Last year when I sampled Blur at an event Activision held for press members, I was underwhelmed. Really underwhelmed. I went in with low expectations and came out with even lower expectations. I had expected something much more from a studio as talented as Bizarre Creations - after all, they did bring us the Project Gotham franchise. I remarked that there is no way Blur would've been a competent game if it were to be released in 2009, and that it needed a lot more work. If you recall, Blur was originally set to launch last November, and as you can tell, it suffered a nearly seven month delay. Between then and now, Blur has changed quite a bit…but is it enough to warranty a purchase?
Well, I'll make this very simple: do you like Mario Kart and do you like Need for Speed? If you answered "yes" to both, I have one more question: would you like them both combined into one game? If the answer is "yes", then Blur is that game. If the answer is "no", then you're better off moving on. You see, Blur is the battle-racer for the gamers that are tired of the cutesy look and feel of the Mario Kart franchise, and in fact, that's the very angle Activision is using to promote Blur in the game's TV commercials. Blur pits licensed real-world vehicles in races of up to 20 on tracks complete with all sorts of varying terrain (dirt, asphalt, water, etc.), multiple paths and shortcuts, jumps, and of course, pick-ups. The pick-ups are either defensive or offensive, and include an assortment of items that are pretty much meaner and more 'adult' versions of what you've seen in Mario Kart. Replacing bananas are mines that you can toss forward and back. Replacing the homing koopa shell is the Shunt power-up, which is a homing missile. Replacing the triple koopa shell is the Bolt attack, which allows you to shoot up to three bolts. Then there are the usuals, such as shield and nitro. But there are also a few different pick-ups, such as Shock, which sends domes of electricity towards the front and if opponents drive through them, they will be left stunned. There is also the Barge attack, which is a proximity nudge attack that'll hit anyone immediately near you - very useful for the more aggressive players who bump. Lastly, a Repair pick-up does just that, and restores your car's health back to full. But even if your health drops to zero, your car will simply respawn, and you'll lose a few positions at worse.
Progression is done pretty much just like any other arcade racer, you acquire a variety of different points by achieving various accomplishments. You'll see a list of requirements called Demands from each group of events. The Demands are that of the group's champion, who, as you'd expect, is the racer you have to face at the very end. There are 9 groups of events to compete in, with event types not being limited to just races, but also Destruction, Checkpoint, and One-on-One. There is a lot to achieve in Blur, but the question is whether or not you'll want to achieve it all. With over 30 tracks to race on, and 55 cars to choose from, repetition doesn't set in until you're about 3/4 of the way in. Blur manages to keep the action gripping and exciting, with an A.I. that's pretty challenging and aggressive on the standard difficulty. I should mention that physics vary per car, but they are not at all realistic, as the gameplay mechanics are very heavily based on arcade emphasis. Though I will say that you will be encouraged to use different types of vehicles, all depending on the track and its terrain.
If you ask me, Blur is a better multiplayer game than a single-player game. First, the game automatically finds any of your PSN friends with a copy of Blur and compares their stats to yours with every event you complete in the career. But more importantly, Blur is one of the few games that boasts local four-player gameplay, requiring just one PS3 and four controllers. So if you enjoy inviting friends over to play some multiplayer games, Blur would be a fun way to spend that time, it's essentially Mario Kart with real cars. Now, if you hop online, you can participate with 19 others, totaling a collection of 20 gamers on one track causing all sorts of chaos. In the online gameplay there are a number of challenges and race types to enjoy, which should definitely provide the gamer with quite a bit of replay value.
What irks me is that Blur limits you to just a career or multiplayer modes, no time trials, quick race, or practice modes of any sort. Additionally, the car mods are rather pitiful and boring, acting only as a means of improving the pick-ups and that's it. So if you're looking for a customization aspect, you won't find it here. I also have to address that the A.I., while good, does exhibit some hair-pulling rubberbanding, which can seriously drive you insane when you're just a few short feet away from the finish. Rubberband A.I. should be banished from racing games, as far as I'm concerned.
Moving on to the visuals, Blur is a rather mixed bag in my eyes. The car models are very angular with sharp lines and edges everywhere. Activision calls them "photo-realistic", and I can do nothing but laugh at such a description. Photo-realistic these cars are not as their detail lacks in many ways. As I just stated, as opposed to looking smooth, the lines and edges are very sharp, giving the cars a rough and dated look, which is in contrast to how the rest of the game looks. The environments are nicely done and look pretty polished. The action moves along very briskly and the sense of speed is quite good, thanks to the games superb and locked framerate. Special effects are also decent looking. What I find odd is that the cars in the in-game demonstration videos look quite a bit better than the cars I'm racing with. Not that I'm saying they look ugly…it's just not up to the standard of what the developer is capable of, nor is it up to par with many other racers out there.
The sound feels a bit hollow here. You won't be blown away by the sound effects from the destruction, and in fact, unless you pay attention, you may not even notice them. Additionally, the soundtrack is pretty dull, featuring a largely forgettable assembly of trance-like beats. The cars do a good job of roaring through the speakers, but unlike Need for Speed or even Project Gotham, they don't roar completely accurate. Yes, there is a decent amount of variety in how the cars sound, but they don't quite sound exactly like their real-life counterparts. All in all, Blur definitely leaves a lot to be desired with its audio.
So with a seven month delay, is Blur a game worth getting for fans of this particular genre? Yes, but only if you're a huge fan. Blur is definitely a good game, and it can be an extremely enjoyable experience. On the other hand, there are times where you can't help but shake this feeling that says 'hey, this should've been priced a little lower' or 'hey, this could've been a downloadable game'. The A.I. can be absolutely unfair, the sound is lackluster, and the car detail could've been much cleaner. But, the multiplayer is great fun, as is the gameplay, and there's a decent amount of variety as far as cars and tracks. But what I haven't mentioned is Split/Second, Disney's newest racer. Without going into a full blown comparison, I will say that if you can only pick one, your money is better spent on Disney's game.
6/2/2010 Arnold Katayev