Power-up based racing games can be fantastic fun, there’s no doubt about it. Ever since Mario Kart first appeared on the scene way back in 1992 gamers have garnered plenty of amusement from the sub-genre, and when Wipeout put its futuristic spin on the idea we lapped it up. But for every Mario Kart and Wipeout there’s a Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing or Walt Disney World Quest: Magical Racing Tour.
Fortunately such fears are quickly put to rest as Blur is certainly the most engaging and exhilarating of the power-up racers currently on the market. The core action has progressed since the multi-player Beta earlier this year, and admittedly the handling isn’t to the same level of refinement as the Project Gotham Racing series, but is far less ‘brick-like’ than before. There’s more room for skilful manoeuvres and genuine ‘wow’ moments; the ability to zip around your opponents feels a lot more fluid, and there’s an immensely satisfying feeling of exchange between braking and accelerating when sliding into a corner. Racing lines are redundant here, and to be fair, who’s going to be worrying about precision when a glowing red homing missile is rapidly moving up on your rear?
Collisions with the environment have also been tweaked. Hitting a barrier, for example, is a lot more punishing than before and adds to the intensity of the race. Do you chance a high speed collision with a barrier just to gain a few seconds lead or take it more smoothly knowing that the car behind armed with a Barge power-up could put an end to your current lead if it gets within arms reach? Lightening fast reflexes and a steely disposition are a requisite if you’re to garner victory here.
Strategy and tactics play a greater role in Blur than any other power-up based racer, largely because you can store up to three different munitions at any one time. Add to that the myriad of upgrades you can bolt onto your vehicle to improve performance, and what you end up with is the most in-depth racer of its kind. The best bit? Bizarre Creations have got the balance between racing and combat spot on. There are no ‘blue shells’ that will unfairly strip you of your race lead here. It’s clear that a lot of testing and polishing has gone into Blur as the two elements that make up the game move seamlessly into each other without one ever compromising the other.
The single-player mode is split into nine different stages, each housing a range of different events across real life world locations, (although a little artistic license has gone into the design), with a one-on-one boss battle at the end. Beyond the traditional Race the game also features Time Trial, Destruction and Checkpoint events that feature many of the tell-tale signs of Bizarre Creations’ supremely talented creative hand. Just like Project Gotham Racing, players are awarded Kudos, or in this case ‘Fans’, for skilful driving and the clever use of weapons. Sending a shock wave through a rival as they try to pass you on the inside will result in a few appreciative Fans, but should you take out a rival from a distance with a Bolt Shot you’ll garner a lot more respect.
It’s a feature that also extends to the multi-player side of things, although some changes have been implemented to differentiate the action a little. XP is issued out much like the Meta system found in the Call of Duty games, where completion of set objectives during any given race will unlock new features and bonuses – giving you that much needed edge in the field. It’s clear someone at Activision had a quiet word with the team at Bizarre as to what they should look to for inspiration. With support for Xbox Live/PSN, System-Link, the best use of four-player split screen this generation, ( no black boarders, no loss in resolution, a consistent frame rate), and the ability to link all your online and multi-player achievements via Twitter and Facebook, what you have is one of the most complete multi-player packages out there.
A new racing game from the people that brought us PGR was never going to be a surprise, but a racing game in the shape of Blur wasn’t at the top of anyone’s list. Beautifully designed and utterly addictive, Bizarre Creations have achieved what few developers have with the racing genre in recent times: they made it fun again.