Reviewed – Blur

By: Paul Millen

Published: June 9, 2010 Posted in: Review

Gaming is to testosterone as oil is to …. what?

a) Water

b) A competent production of Pinter’s The Caretaker

c) Saw Boss

No, you silly.  The answer’s water.  Yes, you can try and make our puny hobby as masculine as ya like but ultimately it’s an image that just won’t fit.  Look at the marketing for Blur.  ‘Race like a big boy’, should I?  Urm, ok.  As a gamer, that makes me feel at once depressed and like some kind of inadequate man-child.  Probably not the machoistic, gobbing-Stella-over-Mario Kart sentiment they were aiming for I’m guessing.  And who in the heckins would this appeal to anyway?  There’s nothing wrong with fun, however cutesy – and Blur is fun.  It’s a solid, fun game.  Give the bullshit a rest, eh?

With a range of licensed cars to unlock, there’s a sound core to Bizzare’s latest racing game. Project Gotham rests in their back catalogue, they’re old hands at the genre and it shows.  Your car handles in a satisfying way, it pays to find the breaking points into corners before controlling the throttle to maintain a decent line in the turn, and it’s easy to chuck your car into a drift but not so arcade that you can’t oversteer and lose the back end completely.  But, such driving technicalities aren’t really what Blur’s about; maintaining a racing line and driving well isn’t enough to win races.  Why?  Because of these things:

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The happy man with the heart in the top right corner – he tells you the number of fans you’ve gained during the race

Shock, shunt, barge, mine, bolt, nitro, shield and repair.  These are power-ups, scattered around the tracks waiting to be collected and unleashed at your rivals.  Shock drops three pillars of lightening onto the front-runners, slowing them down if they don’t swerve away; shunt fires a homing ball of car-flipping explosiveness at the driver directly ahead; barge blasts a circle of energy around you, shoving aside nearby adversaries; mine… drops a mine; bolt shoots three car jolting bolts; nitro’s a boost; shield’s a shield and repair’s a repair.

It’s a very simple power-up system but balanced brilliantly with the ability to fire any weapon forwards and backwards; a mine becomes a short range projectile; bolt can be farted rearwards to destroy an incoming enemy barge; even the nitro can be activated ahead for an insta-slowdown or a means to ram a car directly behind.  It’s clever and easy to grasp, quickly ramping up the tactical intricacy.  To win you’ve got to be sure to collect power-ups as an offensive and defensive measure; it’s quite a feeling of helplessness to be in pole position only to see, heralded by a warning bleep, an angry barge ball of fire appear in your rear-view mirror without possessing a counter power-up to deal with it.

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These tired goons charismatic individuals are your one-on-one opponents for the single player chapters

The neon flashes of colour provided by the power-ups are also a large part of what makes the game visually impressive.  Blur is a beautiful, beautiful game.  Shockwaves ripple the air, colourful bolts and sparks zip along the track, splashing pink and yellow fire over the cars they hit.  Imagine an already pretty racing game attacked by a multichromatic storm of STALKER anomalies.

The tracks, set in many of this planet’s finest cities; LA, Tokyo, Barcelona, Brighton and… Hackney… all look great too.  Brighton, a night-time seaside drive erupts with fireworks; LA’s docklands reminded me of Mirror’s Edge with blue skies and colourful cargo containers.  The tracks keep your attention with snaking, alternate routes and prove to be wonderfully un-frustrating with none of the annoying jutting out scenery bits that crunch your car to a sudden stop as in so many racing games.  It all contributes to a sense of fun that permeates Blur despite its occasional cooler-than-thou flourishes.  (There’s no fighting it Blur, you are fun).

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I’d quote Don Mclean here but I don’t think this car’s a chevy.  And I’m entirely unclear on the levy situation as well

Plenty of cars from real manufacturers are there to unlock.  There’s your out-and-out road racing types like the Renault Megane Trophy, drifting street racers like the Nissan 350Z, as well as rugged off roaders that can tackle the rough terrain or waterlogged sections some tracks throw at you without the speed hit suffered by their low suspension rivals.

Cars are gained during the nine chapter single player campaign by performing well in the various events (races, checkpoint time-trials and destruction where you shoot cars with the bolt, gaining points for each you wreck) and thus earning ‘fans’.  Your fan level can be bolstered by completing fan demands, mini mid-race tasks like nitro shunting or catching someone with two mines in a row.

Each chapter has a boss one-on-one race unlocked by completing a list of tasks; beat them, you win their car.  ‘Lights’ are earned for winning events and enough of them unlocks the next chapter, allowing you to earn more fans and more cars.  It’s formulaic and gets repetitive; upping the difficulty failed to make it any more interesting, making the AI faster rather than more devious opponents.

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My TomTom’s anomaly detector’s just gone nuts

I was even less inclined to continue when I gave the multiplayer a go and discovered the progression trees are entirely independent; having unlocked a load of cars in single player I was back at level 1.  Why would I want to unlock cars that wouldn’t help me best anyone online?  There’s a similar levelling system there, receiving cars as fan numbers increase, as well as earning mods, three of which can be grouped and equipped to provide bonuses.  I’m currently rocking the battering ram, which makes it easier to bully others out the way, the shield extender and the bribe, granting me a bonus power-up at the start.  Through canny racing it’s possible to finish ahead of people with higher levels so there’s no sense that experienced players have an unfair advantage, but the chance of a podium spot is increased with every level advance.  It’s a bit like BFBC2, but with cars instead of guns, and mods that actually provide some kind of tactical nuance instead of not doing so at all.

The multiplayer’s the beating heart of Blur.  It shows the game’s mechanic at its best.  Unfortunately, if the current numbers are anything to go by, I’ll be surprised if many opponents will be around in a year’s time.  Bizarre will have to release some attractive DLC to maintain interest, perhaps adding a customizable character avatar to replace the random torsos behind the windscreens at the moment.  Yes, something like that, but more exciting.  Still, at the moment, as far as the servers go, it’s all host-based and I’m happy to say I haven’t had any problems with lag or host migration.

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Bumper cam or chase cam, no behind the dash cam :(

There’s something honest about Blur.  Where Split/Second flaunts an awkward back-story, and Burnout just doesn’t ever shut the hell up, Blur unashamedly exposes its humble gaming core; a basic game principle balanced with compulsive tactical depth.  Sure, it’s dressed up with electro music, neopunk art styles and frivolous extras like inbuilt Twitter, but the fundamentals are there and appealingly understated.  But people want more from their big releases; some kind of bellowing hook or gimmick onto which they can latch.  Sadly, with a tedious single player, and a multiplayer that may well start to dwindle, this absence might be its undoing.


Paul Millen