Review – Blur
PGR4 with blue shells?
It would far too easy to dismiss Blur as Wipeout Kart except with real cars in real world locations. Indeed on the basis of the multiplayer beta many will have written it off as an also ran and probably bought Alpha Protocol on the same day instead. Such judgements are no doubt depriving Bizarre Creations of deserved plaudits, though it means Activision miss out on cash at the same time so it’s not all bad!
This is the first racing game from the premier British developer since the Microsoft deal expired and Bizarre seem to have made a conscious effort to get away from the comparative realism of the Project Gotham series. As you may have seen from the beta, the racing is with normal cars in a variety of locations (UK, US, Spain, Japan) with the added fillip of Wipeout style power-ups.
Some are mundane (Shield, Repair), some are amusing (Mines, Barge) while others are downright game-breaking. The worst culprit being the three lightning fields you can conjure up ahead of the main field. All well and good if you’re not in the lead, but if you are then the trouble starts. I’ve had races where I’ve been romping ahead and before you know it I round a corner and lose most if not all of my lead as I hit ten+ lightning patches and end up feeling like an extra in a fucking Highlander sequel.
The game itself is very much one of two parts with a single player career mode and a ranked multiplayer mode. Single player career mode has a feel not unlike the (bugged) Dreamcast classic Metropolis Street Racer. Admittedly this has more to do with the fact you can unlock forthcoming race series well before you’re ready to attempt them than anything else, but still the feeling remains.
Each race series has a number of set tasks that range from the humdrum to borderline chore that you need to carry out before you’re allowed to confront each boss character (and by beating them getting a lovely achievement). The item-related achievements are designed in a similar way, for example two of the criteria for the Medic achievement require that you heal 500 blocks of cumulative health & win a race on critical damage while holding a repair power-up. In effect the essence of achievements personified in that it makes you play the game a certain way. When you beat a boss (one of whom looks uncannily like Scroobius Pip), you unlock their car as well as a unique perk such as an extra energy bolt or improved shields.
The race venues themselves are the fairly typical Barcelona, San Francisco, New York affairs with the notable exception of the UK based tracks. Hackney in Sarf London & Brighton seafront. The latter being pretty realistic as Marine Drive is (was?) a popular boy racer cruise spot. Sadly there’s no Vauxhall Novas on the car roster so you don’t get to drive just like some of these angry young men often do.
In a genre dominated by games with terrible licensed soundtracks, Blur is a welcome departure. No Kaiser Chiefs, Bloc Party or pop punk dross here. Just fairly subtle dance tunes that fit the mood of the game, pretty non-intrusive stuff. In fact the soundtrack is disabled by default which is another welcome departure.
The kudos system that’s been around since MSR and the four subsequent PGR games appears to have disappeared, only it hasn’t really. It’s been reinvented as a fan-gathering exercise, where flashy moves that would previously have garnered kudos get you fans instead, a nice touch and a bit less abstract than kudos was.
In Racing games need to do something interesting for me to care. Bizarre Creations’ Project Gotham series had the Kudos system, where you won by being stylish. Blur has the Fans system, where you win by being a massive dick.
I don’t mean winning in the literal sense of coming first or anything, but in the sense of screwing over other drivers. Whether through a forward-fired mine (re: Banana Peel), a well-aimed longshot (re: Green Shell) or an EMP wall, (re: Blue Shell) it’s never been more fun to overtake someone. As a result it’s a hard game to truly lose. Even if you don’t come in the top three, you may yet see your name in lights for getting the fastest lap or taking the most hits.
All of these endeavours feed into the game’s morish unlocks system, which appears to have been lifted straight from Modern Warfare. Unfortunately for a game with pretensions of becoming Modern Carfare, it currently has a small online player-base of about 2000, with certain modes having no-one playing them at all. It’s just as well then that the vanilla 20-player races are all you’d ever want from the game – especially when some of them take place in Hackney and Brighton.
Park Life ect.
Aside from being a near-perfect marriage of licensed realism and arcade fun, Blur‘s greatest achievement is that I never minded finishing near last, because I would have had to fight for every place and had a blast doing so. Basically as long as you have someone in your rear-view mirror, you’ll be as focused as Bob Peck until you cross the finish line.
Secondary Score: 8/10
The multiplayer is the real meat in the sandwich with persistent ranking in the manner of the Modern Warfare games, only rather than getting shot from across the map with a Barrett .50 cal, you get opponents with imbalanced perk load-outs that you won’t have unlocked yet. Or in my case probably never will. There’s a variety of different playlists (lowbie up to level 10, standard racing with or without powerups), demolition derby style etc) so you’ll be sure to find a game type that suits how you play the game. Regarding the perks, they come in three flavours: defensive, offensive and showy and you’ll find yourself modifying your settings every time you unlock a new one.
A real problem with racing games is there’s often so much to do, you can feel overwhelmed after a break from the game. Forza is particularly guilty in that respect. Blur addresses this issue succinctly by providing a ‘Previously on Blur‘ recap, not unlike the start of a 24 episode. Only without Jack Bauer and the threat of random violence.
This game has pretty much been resident in my Xbox since the day of release so Bizarre must’ve been doing something right as the last of their racing games to have done the same to me was the utterly compulsive PGR2 on the original breezebox.
In summary then, a mildly diverting singleplayer game with a few niggles, utterly compelling multiplayer that’s ultimately the hook that’ll get you coming back time and again. Hence the score below. Without the multiplayer it’d be a point less.