Since my first foray into gaming at the age of 5, I have always gravitated towards the racing genre. Recently, we have been inundated with all forms of racing titles. Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, Split/Second: Velocity, ModNation Racers – and now Blur.
While PS3 owners missed out on the opportunity of playing the Beta – and didn’t even get a demo to base our purchase on, it was a title that looked like it was worth a gamble. Bright, high-saturation, flash cars, power-ups, exciting race locations and the promise of chaotic racing. Has to be a winner, right?
Blur is a pure arcade racer. From the first moment you boot up the game, you know its motives are clear – but you also realise it’s something fairly unique in the world of arcade racing games.
It has this almost ‘TV show’ feel to it, especially as subsequent loads award you with a “Previously on Blur” splash screen, showing you your unlocks, history and records from the last time you played.
There’s little to impede your path into the racing. If you haven’t read the instruction booklet, you’ll be thrown in completely wet behind the ears. Only the odd narrated ‘advert’ dotted throughout the career progress gives you tips towards powerups and unlocks. That said though, it doesn’t take more than a race or two until you know exactly what you’re doing and where you’re aiming for.
The key to Blur’s racing is power-ups. These are dotted frequently around the tracks and include things like ‘Barge’ (a kind of pulse which emanates a short-range blast around your car, pushing people away/into walls), ‘Nitro’ (conventional over-boost burst of speed) and ‘Shock’ (a kind of lightning storm which strikes the front of the pack, emitting electrical pulses, severely slowing down opponents).
Powerups can be stacked (you can hold up to three at once), or used as soon as you acquire them. Powerups like ‘Repair’ and ‘Shield’ for example, are best kept on ice until you really need them – items like ‘Mine’ and ‘Bolt’ are handy for insta-use.
These powerups can be used defensively or offensively, depending on the player and situation. Some powerups negate others. Leaving a Mine in the path of a ‘Shunt’ (a homing, flaming energy ball) will destroy the Mine instead of you for example. Additionally, offensive powerups can be fired backwards or forwards to suit the situation.
Racing is fast, bright and intense. The absolute abundance of powerups coupled with up to 20 cars on track at once make for some extremely chaotic race events.
There are three difficulties available; Easy (being way too easy, no challenge at all), Medium (basically Easy with the AI ever-so-slightly faster with a marginally increased desire to use powerups) and Hard (insanely challenging, rubber-band AI’ed frustration-fest). The former two had me completely bored with the game, the latter – its challenging – and you really get to feel what is on offer in the Blur world, but sometimes it’s just way too rigged. Anyone who has played Motorstorm will know the AI here. No matter how fast you go, the AI will always be that little bit faster. And often times winning will be based on downright luck rather that outright skill.
Some events also seem to lack that little extra play-testing that would have balanced them up correctly. I was stuck on a race in Tier 5 for an entire evening of gaming. Probably 50 tries to come 1st – then the next race I won on my first try.
Its a slight blemish on what is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable racing experience. Those who really seek a challenge and some serious longevity out of their racing titles will be catered for (albeit at the cost of high blood pressure), but the casual players to the genre will also have two very manageable levels of play.
Career structure consists of numerous tiered events, each with their own ‘One-on-One’ challenger, a sort of celebrity for that particular tier. Event categories range from basic Races, to Checkpoint events and Destruction challenges.
Progress is based on Lights earned and Fans earned.
‘Fans’ are acquired simply by racing well, taking out opponents, completing various Fan Targets/Challenges and stringing together offensive and defensive attacks. They form the basic currency of the in-game load out, unlocking new cars and advancing you through numerous fan levels (think of them as XP). ‘Lights’ are earned for podium positions (5 total), with an additional two Lights possible in each event for reaching a predetermined Fan Target and ‘Fan Run’, the latter being a checkpoint style virtual gate-set which appears in every race when you run through a trigger.
The car list is impressive. Audi, Dodge, BMW, Renault, Nissan, Lotus and Volkswagen are just some of the marques whose cars feature in Blur. And for the most part, there are some very appealing, race-bred machines on offer.
The lack of a ‘Quick Race’ or any solo, non-career event is disappointing. Playing through on Hard and replaying events for all Lights had me earning A and B class cars long before I could use them. I couldn’t even test drive them until I’d unlocked A/B class events well into the Career. You can only view these unlocks in the Showroom. Essentially, it’s a huge tease. You can’t even use Blur’s screenshot functionality to photograph them.
On that note, another ball-drop from the developers is Blur’s clumsy photo mode. Thankfully, the option to take pictures is included – but oddly, not with the use of the PS3’s in-built screenshot function. Instead, images are saved to your ‘Save Data’ section of the XMB, can’t be viewed from the hard-drive, only in-game (requiring a manual load of each one from the save data folder) – and can’t be moved to a PC unless you upload them directly to Facebook, or the Blur Website (requiring a registration and account linking procedure) directly from the game menu. It takes what should be an enjoyable feature and puts it in the too hard basket.
Overall, there are some features and functionality that could have been improved for the offline Career aspect, but Blur still manages to get the job done right for ease of access and intense racing excitement.
In addition to offline multiplayer (split-screen), you can take Blur online for even more chaos, when managing your available pickups is paramount. Where you spend most of your time taking out the cars in front in the career, with online, you’ll spend equally as much time looking backwards as you do forwards. Driving and using pickups defensively is just as important when dealing with human opponents.
Sadly, nothing of your unlocks and mods earned in the career are carried over to the online aspect, so you have to start again from scratch – but there is a lot more to unlock online. This is somewhat tedious and troublesome when a level 40 player drops into your level 2 room however. Thankfully, a handful of the ‘boss’ cars are usable online, giving you some solace from complete annihilation.
Unfortunately all of this is marred by Blur’s occasional desire to freeze your system when playing online. Hopefully a patch is incoming to solve this issue.
Graphics & Sound
Blur is all about colour, high contrast and saturation. Essentially real-world cars and tracks are made arcade with the use of lens flares, coloured Vaseline filters and bright special effects.
Tracks and locations are well detailed and extremely well delivered. You find yourself racing in dam spillways, airfield runways, cities, through mountain roads and out onto beaches. Each event has its own visual theme and detail, even down to road surfaces and populated skies.
Cars sound genuine, with each having its own unique audio track. Some, like tuner Hummers and Vipers have deep, rumbling exhausts. Others like the Lotus Exige or the Focus RS are all high-pitched screams and turbo wastegates. Much attention has been expended on ensuring the cars were the heart of the experience.
Blur is either one of the easiest racing games you will play, or the hardest. Sadly there’s no happy medium of difficulty – its either too easy, or way too hard. Thankfully you have the option of choosing which path you want Blur to take, but for the completionists and those looking for a challenge, it’s going to be a frustrating roller-coaster ride.
For the most part, Blur is an enjoyable, unique experience with its colour, style and content going well beyond what you regularly expect from an arcade racer. It’s a mix of Burnout and Sonic & Sega All Stars Racing, with licensed cars and neon effects.
Though slightly unpolished and unfinished in some execution (screenshot functionality, buggy online, AI balancing), it’s still a racing title that has enough on offer to be worth a look.