I did a hands-off preview of Blur not too long ago, and my gut wasn't feeling terribly excited about the game. On the one hand, I am ecstatic to see Bizarre working outside of the Xbox platform, on the other hand, I'm really not enthused about them working on a game as simplistic as Blur. Yeah, sure, there's a lack of arcade racers out there. We know that. But there's a reason for that...and it's usually that they get old and tired quick (WipeOut HD being one of the few exceptions). Plus, arcade racers feel like they're better off as downloadable games, as WipeOut has proven. So at an Activision event held in New York City, I got to check out Blur, and found myself a bit disappointed.
First, the action was a little bit way too chaotic. Using the attack pick-ups successfully will send an opponent wildly flailing about. It begins to get a little annoying especially when it happens repeatedly. The attacks almost feel like they lack balance, because if you get hit with one, the impacts are so wild or exaggerated that you feel discouraged to keep racing. I do believe I experienced some rubberbanding going on, as I recall my performance being lackluster for much of a race, until the last lap where I climbed numerous spots to take first.
An alleged physics engine feels practically non-existent, so I'm not even sure why Activision was touting that in their fact sheet about Blur. There may be some type of physics work going on, but it's certainly nothing to do with the actual physics and driving characteristics of the cars in the game. More over, where as we had previously thought you can turn off the weapons and such to just enjoy a standard race, it turns out you can only do that in a multiplayer mode, so the career mode, as of now, features all races with pick-ups.
Customization is present, but on a very small scale. You cannot choose to purchase specific parts, but rather, you can only upgrade by purchasing an entire package that comes complete with upgrades - so you'll only be able to upgrade any given vehicle just a few select times. I was told by a Bizarre representative that this was done to strengthen the focus of the core gameplay, but I firmly believe it's just PR spin for "we're constricted on time, and Activision needs this game out soon."
Visually, the car models are exactly what I expected. Bland. This is definitely not the pristine polish in car detail that I've been used to seeing from this house of developers, which is a shame, because I'd have loved to see Bizarre work their magic on the PlayStation 3. With games like Gran Turismo 5 and Need for Speed: SHIFT boasting the types of details that they do, Blur is not looking very pretty. Now, you may say, but this is an arcade racer, to which I reply with: Blur doesn't even look better than GRID or even 2006's Need for Speed: Carbon.
I'm not quite sure what's going on with Blur. I can only pray that the build I played was very early, and the game gets worked on a bit more, because I always enjoy a good racing game, no matter the type. As it stands now, Blur will likely be a full-priced game with budget-like offerings. This is definitely something that would've been better served as a downloadable title.
Blur is set to ship November 3rd, which is still a decent amount of time for some enhancements and fixes. We'll try to get a build in our hands, perhaps the final product comes out better.
8/12/2009 Arnold Katayev