Platform: Xbox 360
System Link: 2-20 Players
Online Multiplayer: 2-20
Having had the chance to review Disney Interactive's racer Split/Second a couple of weeks ago, I was looking forward to my next arcade racing fix. Well I didn't have to wait long as Activision has released their first game produced by Bizarre Creations, who were once responsible for the Xbox exclusive Project Gotham Series. This game, simply titled Blur, races to the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC with a new wrinkle or two in the arcade racer genre. After having some time to dig into this newest racer I have to say that Blur does provide some fun, which is important in a racing game of this nature.
Visually, Blur is a nice-looking game. Car models are very solid and each car looks pretty much like its real life counterpart. You are able to easily distinguish the domestics from the imports and the tuners to the muscle cars. They move along at a speedy clip too, which I found pretty impressive. As for the tracks, they are based on real life locations such as San Francisco or Los Angeles. Although they are not meant to be exact recreations, there are areas that anyone who has been there will recognize. Each of the tracks is solidly designed and there are some really crazy ones for you to master. That being said, after playing Split/Second and then playing Blur I felt that the tracks seemed to lack some pizzazz or panache. I can't put my finger on it but that feeling, or lack of, wasn't there as I just wasn't wowed. In terms of special effects, there is some ample use of such. The power-ups are pretty impressive (e.g. particle effects and lighting) and the use of neon colours for both the power-ups themselves and the on track indicators where you pick them up were bright, colourful, and very noticeable. In terms of the technical aspects, Blur runs at a brisk pace with little to no clipping or collision issues detected. The draw in distance is also pretty good but this can also be attributed to track design. In the end the visuals get the job done, plain and simple.
The soundtrack found in Blur manages to suit the on-screen visuals; however it does seem to get somewhat repetitive as time goes by. I think that there could have been more tracks (editors note: music not race tracks silly) included in order to have the game's music stay fresh for those long play sessions. As for the sound effects, the various power-ups sound pretty good while the vehicles manage to have distinct sounds. Anyone playing on a surround sound system will be able to enjoy full surround sound effects as well. All in all the sound, like the visuals, gets the job done.
Although Blur is an arcade racer, it does not fit the traditional mould of such. Sure, you have a selection of real world cars, and you have tracks that are set in real world locations, but there is a twist to this racer: there are power-ups found in this game which adds a feeling of kart racing to the whole experience. Although you are definitely not driving any karts, as race cars from such makers as Ford, Audi, Lotus, BMW or Renault to name a few, you will be utilizing kart racing like power-ups to survive and succeed. It is an interesting mix and not something I have experienced before. Sure, Disney Interactive's Split/Second allowed you to destroy your rivals with the environment, by using Power Plays, but these were not power-ups. In Blur you will use power-ups such as missiles, homing bombs, lightning bolts, or land minds, something that only comes to mind when thinking about kart racers like Mario Kart or the recently released ModNation Racers.
Blur's single player experience is broken up into three different types of events: racing, checkpoint and destruction. There are a total of 63 events for you to work your way through along with nine different boss events for you conquer. Racing events involve you and up to 19 other drivers battling it out for track domination. During these races you will have access to the on-track power-ups that will enable you to take out your opponents. In checkpoint, opponents and power-ups are taken off the track and it is you against the course allowing you the opportunity to just race against clock. Finally, in destruction you are tasked to destroy as many opponents on track as you can before your allotted time is up.
During your races you will be able to perform tricks, make slick passes, and do anything else that doesn't seem simply race related, and by doing this you will gain fans. The more fans you earn the higher your offline level will go (maximum level 25). Along these same lines, you will find that you can complete secondary objectives in races should you desire. It is recommended that you do try to complete these objectives as you are rewarded with additional cars and some great modifications such as a laser targeting system or special boost abilities. These features, such as levelling up and gaining new mods for your cars, are very addictive and somewhat akin to that of another Activision series that encourages a similar aspect; that series is Call of Duty. You will be just addicted both offline and online in this aspect in an effort to get all the good stuff as you level up.
Although the three types of racing modes in single player can be fun, you are pretty much limited to these modes. In my humble opinion I think that there should have been more types included in the game to mix things up. Split/Second had a nice mix of six modes. To be honest, this was about right, as things would change up and give you a bit of a different experience more often than not. Here in Blur, you only have the three modes which can get a bit stale after an extended period of play.
The boss events that you face are pretty interesting, as they combine a certain set of requirements for you to complete in order to reach them. Although this sounds great in theory, it can be tough to get to these boss events. Some of the requirements can be easy, such as drifting for a set distance, but others can be pretty demanding, such as maintaining a specific speed on a track for a whole lap or knocking an opponent into the water with a specific power up. All in all you will find that your skills will be put to the test in order to get the chance to compete in a boss event.
As I mentioned a bit earlier, you have access to power-ups, and these are very reminiscent to those found in many well known kart racers. I have to admit that while racing in real world cars and locations, it felt strange to launch a volley of missiles or use turbo boosts that seem inspired from a kart racing game. Interestingly enough, you are not limited to one power up either. You have a series of power-ups that are found in a small menu-like system that follows your car. You can, for the lack of a better word, scroll through the available power-ups you have and use them when you see fit. I found that some of the power-ups could be used in a defensive fashion as well, such as a well timed push attack that can literally push away a missile as it is about hit you. All in all you will find a nice balance of what you can or cannot do with the available power-ups, and it is something that we pretty well developed in this game.
If there is any noticeable fault in Blur's computer AI, it is that they can be pretty darn difficult at times. I don't know if it is a rubberband AI set-up or if that they are that good, but man can they be brutal at the most inopportune times. Now I consider myself a pretty competent gamer who has played a lot of racers over my gaming career, so I know that I can hold my own. With Blur there were many instances where I was just barraged with enemy power-ups that took me from the front of the pack to the back of the back in what seemed to be a matter of seconds. It could prove to be very frustrating indeed.
Along with the single player experience, Blur also offers up a multiplayer experience, both local and online. In terms of local, you have the ability to play with a few friends in the comfort of your own gaming room. Split screen for racing games is always appreciated given you and friends can race each other in person for the right of bragging and celebrating in each others presence. Although enjoyable the reward/level up system found in the online mode is not available split screen.
The online multiplayer is where Blur really does shine. Either over Xbox LIVE or the PlayStation Network, there is some wildness to be had given you can race up to 19 other people on any included of tracks, with or without weapons. When you first head online you'll only have a limited number of race types to compete in, but as you get more time logged into the game you will level up and will open up the other modes. You also utilize the same reward and level up system that you'll find in the single player mode. Your online level goes up to 50 and you'll reach this magic number by winning races and pulling off some pretty radical moves as you compete. I enjoyed the chance to mix and match mods that I opened during my online time in my quest for the one special set up that powered me to victory. Of course you'll continue to unlock cars and modifications the more you play. The time I spend online was pretty enjoyable. The ability to play against so many other people in a racing game online was a treat, but it could also be chaotic. Given there could be up to 19 other people in the same track it could get pretty crazy. With power-ups going off all around and numerous racers vying for the best line into a corner you better be prepared to battle it out from start to finish. As for any lag, I was surprised to find little to none on Xbox LIVE as well as on the PlayStation Network. It seems as though Bizarre Creations knows a thing or two about programming for some online racing.
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