When It Was seen last year, Blur was a bit average. But 12 months make all the difference in the wonderful world of game development, and Liverpool-based Bizarre Creations - responsible for the excellent Project Gotham Racing series - has put some roar back into its racer's whimpering exhaust.
On paper Blur is Project Gotham Racing blended with Mario Kart. However, Bizarre have now clearly decided to make a racer that lies at the Mario end of the spectrum - and it's all the more fun for it. Firing Shunt - a sort of electric red shell - is now a violent, satisfying barrel roll of death cast on your unlucky motorcar target, and, like the Mario Kaii projectile, you can fire it backwards in your chasing opponents' faces, which is ever so satisfying. Likewise dropping a mine, unlike the dull tin cans in last year's build, now casts an angry and massive black hole waiting to explode in the faces of any unlucky BMW that drifts into its path; while getting annihilated by a first placehoming Shock inches from the finish line is now part and parcel of the experience. All of these attacks on your car will leave you shouting and swearing at your monitor, while grinning wildly.
Having the acclaimed racing house finally pick a side of the fence is great to see. Last year's game had a clear identity crisis as Bizzare attempted to please both hardcore fans and less corner-carving savvy gainers, and ended up satisfying no-one at all. This year's Blur is slick, focused and smartly edited.
But it'd be naive to expect the creator of five highly praised racing games to simply pump out a mindless mum-and-dad Kart entry: power-ups are clearly well-balanced and abilities (like the aforementioned Shock) limit their payload to a few yards in front of the lead car, meaning skilled players can dodge them.
The cars handle well too: ignore the Mario influence and you'll believe you're behind the wheel in a proper arcade racer. The selection of motors on offer range from slick speedsters, drift-happy muscle cars, and the obligatory rough-and-tumble jeeps and vans. The most impressive aspect of Blur's race is the sheer physical oomph of battling 19 other vehicles - and their magical zapping skills - around Hackney (yes, that's one of the race courses).
The traditional first corner pile-up was simply one of the most intense racing experiences we've had: Audis being blasted out of existence, and scenery thrown 10 feet in the air - it's mental. The boosted driver count means that Blur is a racer In which your opponents are never far away. In fact, most of the time they'll be scratching up your body work, trying to send you flying into a lake or a corner shop with the Force Push-like Barge.
One of the most promising aspects of this game, compared to the likes of SpHt/Second, is its excellent off-the-course functions, which, unusually, includes plenty of stuff inspired by Modern Warfare 2. Like the current king of the FPS genre, Blur includes game changing perks (called 'Mods'), Challenges and experience points for levelling up and unlocking goodies.
Mods include the defensive (less damage from collisions), offensive (get a Nitro for performing a superb drift), and all-round useful (a Predator Cloak for your car - great in the Destruction Derby-esque Motor Mash mode). One we found particularly handy glued a laser sight to our rear-view mirror -perfect for backwards Shunt blasts. Like Infinity Ward's shooter, Blur now does an excellent job of constantly rewarding the player, with virtual pats on the back every time you take out a rival or pull off a skilful Mine throw onto an opponent's bonnet.
Bizarre Creations is definitely back on track for its mission of make racing games fun again. On the road Blur is a great laugh to play and outside races the impressive array of community and customisation features add depth to the package. Last year's game was a nebulous, indistinct meshing together of two conflicting types of racing games.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
You'd Have Been forgiven for assuming, all those years ago when Activision picked up Bizarre Creations, that the developer would just pull a big lever and fart out a racer similar to its famous Xbox series Project Gotham Racing. Instead, the team made a decision that caused people to wonder if they'd suffered collective head trauma.
If you don't already know, Blur is a collision between stylish Need For Speed-esque cars and circuits with the kind of power-ups that Mario packs in his slacks before a go-kart race. It was a risky tactic, tightrope walking between two stools while piggy-backing a considerable load of expectation, and one that needed an extra six months in the oven before the team were happy with the results. We reckon they made the right call. Blur combines the best of both strains of racer - it's achingly cool and rammed with stylish cars, but also extremely accessible as it's about using tactics from Dick Dastardly's heavily modified Highway Code rather than skills behind the steering wheel.
If you're the sort of person who cackles nefariously as you punt a fellow driver off the circuit in straight-laced racers, Blur is your ideal playground. At the very least it'll level the playing field for everyone else.
After the early talk of a socialnetworking inspired storyline, initially Blur's career mode appears to be a pretty anodyne system, with its list of events and lights that are unlocked depending on your position. As soon as you've gotten comfortable with the basic premise, the game starts slapping challenges on top of the basic requirement to finish third or higher.
For a start depending on how you perform in the race you'll earn fans, which are gained through stylish driving, successful power-up hits and deftly avoiding attacks from fellow racers. Unlocking fans gives you a bonus light if you meet the target for that event and access to new cars. It's worth noting that because they all have such drastically different caricatured handling styles, you're likely to find one or two favourites in each class and stick with them. After all, you need to not only be able to chuck the car into a graceful slide around a bend, you also need to be able to loose three of the Bolt projectiles and have every one of them hit an opponent at the same time. OK, you don't have to be able to do that but it's awfully helpful vhen you're attempting to wrestle the lead from a nippy VW Beetle on the final corner.
There are also Fan Runs on every course, which open up a series of slalom-style light gates to pass through. Easy enough when you're out in the lead, but not when you're in the middle of a pack of other cars, all jostling for space. It's also ever so tempting to just ditch the run to pick up a valuable Nitro power up if you're also battling for position. Again, finding the time to complete a Fan Run gains you more fans and a light.
Finally, there are a series of meta-objectives that unlock an one-on-one race each chapter. Beat or destroy the opponent and you'll unlock a mod that can be applied to any of the cars in your garage.
So there's plenty to concentrate on if you want to, but in reality these extra layers are more of a reason to revisit events rather than lofty goals to aim for every time you hit the circuit. The other reason to revisit is the friends system, which allows you to challenge your mates with your best scores, and shows you a leaderboard at the end of each single player event further adding to the temptation to rub your mates' noses in it when you win or hammer away at their score. It's just a shame the Steam version of Blur doesn't integrate properly with Steam's Friends list, though even the absence of any external friend list support is better than the shudder-inducing third alternative, a horrifying unholy pact with Games For Windows - Live.
So, structurally the game is well built, but it's when you hit the asphalt that Blur really shines. Any doubts about the bizarre mishmash of power-ups and street racing vanish. For a start, this is a game that satisfies all those fantasies of supercar ownership you had when you were 12. Even the earliest cars are extremely nippy and once you scrape the upper end of the performance curve, you'll be barely hanging on as you squeeze the button for a nitro and cjct exuberantly yanked through I the streets.
Clever chaps and chapettes that they are, Bizarre Creations have ensured that the course designs complement the raw pace of the vehicles. While these are street circuits, corners have been smoothed out and the crash barriers are enormously forgiving. What this means is you can concentrate on sizing up your opponent's exhaust pipe and attempting to post a Shunt projectile up it, rather than concentrating solely on the road. Slam into a wall and more often than not you can ride it out around the bend without worrying too much about the conseguences.
Of course it wouldn't be a Bizarre Creations game if driving talent wasn't a way to improve your chances. While you can muck along in the early races by clattering around the circuit dodgems-style, if you want to consistently trounce your opponents, you're going to have to master the nuances of the handling. Deft braking into corners can pay dividends when everyone else is smashing around the circuit like clump of fighting cats.
In particular, keeping an eye on the road surface is important - getting stuck on dirt in a car that struggles with a loose footing will seriously slow your progress. The tracks themselves demonstrate Bizarre's keen eye for mixing a flowing race circuit with a scenery that genuinely captures the spirit of the location. Blur encompasses an impressive number of cities around the globe, mixing more traditional street racing venues such as New York, LA and Tokyo with more quirky locations such as Brighton and Hackney in London's East End.
Apparently the circuits are created from a cherry-picked selection of the best corners in the area which are then mashed together to create a satisfying lap. The technigue has paid off because there's only one or two weak circuits in a substantial selection, which is masterfully drip fed throughout the career mode.
The entire thing is made all the more slinky by the way these locations are presented. This may not be the prettiest racer on the PC, but it's a triumph of art direction over polycounts. Every race takes place at some point between dusk and dawn, and the visual style is all neon light-trails and atmospheric twilight.
Blur looks unlike any racer around at the moment and the closest parallel we can draw is with the now-ancient Midnight Club 2, though Rockstar's street racer was never this effortlessly stylish.
This is the side of cities you see when you stagger bleary eyed out of a club as the sun is rising, revelling in the last few hours of booze-glow before you're pole-axed by the Robert Downey Jr-grade hangover that no doubt awaits you. The same side you see if you're a milkman.
The selection of cars is charmingly out of the ordinary as well. While there's the usual selection of Audis and Beemers, there's also more quirky fare such as the aforementioned battered Beetle, a ropey old Ford pickup truck, and a genuinely hilarious souped-up Transit van. While we love Ferraris and Porsches, their absence is irrelevant when you can use a vehicle that boasts a bit more personality and overtaking someone in a vehicle normally used for shifting double glazing will have you hooting like a loon. It's not long before you find a favourite in each class and it's only a shame there aren't more ways to personalise your ride beyond picking the colour for a re-spray.
Blur is an excellent game, not just because there's no game like it, but also because every conceivable element has been designed with surgical precision.
Bizarre have demonstrated they have a knack not just for the serious side of racing, all shiny cars and moodily lit cityscapes, but also for the side that involves firing impossible projectiles at your opponents and launching them into the water at the LAdocks.
Every element of Blur is singularly excellent, and somehow the game, as a whole, comes together beautifully, in the same way chocolate covered pretzels and Jagerbombs do, but shouldn't. There've been few more enjoyable experiences this year than the vindictive pleasure of smashing your way to the front of the pack in one of Blur's fraught 20-car races. Even if you're generally turned off by the often po-faced racing genre, there's enough outright lunacy in here to make it well worth a punt.