The best way to describe Blur, a new game from the developers of Project Gotham Racing, is basically this: Blur is a gateway drug for everyone tiring of the kart-racing shtick. Having not heard too much about Blur prior to its release, I opened the box knowing only that it was developed by Bizarre Creations, the studio that made stylistic racing and Kudos synonymous with an awesome multiplayer experience. Really, what more did I need to know?
Come to find out, a little more guidance would’ve been helpful. Blur takes the stylistic core of Microsoft’s Project Gotham Racing series and the power-up core of Mario Kart, then throws them in a high-octane blender that spits out a unique but occasionally troubling blend of serious racing and arcadey diversion. Hence my “gateway drug” analogy. Blur is hardly a game for hardcore racing-game fans, but it’s also a step above the seemingly random racing acts of Mario Kart. In essence, if you or your kids have started to grow beyond the Wii and its elementary mechanics, Blur is the ideal entree into the world of grown-up racers. Its gameplay provides a taste of the serious habits you’ll need to form to survive on the likes of Forza Motorsport or Gran Turismo while harkening back to the power-ups that kart racers have made so famous.
Blur’s Career mode spans nine Rivals, each of which needs to be unlocked. This is pretty standard fare. Within each rival (e.g. each tournament), you earn “Lights” and “Fans.” As you accumulate Lights, you unlock new events within each Rival’s series, while accumulating Fans unlocks new cars. Lights are earned by winning races, and Fans are earned by racing with style. Hello, Project Gotham roots…. The problem with this straightforward model is that moving from Rival to Rival isn’t based on points or races won, but on achieving four or five artificial “milestones” that vary from one tournament to the next. For example, to unlock one Rival pink-slip race, you have to achieve a milestone of “Win Event 5 with one 5x fan combo,” or you may have to “Complete 2 fan runs” or “Shield against 3 power-ups.” On the surface, this just sounds like Bizarre Creations forcing gamers to learn all the tricks of the Blur trade, but when you actually start trying to advance, you realize that some of these milestones are absolutely ludicrous and/or go against your racing style entirely. It’s like telling a Halo player “in order to move on, you have to defeat all Covenant forces with nothing but a pistol whip.”
Presuming you can come to terms with those requirements, the game is otherwise straightforward. To advance from one race to the next, most heats require you to place in the top three positions, with different points awarded based on your position. However, like a Burnout game, some levels require you to grab powerups a la a kart-racing game and blast a certain number of opponents in a set period of time, checkpoint-style.
Powerups include the always-fun Nitro, a Mine tool to drop happy packages of death, Shunt (a big missile that descends upon the leaders), Barge (a close-range blast that shoves people), Shock (which launches speed-hampering lightning), Bolt (three quick harpoon-like shots), Repair and Shield. These are fun for a few laps, and their consistent deployment locations come in handy when you’ve got a three-lap race and are trying to strategize which powerups to nab and where. Another nice feature is the ability to store up to three total and manually cycle through those three depending on your situation. But while these features both give a nod to strategy, it’s both easy and common to get completely discouraged and frustrated to be running a technically-sound race only to be up-ended by some jackhole’s power-up. Gamers used to the Mario Kart style of game might laugh it off, but those used to Burnout, Forza or even Need for Speed will quickly get annoyed.
The strategic elements continue with vehicle types that really handle differently and car styles that are better suited to the different race types (Race, Checkpoint, pink-slip One-On-One races and Destruction — a timer-based blow-them-all-up competition). But again, even as these styles add a layer of complexity, they’re undermined a bit by the arcadey power-up elements.
But that’s the thing about gateway drugs: they serve as a transition between non-using and the hard stuff, which is precisely what Blur does for the racing genre. By incorporating the world of kart-racing power-ups with that of tight lines and vehicle classes, Blur straddles an odd, untapped region that no racing game has really tackled before. The effort is valiant and the finished product is good, which validates Bizarre Creations’ roll of the dice. But because the game mixes such disparate elements, it’s probably best left for gamers who are young, used to kart racing or like arcade-infused titles, and best left rented or approached carefully by those more accustomed to more-serious racing franchises.
- Score: 8.1
- The unique mix of gameplay elements bridges a cavernous gap, but while genre novices may appreciate the “gateway drug” to more-serious racing games, more experienced racing fans should approach the mix a bit more cautiously.
Platform reviewed: PlayStation 3
— Jonas Allen