Blur Preview Xbox 360, PS3

Bizarre Creations are renowned for their racing games. From Metropolis Street Racer on the Dreamcast to the Project Gotham series that launched two generations of Xbox, their attention to detail and extensive focus on realism within the racing genre has led to widespread respect for the Liverpool-based developer. But the market for no-nonsense racers has become over-saturated. Forza 3, Race Driver: Grid, Colin McCrae: DiRT 2 and Race-Pro all seek to grab the attention of the dedicated car fanatic. With this in mind, Bizarre have taken what they consider to be the next step towards evolving the hardcore racing game: they’ve added guns.

Blur is what lead developer Jed Talbot considers to be the logical progression of everything Bizarre have output so far, a game that retains the same level of polish as previous studio titles, but with a premise that is far more accessible and far more exciting. While racing purists may turn their noses up at the thought of adding explosive devices and nitro boosts to a game that could very easily pass as a top-notch racer even without the aggressive edge, it’s clear that Bizarre feel the genre has grown stale, taking it upon themselves to shake things up.

By adding a handful of offensive and defensive power-ups, the strict rules of a typical racing-sim have been turned on their collective head. Though the handling in Blur is as good as anything Bizarre have done before, keeping a solid racing line is no longer the number one priority. Talbot sees racing to be a sport of two key parts: the opening few corners in which drivers are shoulder to shoulder competing for position; then the rest of the race that is often spread out, with little in the way of the initial excitement. Adding kart-racer-like power-ups to the formula has allowed Bizarre to level the playing field, giving players the intense experience of the opening stages, but throughout the entire race.

That’s not to say that the addition of power-ups has dumbed down the racing experience. The combat in Blur exhibits a great deal of depth, and to truly excel at races will require some serious practice with each item, taking into account their multiple uses whilst simultaneously factoring in environmental hazards and vehicle stats. If anything, Blur feels like a tactical shooter on wheels – given even more depth through the use of car modifications.

Those who’ve played the online beta for Blur will already be familiar with the game’s mods. They’re essentially the perks from Call of Duty applied to cars, but what’s impressive is just how smoothly integrated they are. Getting to see some of the mods that will be unlocked through the course of Blur’s fifty online ranks, it’s clear that Bizarre have taken the idea and made it their own. Anyone for an invisible car that causes mass explosions when wrecked? There’s a mod for that!

With the multiplayer aspect of Blur already proving to be success on Xbox Live, the question on everyone’s lips is how exactly will it translate to a single player experience? From a lengthy hands-on session with Blur’s career mode it’s evident that anyone concerned this would be a solely multiplayer experience needn’t have worried. Taking place in distinct groups of races, culminating in a boss battle of sorts, Blur’s career mode almost feels like a return to a traditional videogaming ethos.

Each group consists of a variety of races/challenges that must be completed in order to gain ‘lights’ which will accumulate until you can challenge the group’s boss to a one on one battle. These include standard races, fan challenges and more aggressive modes like destruction; enemies take one-hit-kills, with lights gained for as many wrecks within the time limit, which increases with each takedown. As with multiplayer, the ‘Fan’ XP system plays a large part throughout career mode, and each style of race is made even more interesting by ‘fan demands’.

Scattered about the tracks are pick-ups that when activated, trigger a fan demand that must be executed on the fly within a set amount of time. This can involve taking out rival drivers with a specific weapon, or reaching a certain speed within the time limit. Whatever it might be, it almost immediately changes the racer’s priorities, inciting a huge sense of urgency via an on-screen fan meter that rapidly declines as the time limit for the demand runs out. Other types of fan demands require sudden strategic decisions; do you attempt to pass through the newly revealed time gates to win fans, or do you sacrifice the fan bonus to keep your racing line?

While this addition suits Blur to a tee, it’s interesting to consider just how much it could impact the racing genre on a whole. Plenty of racing games have featured cone gate trials and drifting bonuses, but to include them during an otherwise ordinary race as an optional bonus that could result in sacrificing your position, could add a tense and rewarding experience to an otherwise run-of-the-mill racing game. On top of the already frantic experience of a Blur race, they appear to be yet another cog in an already incredibly exciting machine.

To top this off, and what may well turn out to be the most interesting part of Blur, after every single race and every single challenge, players have the option to challenge a friend based on their performance. By bringing up a post-race diagnosis, it’s possible to select how fast the race must be completed, how many power-ups can be used, the specific number of enemies that must be wrecked etc, etc. This can all be then packed up and sent to however many friends, the message then appearing in their XBL or PSN inbox. Moreover it can be set to appear on twitter, and other potential social networking sites.

Though it may seem simplistic, the scope for such a premise is pretty huge. Much like the next best high-score in Geometry Wars 2, Bizarre seem to know exactly what gets gamers pumped up; knowing that their friends are better than them. By introducing the friend challenges, they’ve upped the game. It’s a constant battle of one-upmanship that takes the general concept of score attack and makes it personal. Basing the terms of the challenge on personal performance also ensures that in each race, it’s in the player’s best interest to put in their all.

Throw in some expletive-generating four-player local split-screen, and Blur is looking to be an incredible package. So far we’ve seen all the hallmarks of a classic Bizarre racer, and with its new appeal to the Call of Duty crowd it’s difficult to see how Blur won’t turn out to be a sure fire hit. With less than a month until release, it won’t be long before we’re back in the driver’s seat, and finding out whether the change of pace will once again put Bizarre in pole-position.