceral backwash of exhaust clatters, engine whines and gut wrenching explosions. When you hit a mine in Blur, you really feel the impact.
As an arcade racer, then, Blur is often brilliant, and delivers a nerve jangling jolt of thrills and sheer fun that few other developers have managed to attain since the Burnout series reached its arguable zenith with Takedown in 2004.
There are, however, a few minor issues. Blur‘s tracks, while varied and frequently pretty, are surprisingly conservative in design, and offer few surprises beyond the odd jump or half-concealed shortcut. Compared to the spectacular tracks of Burnout 3, with its crowded highways and dizzying mountain roads, it’s a little surprising that Bizarre’s game doesn’t offer a wild set of courses to match the anarchy of the races themselves.
And if I really had to nitpick, the game’s profusion of flashes, icons, neon glows and lighting effects can sometimes make seeing the way ahead rather difficult, and the game’s over-assistance when your car spins out of control is a little heavy handed. Tthere were several instances where the game placed my car back on the track because I’d simply oversteered a little too much when driving into a tight corner.
Nevertheless, there’s no denying Blur‘s propensity to thrill. There may be a few things that need a tune under the bonnet, namely, its initially steep learning curve and staid track design but in the final analysis, Blur is a taut, cruelly entertaining machine that truly comes to life online.
Blur is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.