The folk over at Bizarre Creations have a very strong pedigree when it comes to racing games. Their first was released in 1996 and they didn't look back, bringing Metropolis Street Racer in 2001. From here, came Project Gotham Racing and a longstanding partnership with Microsoft. However, with that partnership now over and some new creative freedom under their belt, Bizarre set to work with their new publisher, Activision, on Blur.
Blur instantly sets itself apart from all of Bizarre's driving games, purely because of its focus towards arcade racing. While there are still elements of simulation racing present, the main focus is fast, furious action, which is complimented by numerous power-ups. The single player campaign introduces all of these concepts to players and it also offers a slightly different experience to the online arena.
There are nine different categories to choose from and each category has a rival racer. There are seven events in each category and there are four different types of event. The first is a straight-up race, the second involves destroying as many AI cars as possible, and the third is a checkpoint race. The final event in each category sees players square off one-on-one against the rival and this race can only be unlocked if certain objectives have been satisfied. This could be using a certain weapon x amount of times or attaining a certain finish in an event.
Depending on performance, lights are rewarded. These are used to unlock further categories and there are a maximum of 50 in each category. Each event has an additional two lights available for obtaining a certain amount of fans, and for completing a fan run. Acquiring fans is essentially how a player levels and this is also how new cars are unlocked. It's a slightly strange system really, because actually winning a race does very little in the grand scheme of unlocking anything other than more races. It makes sense for the online arena, where players just race, but offline, it seems odd that finishing 4th a few times (offering zero lights) will actually allow the player to get better cars than finishing 1st once. There's also no customisation available for the cars that are unlocked.
That being said, it's clear that Blur has been designed with online in mind from the start. It's possible to take part in races that have up to 20 racers and with the power-ups available, it can get pretty hectic. There is a good range of both defensive and offensive power-ups, but even the offensive on es can be used defensively. This is because the majority of power-ups have duel functionality. For example, mines can be either dropped, or fired forwards as a projectile. They can also be used, if placed at the correct time, to destroy incoming projectiles.
When there are 20 racers all using these power-ups consistently, it can get pretty crazy and this is also one of the drawbacks, as getting stuck in the middle of the pack can become extremely frustrating. Each successful hit with a projectile decreases a car's health and in a race with that many drivers, it's possible to become the target of multiple opponents. Add to this the fact that players can store up to three power-ups, and it's easy to see that life can deteriorate pretty quickly. This wouldn't necessarily be an issue, but players can only restore health by picking up the relevant power-up, and should they die, the penalty is rather harsh.
The adversity does make victories all the more sweet though, and since the action is so fierce in Blur, victory is to be savoured. It's just a shame that the architecture that operates the online space isn't the best. It can sometimes take far too long to actually get into a race due to the lobby system the game utilises. Instead of instantly getting thrust into a race that's about to start, players join a lobby full of players. That's nothing unordinary, except that the lobby might already have a race on-going and players have to wait until the race has finished to get some action. If they join when the race has just started, this means they could be waiting 3-5 minutes. It's quicker to cancel out and try to find a different lobby, but that isn't any kind of guarantee. It also means that despite there being an ample amount of players online, it's not uncommon to be taking part in a two-person race, which isn't overly fun. This system also means that despite the beginner area being for levels 1 through 10, if players go above 10, they don't get booted out.
There also seem to be numerous problems with the actual connectivity and the game offers very little leeway. The same also applies to when the game crashes, as no matter what position was held, it counts as a loss. It's extremely frustrating as the connection problems are the game's fault and so is the crashing, why should the player have their record tarnished if they were in a winning position with next to no track left in the race? Lag is also quite prevalent, which can make firing projectiles tricky and it can also cause some weird glitches with other cars. Sometimes players will cross the finish line with the game telling them they're in 3rd, only to find they actually finished 2nd. Other times, the game simply doesn't warn players that a projectile is incoming. When a game is clearly built with online in mind, it's disappointing that these problems exist.
Fortunately, there is suitable reason to continue playing. There are tons of levels to unlock, and as with the single player, obtaining fans via actions in races, allows them to level up and unlock new vehicles. They can also obtain more fans by completing various challenges, which are similar to the objectives that must be completed to face a rival racer in the single-player campaign. There are also various racing types to take part in, such as team racing, and there are four standards of cars to try out.
From the perspective of presentation, Blur isn't too bad. The cars look pretty decent, and while it's not the best, there is car damage implemented. It generally just represents the car's health though and gradually deteriorates the lower it gets - also generating some lovely sounds of metal scraping on the ground. The music is decent, but it's quite strange that there isn't more music featured during actual races. For a game that's as hi-octane as Blur, it's surprising that there isn't some music playing in the background to get the blood pumping.
Blur promotes a great blend between simulation and arcade racing and it makes for a hi-octane experience, especially when there are 20 cars in a single race. However, the online experience is severely hampered by the architecture and serious question marks should be raised about the single player experience - it really feels like it's just there for the sake of it. Overall, Blur is a competent experience and is great in short bursts, but it just doesn't feel like it offers enough.