Blur – First Look

Title   Blur
Developer  Bizarre Creations
Publisher  Activision
Platform  XBox 360, PS3, PC
Genre  Racing
Release Date  May 28, 2010

If you're lucky, you may just get to the power-up before your opponent rams you out of its path.

With its pitch black backdrops adorned with neon bursts, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Blur was going to end up being Boom Boom Rocket with an accelerator pedal and dodgy Subaru spoilers… but it’s not. Although, on the face of it, Blur may appear to be nothing more than a typical shallow racer with a few clever gimmicks chucked in to throw you off the scent and, I have to admit, the self same thought had crossed my mind until I ventured into multiplayer territory and quickly realised that there was a much deeper layer hidden beneath the neon-lit facade. Blur is, to all intents and purposes, a ridiculously strategic racer where tactics and forward thinking make the difference between winning and losing.

While others are likening Blur to Mario Kart, the first thing that struck me when I read the synopsis was a similarity to the 1980s arcade classic Road Blasters. While the graphics may far removed from the crude 256 colour display of Road Blasters, the gameplay itself borrows heavily from the power up aspect… but that is where the similarities end. The premise of Blur is simple – get from the starting grid to the finish line in the fastest possible time but, and this is where the tactics come in to play, crossing the finish line in first place means absolutely nothing unless you’ve also met the fan demands and earned enough fans to satisfy the requirements of that particular track.

Fans are earned by providing them with something more than just competent handling of the hair pin bends and chicanes… they’re a fussy bunch and, unless you’re blasting the hell out of your opponents, firing targeted homing “shunts” or showering the other racers with huge static bolts from above, you won’t receive enough acclaim to reach the predetermined fan quota and all will have been for nothing. Sure, you can still advance through the game as long as you qualify in the first three over the finish line but, let’s be honest, gamers aren’t exactly content with coming second and so the cycle will undoubtedly continue until the fan quota is reached, the fan demands are met AND the coveted first place position is achieved. That said, Blur has managed to shoe horn in yet another compulsion by showing you just how much better your friends are and, if you’re like me, this means you could quite easily end up playing the same track over and over until you finally wipe that smug smile off their faces and take the number one position in your friend’s list for that particular track.

Some say "we'd be nowhere without our fans" but I disagree... if it wasn't for the fans, I wouldn't have to keep playing the same tracks over and over again. Sods.

The single player career mode emulates that of so many other racing games in that you start with the slowest, and most cumbersome, vehicles possible and advance through each area by qualifying and unlocking more favourable cars. Once you reach a certain point within each area, there’s the inevitable head to head where the remit is to obliterate the boss in order to take their car as your own while the next stage of the game unlocks.

While it all sounds ridiculously simple on the face of it, the reality is somewhat skewed in that it can sometimes be impossible to actually achieve the desired number of fans thanks to the AI drivers suddenly ramming in to the side of your vehicle just as you’re about to run over one of the valuable power ups… meaning that you’re not only vulnerable to attack with no way of defending yourself, but you’ve also missed an opportunity to gain more fans through hindering the process of another player, and the next power ups could be quite some distance away. This is, of course, all part of the longevity of the game as, if every power up was easily attained, it would undoubtedly result in checking all the boxes first time and all challenge would be removed. The addictiveness, caused by sheer bloody mindedness, of striving for a perfect race was reminiscent of the number of hours I’d spend going back over one single Trials HD track a hundred times just to shave that all-important hundredth of a second from my time. Blur is no different – you’re lulled in to a false sense of security by the over the top gimmicky graphics but, once you’re roped in to that first race, the compulsion sets in and you’re pretty much buggered if you thought you were just “nipping on for a quickie”.

Tactically speaking, it’s not enough to keep your eyes on the road because that’ll get you wiped out as the car behind fires out a homing shunt to catapult you into the air, bring you crashing down losing valuable seconds AND adding more damage to diminish your health bar. There are, thankfully, ways to avoid attacks from other players by utilising the power ups in a defensive mode such as firing your own shunt behind as soon as you receive the flashing red warning on screen that someone has already targeted you. The power ups are as varied as they are powerful – barge, bolt, mine, nitro, repair, shield, shock and shunt all providing their own unique defensive and offensive advantages. By far the most commonly used in my own arsenal was the shunt as it doesn’t involve much precision but can still deal an acceptable amount of damage while you concentrate on staying alive and getting to the finish line in first position. Acting as a homing missile, the shunt immediately targets the first available vehicle either behind or in front of you and deals a blow which, if the vehicle is already weakened, can result in complete devastation and the vehicle being wrecked. The nitro is, as you’d expect, a massive and immediate burst of speed that allows for quick and effective overtaking when you find yourself falling behind but it also serves as a fantastic airbrake for manoeuvring particularly tight corners.

Certain power ups can also be shot behind

Forward thinking is absolutely necessary in Blur as, with every power up you collect, the decision arises as to whether you utilise it immediately to affect the other drivers for an immediate advantage, or hang on to it as an evasive manoeuvre to counter an attack by another player. Should you blow your load immediately and attack another driver, you may leave yourself open to damage with no way of avoiding any incoming carnage, but if you take the defensive stance and hang on to the power up to counter another attack… you run the risk of either not earning enough fans or being left with a power up that ends up never being used.

As a single player game, Blur relies on interpersonal competition to keep the player interested rather than providing a hook that keeps dragging you back for more. Considering the absurdity of driving around at high speed and picking up power pods that alter your vehicle enough to allow it to develop temporary super powers, the game itself is oddly grounded. The vehicles are from recognised mainstream manufacturers such as Audi, Nissan and Ford through to the high end Aston Martin, Lotus and Koenigsegg and the tracks themselves certainly don’t offer anything in the way of surrealism or elaborate obstacles. This, to me, was a rather odd decision for Bizarre Creations to make as it would have made more sense to at least have tracks which better reflected the outlandish nature of the power ups, even if the mainstream manufacturers were retained. It certainly isn’t flawed, but it’s also not exactly ground breaking in terms of gameplay or unique selling points.

Multiplayer, however, is where Blur comes into its own. Forget progressing through a series of tracks and meeting fan demands in order to qualify… this is an en-masse head to head where every second counts and friendship goes out the window. What may start off as a bunch of friends tearing through the city streets with a bit of light hearted banter will undoubtedly descend into a high volume back and forth of profanities and insults with the occasional bursts of laughter echoing through the night. As someone who sticks primarily to single player as much as possible, I never truly look forward to trying out a new game in multiplayer as I am, inevitably, the one left at the back of the pack… the one making all the mistakes… the one getting everyone killed. With Blur, however, that’s all part of the gameplay and coming last isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it means you have all the other players firmly in your sights when it comes to utilising those power ups and taking others down.

The more vindictive player, such as myself, may wish to keep a close eye on the other players and attempt to take their power up before they actually reach it, rendering them useless against attacks from other players. There is also a lot to be said for firing shunts and bolts on the driver behind who, naturally, expects that they’re in a relatively save position because you’re more than likely to fire them at the drivers ahead of you rather than those crawling along behind. While it may not be the best tactic to ensure a top three position, it’s more rewarding to hear your friend screaming in disbelief as a missile is fired from the back of your car into theirs, tossing them into the air to come crashing down in a heap of twisted metal, if you’re lucky.

In terms of aesthetics, Blur does fall short… especially when you consider that it’s being brought to us by the same developers that produced the visually stunning Project Gotham series. To me, as a self-confessed graphics whore, the game had an air of prototype to it… detail was missing, the cracked windscreens looked like someone had trailed Tipp-Ex apathetically over the glass and it just didn’t capture my enthusiasm as much as I’d hoped, especially for a game released three years after PGR4. The tracks weren’t particularly inspiring and were almost incidental in terms of the lack of realism and attention to detail but, as the gameplay dictates full concentration on the playing field, I imagine that would go unnoticed by most.
  • It's something a little different in terms of photo-realistic racing games
  • If played properly, tactics play an important part rather than "pedal to the metal" driving
  • Great multiplayer opportunities
  • Entirely possible to make your friends cry
  • Very addictive for the competitive player
  • Graphics really don't cut it considering it's a new title
  • Soundtrack is pretty forgettable, and doesn't have the impact you'd expect
  • Tracks aren't exactly inspiring and could have been more elaborate
  • Doesn't quite give the same impression of speed as you'd expect, so you find yourself looking at the speedo expecting it to read "30 mph"

While Blur certainly doesn't break the mould as far as driving games are concerned, it does provide enough of a compelling edge to keep the player coming back, if only to reach the top of friend leaderboards. The vehicle handling is more akin to the Burnout series than Forza, but is therefore more conducive to the game's gimmicky approach to racing games. While it may not have the single player longevity of achieving the Elite License in Burnout Paradise, the career mode has enough to offer without driving you to distraction.

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  1. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Interesting first review. Especially since I know you don’t really get reviews, heh, and this is kind of a bad game to have to start with.

    I’ve only played this briefly outside of the Beta, via a friend who bought it, but it left me somewhat cold. It didn’t seem much like anything was improved on from the Beta either, actually… as you noted, it looks underwhelming compared to a lot of racing games that have come out recently, including Forza 3, which came out at the end of last year. That adds to the feeling of the game having been rushed, or just lazily made, for me.

    The “fan quota” thing isn’t really a new idea, it’s just an old one dressed up a little differently; it’s the Kudos from Project Gotham, which in turn is just a gimmicky way of saying “you earn points in our game”. I think people don’t really expect just to earn points in games anymore, it’s quite retro and most gamers want more of a sense of achievement or having a goal to aim for, so they’ve dressed it up. But basically it is just a points system where you get awarded for doing supposedly cool things, just like the Kudos in PGR.

    I haven’t played Road Blasters, so I can’t comment on your comparison there, but there is a lot of heavy borrowing from Mario Kart here, and also stuff that felt a lot like Blizzard’s classic Rock N’ Roll Racing. The handling could easily have come from the 16 bit era games. Shockingly awful. The combat for me didn’t require any more foresight or forward strategy than an intense Mario Kart session, except that power ups were somewhat fewer and farther apart than Nintendo’s game. There is a sense of timing involved in when to use your power-ups, or in which order, or whether or not to pick up a power-up at all if you think a better one is a bit further up ahead, and you have to look out for some last gasp attack taking you out and ruining your lead, but it’s not really anything special over what’s been done before.

    I was just bitterly disappointed. Split/Second is what this game desperately wants to be, and should have been, if they’d put more of an effort into it. That game has the awesome visuals, and the fantastic track designs, and frankly, much more exciting combat aspects. Even in multiplayer, shooting your friend in the arse with a laser pulse thingy is nothing like as fun as dropping a transport jet on their head or ramming them with a ferry. It’s the same howls of frustration and fury, but with none of the spectacle.

    It’s all a bit too clinical, and short-sighted, for my money. Like Bizarre Creations had a pow-wow and had one thought – let’s do Mario Kart for grown-ups – and turned it into an entire game, trying to pass it off as a serious title. Instead of pushing it to be more and bigger and more of an experience, it’s just very functional. It lacks style, and more damningly, also a lot of the substance.

    Not for me, I’m afraid. I’d already decided that though. It was still interesting seeing what you thought about it, getting a bit of a different opinion. Enjoyed reading your review more than the time I spent with the game, heh.

  2. Lorna Lorna says:

    Sounds interesting and visually at first glance looks impressive, however, I think that they very much missed a trick by not having their own vehicles…this sort of game almost cries out for them.

  3. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    First review? My numbers are likely in the low hundreds but that’s not exactly common knowledge so I’ll let you away with it!

    Given the quality and attention to detail of the PGR series, I can only assume that Bizarre had their own reasons for cutting back on the graphics for Blur… can’t think why, unless they assumed that people would be too busy enjoying the game to notice, but it’s one of those niggling little thorns that get lodged in my side as a graphics whore.

    I’ve never personally played Mario Kart, not ever having owned a Nintendo product, so I thought better of comparing the two when I wouldn’t be able to draw any accurate comparisons beyond screenshots. Everyone else has compared it to Mario Kart though, overlooking where Mario Kart nicked the idea from in the first place.

    I don’t think it’s a BAD game, I just don’t think it’s ever going to have people sit up and take notice of it for being particularly ground breaking or innovative. Ultimately, like pretty much ALL of the other racing games out there, it’s a case of getting from A to B at high speed without the luxury of being able to take down several hundred pedestrians on the way, the absence of the cart full of chickens, the two men carrying the sheet of glass, the road with a truck reversing out of it or the obligatory alley filled with cardboard boxes. Until that game is released and I can play to the stereotype, I’ll let Hollywood take care of it :)

  4. Ben Ben says:

    I imagine the scaled back graphics are for performance reasons over Live more than anything.

    I really enjoyed the beta of the game and definitely one I’d like to pick up at some point, but alas in the bargain bin I feel as I’m not sure how much staying power it’d have over me.

    Not a huge racing game fan in all honesty and with a new F1 game later this year and possible something from Criterion at E3, not quite sure where that leaves Blur for me.

  5. Edward Edward says:

    In terms of racing games, this almost had my attention, but the little time I spent with it left me a bit cold, and I from what I played, I agree with most of your points. I really enjoyed the review :D
    Though I wonder if there’s going to be a racing revival this year, what with Forza still fresh on people’s memories, Blur, SplitSecond, Gran Turismo 5 and the First F1 game in years that’s gotten my attention in F12010.

  6. Samuel The Preacher says:

    That’s a PREview, Lorna, heh… *holds hands up*… fine.

    First in-depth game review of a final release product. Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it.

    Ed, you forgot Test Drive Unlimited 2. That’s out this year too.

  7. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Wait… that link says Risen… I thought it said Two Worlds II. I AM TIRED! LET ME ALONE TO MY SENILITY!

  8. Mark R MarkuzR says:

    *points and laughs*

  9. Samuel The Preacher says:

    Always nice to have a supportive mate, in my time of mental breakdown and rapidly deteriorating intellectual capacity…

    I’m nominating you to wipe my arse when I’m incapable.


  10. Kat says:

    I like this game! Yes it does have its cons and shelling out £37 was done warily but I’ve had a great time playing with friends and that’s all I wanted from it so I am one happy bunny :)

  11. Rook says:

    I tried the multiplayer demo at a friend’s house before trying it at home and I’ve played throug h some tracks of the game as my friend had got it. I just can’t get into it, there just wasn’t enough racing in it for me as it was more about survivng attacks which stop you from enjoying any decent bouts of racing around the track. I did like how the single player had 20 racers to compete against but the weapons spoiled it for me.

    I have played many hours of Mario Kart and never once thought to compare Blur to it. I’ll pass on this one.

  12. Adam Adam says:

    It’s a shame that the consensus for this one reads like a school report: Could do better. I saw a lot of the early trailers for it and was hopeful for something more akin to the Trackmania games but more direct competition and with the PGR experience brought along with it.

    I’ll of course reserve jusdgement untill I am ever able to sit and play it myself but the review has got a few evil cheese wheels turning in my head. That Bizzare have opted to use real cars rather than take the Burnout approach and that they’ve opted for more traditional circiuts rather than taking the apporach that you’d assume a game with powerups and weapons would is dissapointing to say the least. You have to wonder who it was that was in THAT meeting that was able to talk the rest of the room away from it, despite their not being any really Zany racers out there any more (Even Burnout Paradise is quite grounded).

    Nice review Mark, gives me things to think about which is exactly what I look for in reviews rather than absolutes: buy or do not.

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