Blur Xbox 360, PS3
You’ll no doubt hear a lot of people describing Blur as Mario Kart with real cars; ignore them, they’re wrong. Despite the marketing team’s efforts to depict Blur as an edgy alternative to Nintendo’s timeless classic, the truth is Blur is in a genre of its own. Unsurprisingly (given that it’s from the people that brought us Metropolis Street Racer and Project Gotham) Blur is a straight-up racer, where racing lines matter, cornering requires a good deal of braking and picking the wrong car for the job will almost definitely result in failure. Learning to drive properly in Blur is just as important as getting to grips with the game’s numerous power-ups, which is why anybody approaching it as an answer to the latest kart-racing games will find themselves in last place, desperately struggling to find a blue shell.
The power-ups themselves will be the main draw for most potential buyers, but the truth is after the initial experimentation period – in which you’ll gleefully fire off anything and everything with a maniacal grin on your face – it soon becomes apparent that you’ll have been using them in the least efficient way. The great thing about Blur is that although you can inflict stress-inducing levels of torture upon fellow competitors with the game’s slew of weaponry, the greatest accomplishment is mastering their alternate uses, and running laps around your foes.
Almost every pick-up in the game has a secondary function, or at least they can each be used as an offensive or defensive power. The shunt homes in on an opponent up ahead, but if timed right they can fire their own shunt backwards, cancelling out the incoming threat. Whenever you pick up a mine the first reaction is to drop it immediately so that pursuers will get stung as they attempt to grab the power-up once it regenerates. Keep hold of it and you can drop it into the path of a shunt, nullifying your attacker’s attempts to slow you down.
The most tactically interesting power-up is the good old nitro boost. Deploy it on a straight and you’ll rocket past your opposition, just like in every other power-up based racing game ever. Hold back on the stick as you execute the boost however, and it becomes an air-brake, stopping the car dead for a split second before firing it off as usual. Besides looking totally bad-ass, there are a couple of incredibly practical uses for it. For starters it allows you drop behind a tailgater before flying up behind them and launching whatever horrors you’ve saved up around the course. More importantly, using the boost as an air-brake means you can drive into a corner at break-neck speed, stop dead and pivot on your axis before zooming away down the next stretch of road.
While the power-ups are plentiful, you can only ever hold three at a time, cycling through them with a press of a button. A great deal of Blur’s strategy comes from on-the-fly micro management, deciding when to use each power-up and when to get rid, and to begin with it can be quite daunting. Give it a few races though, and the balance of perfect racing lines, tactical deployment and lightning fast planning soon fall into place, culminating in an incredibly balanced and rewarding combat racing game.
All of this equates to a superb single player game, a jam-packed career mode with plenty of different challenges, loads of cars to unlock and a handful of famous locations (and Hackney) through which to compete. Being Bizarre, creators of the superb Geometry Wars, the team have also emphasised the importance of the age-old score attack, allowing you to upload challenges to friends after every race via a myriad of social networking sites. You can also upload photos from in-game and tag them with things like ‘OMG’ and ‘LOL’ until all your friends hate you and delete you from Facebook.
While the single player provides endless challenge, where Blur really stands out is online. You’d be forgiven for thinking that you’d accidentally stumbled into Call of Duty 4 given how much appears to have been lifted from Infinity Ward’s incredibly violent baby. Here we have a levelling system based on XP gained during races (in the guise of ‘fans’), in which each level unlocks something new like a car or a mod (cough, perk, cough) that allows you to customise the way you race. It’s not just similar, it’s identical, but it works and it works incredibly well.
Blur manages to make the online ranking system its own, and seeing it applied to a racing game like this makes you wonder why nobody else has tried before it. There are even challenge lists that reward players for completing certain ongoing tasks, constantly adding to the number of fans gained and unlocking more cool mods and cars. Much like in the Call of Duty games, each new mod unlock brings about a whole new way of racing, and because of this the game stays fresh even after hours and hours of play. It also manages to churn out an impressively smooth four player split-screen mode, which proves to cause even more obscenities than the online version.
Ever since its announcement I’ve always been a bit sceptical of Blur, and the idea of adding weapons to a PGR-like racing sim had me raising more than just an eyebrow (wait, this isn’t an erection joke). It brings me great pleasure to reveal that any concern I may have had was completely unjust. Blur proves that racing and combat can exist together as a perfectly balanced gaming experience that rewards skill and thoughtful strategising, and punishes idiots who spam all their projectiles the second they obtain them.
Blur’s clean-cut visuals and uninspired techno soundtrack may lack the warmth and charm of the recently released Split/Second, but it exists in a completely different area of the racing genre. In many ways Blur provides far more depth, even if it doesn’t quite achieve the same sort of instant gratification as Black Rock’s Boeing-dodge-‘em-up. A truly excellent racer that we’ll no doubt still be playing this time next year, this is one Blur that even the Gallaghers would admit to liking.