It seems that in the last few years, the racing genre has under gone a fundamental shift heavily in the direction of the simulation racer. Games like Grid, The Grand Turismo , Project Gotham and Forza Motorsport series have all released one or more iterations putting players behind the controls of high powered racing vehicles attempting to recreate real life racing as closely as possible. This after a long period where we saw entries in the more arcade style Need for Speed and Midnight Club series on pretty much a yearly basis.
Now, Bizarre Creations, the team behind one of those stalwart simulation series, the Project Gotham Series, is throwing its hat into the arcade ring, with Blur. Dubbed “powered up racing” Blur combines the high octane racing of an arcade street racer, with the competitive elements of Twisted Metal and Mario Kart. The result is an intense, gripping racing experience both online and off that commands attention.
Because both the single and multi-player experiences could pretty much have stood alone as their own game, we felt that both required their own due consideration, thus the two were separated. Players are likely more familiar with the multi-player aspects of the game given the expansive and relatively popular beta that was released on Xbox Live for about a month before the game’s release. Thusly, this review focuses solely on the single player experience with Blur.
First things first, there is no story. Most racing games don’t really have one to begin with, but they do usually try and cobble together some sort of minor narrative about you being a young street racer trying to make a name for yourself. While that can be insinuated from how Blur’s career mode is structured, the game doesn’t even waste its breath setting that up. What does happen is that before each event that you enter, at least for the first part of the game, loading screen cinematics play out that introduce the various elements of the game, and give you instruction about how to utilize power ups, how fans work, etc. This serves as the tutorial for your racing experience, without ever having to hold your hand in-race and take you out of the action.
The graphical fidelity on the game is stupendous, the car modeling is crisp and accurate and the power ups and other effects create an incredible racing atmosphere. There are 14 environments with 35 total tracks. Some of the tracks are completely different routes while others simply have a few changes made to the layout or the time of day that the event takes place. Environments range from cities all over the world like Los Angeles, New York, parts of Russia and Barcelona to name a few.
The game consists of several types of events; standard competitive races, demolition rally’s and checkpoint races. Each set leading up to a one on one “boss” race against a character with a specialized car that you obtain upon victory. There are nine bosses in all and each has a series of six events preceding it. During race you have access to a number of weapons and power ups that can be used against your opponents. While good racing is required to come out on top, being more on the arcade side of the spectrum, the game has you rely on proper timing and use of power ups to aid in making sure that you cross the finish line first.
The game play is slick and the controls of the car feel appropriate depending on the vehicle. All of the types of races work well, though the demolition races merely have you trailing behind groups of cars with power ups firing at them as you race around the track against time. The problem I have is that the tracks for demolition are basically the same as the normal races, they are just bereft of any other cars on them. Some of the tracks are really more tailor made for actual racing and so trying to run a one man demolition shootout in them feels wrong and they just don’t always work. Other than that, Bizarre Creations has done well in creating many different racing environments and unique tracks for players to do battle on. This was one of the main concerns coming out of the beta where only four trackers were shown.
Each event awards you with lights for finishing at certain thresholds. There are also additional lights each event for reaching a fan target and for completing a fan gate which involves driving through a set of glowing gates in succession. These lights serve as the currency for progressing through the game and opening up new races and events.
Progression in the game does not require you to come in first in each event. At least a third place finish will result in a “pass” and allow you to continue. Since a certain number of lights is required to unlock each subsequent event, you can acquire the needed lights over several races and should you come across an event that you simply cannot beat, you can still progress. In order to progress to the individual boss levels you must complete a series of additional in race objectives within each bosses’ six event grouping. These objectives might include having you wreck a certain number of cars during a race, obtain a certain fan threshold, etc. Not shoehorning players into one specific progression path is a godsend, especially in racing games with varying events as players might be suited for one event over another.
Fans serve as the experience points and as you gain more fans you unlock new cars and modifications for them. The unlockable system is incredibly deep and expansive, going up to level 50 on both the single and multi-player modes. These are separate, so accumulating fans and cars in one does not unlock them in the other. Regardless, the system is so impressive in its depth and amount of unlockables that it rivals and in some ways surpasses games like Modern Warfare 2.
While it’s great that the game is so deep, one problem comes from the cars themselves. There are just too many of them, and in some cases there are multiple versions of the same car. Perhaps one meant for rally races and the other more of a drifting version with slightly adjusted handling. I’ve found that I tend to choose a few cars as my staple ones depending on the type of race and pretty much eschew all the others. The complaint I guess is not that there is too much choice, but that at times there seems to be a redundancy in some of the selection. Given that all the cars can be styled in whatever paint color we want, there seems less reason for me to pick multiple models of BMW M5 for example.
Another interesting and cool detail is that when you load the game back up it says “previously on Blur” and shows you a few splash screens of your recent progress in single-player and multi-player, including milestones, achievements and upgrades that you’ve unlocked, as well as other ones that you are approaching.
Blur also is looking to innovate big with its sharing features. Some games do allow you to create screenshots or videos to upload to the game servers, but Blur is pushing that concept forward even more by integrating everyone’s favorite social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. You can integrate your Blur account with either of these basically enabling you to tweet or create a status update for your achievements within the game. While I have zero interest in utilizing this feature and frankly would find it annoying if I were receiving status updates every time a friend unlocked a new car, the feature is impressive nonetheless. Along with this integration and sharing option is a “player challenge” feature that allows you to create your own challenges that people on your friends list can try and complete. You can set a challenge based on the racing map, cars that are available and the objectives to be completed.
Finally, a word about the A.I. Blur is a tough game, and definitely scales upward as you progress through the various stages and bosses. While the game does provide you with better cars and modifications, the difficulty of races continues to increase, mostly due to harder tracks where the races take place. You’ll find more off road maps and more maps with tighter cornering and tight turns that will make your life miserable at times. While I wouldn’t say it ever becomes frustrating, it will wear on you over time and probably make you want to take a break now and then. However, the game is rarely ever “cheap” when you find yourself unable to pass a race.
Its hard to find a significant flaw in Blur. Like many racing games, it does become difficult and by virtue a little frustrating, and it can be overwhelming with the number of cars available for use, many of which you will never drive. The only other flaw in the single player experience is that this isn’t simply an exhibition mode where you can choose a car, and a track and just race. Given the level of detail around the game you wonder why something so simple was overlooked. Regardless, Blur is just pure fun from start to finish, and even after you’ve barreled through the career mode, you’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Buy this game. Play it, love it, place it on your shelf and every few months you’ll slip back into it whenever your thirst for motor mayhem needs to be satiated.
(Check back next week for a review of the multi-player elements of Blur)