Blurring The Lines

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Blur Mixes Combat, Racing and Realism

Bizarre Creations was responsible for the excellent Project Gotham Racing series on the Xbox and Xbox 360. It was a racing title that set a fine line between arcade and simulation, but made a name of itself for its Kudos scoring system. Rewarding drivers for aggressive and stylish driving while punishing for reckless moves, it ended up being one of my favorite series of racing titles.

But that was the old Bizarre, when they were a Microsoft second party. Now they are acquired by Activision/Blizzard, and instead of making a new multiplatform version of PGR, their first title is Blur, an arcade style combat racer designed to compete against Disney’s excellent Split/Second. But where Disney and Blackrock use timed environmental attacks as their weapons, Blur’s combat is more akin to a mature themed kart racer.

Mature themes come not from offensive material and excessive violence, but rather that the kiddie karts of other games are replaced by real life cars. Chevy, Ford, Audi, Toyota, Lotus, Volkswagen, even Land Rover are all present. Sure the cars may have grown up, but so have the weapons.

Instead of the deadly red turtle shell found in Mario Kart, we now have the Shunt missile that sends cars flying. Mines are the new banana peels. Bolts replace the straight shooting green turtle shells, Barges emit a short range area effect, shocks emit lighting traps ahead of the entire race pack, and shields do what they should, protect from all attacks.

The single player mode of Blur centers on a tiered system consisting of several races that end with a one on one race with a premiere driver. The goal of each race is to score as many lights available. While a majority of lights can be earned by finishing first, there are also special requirements that must be achieved to earn the final race light.

To earn these special lights, a scoring system called fans is used. Similar to the Kudos system in PGR, doing specific actions earn you fans, and these actions can be chained to earn higher combo bonuses. Each race has a required number of fans that must be earned to be awarded the fan bonus light.

Extra opportunities to win fans come in Fan Demands and Fan Runs. Demands are task based, such as doing a drift bolt attack, or doing a clean nitro run without crashing. Fan Runs trigger a series of eight gates that need to be run in order.

There are also checkpoint based race runs against the clock, as well as destruction races that add seconds for every car that is destroyed for points. Admittedly these options are pretty small but the heart of Blur comes in racing.

But when playing in single player mode, the problem comes in the game’s difficulty. The AI is brutal. They will not cut you any slack and will do anything to beat you, even pinning you against a corner with multiple shunt attacks. Checkpoint races are also very stingy with the amount of time to complete. And let’s not even get started with the One-on-One races. It takes a lot of patience and stress control to get through those without having to drop the difficulty down.

However, where the single player mode fails, Blur’s strength comes in the excellent multiplayer mode. A 50 level rank system allows tons of upgrades, be it new cars, new paint schemes, and even new offensive and defensive perks to customize your racer.

Races can have up to 20 players at once (up to 10 in the lower level modes) but they never become overwhelming like they do in shooters. But speaking of shooters, Blur features a huge challenge system that can rival even Call of Duty. From something simple like successfully executing a set number of shunts all the way up to visiting every world location, there are plenty of ways to earn fans and level up.

Usually I don’t like playing multiplayer games, but Blur is one of the rare exceptions where I’d rather play online against others, even with dealing with the pottymouths on Xbox Live.

Blur is a very flashy game that runs fast. Granted the visuals aren’t as striking as they are in Split/Second, but they still get your attention when you’re not trying to evade that erratic shunt.

The same can be said for the sound. You don’t really pay attention to it much but what you do hear is quite good. The soundtrack is turned off by default, which might be fine for those who don’t want to hear generic rock and alternative tunes. I have it on, but there have been times that I switched it off and turned on my iTunes in the background.

Blur is definitely a kart game grown up, and as an online game it succeeds completely. Now if only the single player game was as enjoyable then maybe it would earn a rating that makes it equal to Split/Second. However that is not the case, and Blur only gets 4 Gems out of 5. But the deep online gameplay helps boost the replay value significantly.

PROS: The multiplayer games are fun. Races of up to 20 players. Deep rank progression with tons of items to unlock.

CONS: Single player is very disappointing. AI is relentless.

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