The realistic visuals and accurately modeled cars may lead you to believe that Blur is an action racing game in the Burnout mould, but this title from Bizarre Creations actually has more in common with Nintendo's iconic Mario Kart series.
I was a bit of a latecomer to the Mario Kart series, having skipped the original Super Nintendo release, but I played the N64 version with friends and family for what must have amounted to hundreds of hours. The venerable franchise is, without a doubt, the preeminent cart-racing entity, and over the years many companies have attempted to duplicate Nintendo’s success with middling results.
None of these copycat games managed to capture the magic and fun of the original, but of the ones I’ve played so far, Blur, created by Bizarre Creations (the racing veterens behind the Project Gotham Racing series), has come the closest. It offers a more realistic visual style as well as well-balanced vehicle combat and an online multiplayer system that’s strangely analogous to the experience offered by Modern Warfare.
It might not steal the “powered-up racing” throne from Mario Kart, but Blur’s considerable multiplayer potential makes it an entertaining title that offers its own brand of competitive racing.
Blur relies heavily on Mario Kart-style power-ups to fuel its racing. Five unique weapons, a shield, a repair tool, and a nitro boost pickup are placed at specific spots along the race tracks; all you have to do is drive over the appropriate icon. What makes these items interesting is their flexibility; most power-ups can be used both offensively and defensively.
The bolt weapon — which looks and sounds oddly like needler shots from Halo — can be thrown ahead to damage opponents, but they can also be fired backwards to block incoming flak from enemies. Unleashing a nitro boost will shoot your car forward unless you hold back on the left stick; this modifies the boost to allow your car to slingshot around tight curves with ease.
You’re also given three inventory slots which add a nice layer of strategy to the races; a simple button press quickly switches the active power-up, so players can prepare to go on the offensive or defensive at a moment’s notice by collecting a variety of power-ups and managing them properly. Power-ups can be enhanced with mods, which are vehicle enhancements similar to Modern Warfare 2’s perk system.
One mod makes it so that your shield absorbs enemy fire and heals you, another makes it easier to dodge shunts, and yet another allows the player to start a race with a random power-up. Picking good mod combinations and managing weapon pickups intelligently is essential to success in Blur; your driving skills may be superior to your opponents’, but if you can't effectively use the tools at your disposal, you'll more likely lose than win.
All of these aspects provide a fast and exciting racing experience that’s held together nicely by the game’s two modes. The single player career mode is split into segments, each of which ends in a race against a rival driver. With each rival come six challenges: a combination of race, checkpoint, and destruction events. In each of these events, up to seven “lights” can be earned.
Five, four, or three lights are awarded to the player for placing in first, second, or third place, respectively, with another light up for grabs if you deal enough damage to other cars and race well to earn a target number of fans. There’s also one final light which can be picked up by successfully completing “fan runs,” which require you to race through a small number of glowing gates that are present in each track. The standard race events are a blast, but the checkpoint and destruction modes get old quickly due to their shallow, repetitive nature and unbalanced prevalence in comparison to the normal race mode.
The single player mode’s saving grace is the surprising level of depth that can be uncovered in every race. This is due largely in part to a number of in-race goals called fan demands. As you and 19 other cars blaze around a track, you’ll occasionally spot little orange icons which can be picked up by running them over. A small challenge like “hit an enemy with a backward shunt shot” or “speed up to 175 mph” will appear at the top of the screen, and the game will fill one of your power-up slots with the tools necessary to pull of the challenge successfully in the given amount of time.
Also present are rival demands, which work like fan demands but can be completed over the course of several races and are usually more difficult—using the barge power-up on five cars, for instance. Combine the fan demands, fan runs, fan target, and omnipresent rival demands, and Blur becomes a racing game in which there are numerous goals aside from simply coming in first, an interesting concept that I don’t believe other racing games have explored to nearly this degree.
The multiplayer mode, which wisely mimics Call of Duty’s online structure, is the real reason a large number of fans will buy Blur. In it, players will increase rank by earning fans to unlock new cars, mods, and even online playlists with new game modes. Extra fans can be picked up by completing challenges, which work similarly to the rival demands from the career mode. There are so many ways to level up some stat or another while racing online that you’re likely to get some type of reward after every race, a great feature that fans of the MW games know can hook a player.
I also want to mention the game's soundtrack; it features a nice, unobtrusive blend of piano-heavy electronica and house music, but the standout talent on the audio front is Nika Futterman, the game's narrator. Futterman's voice crackles with an electricity that suits Blur's neon-lit theme perfectly, giving the game's occasional pre-race tutorial videos a much needed dose of personality. Futterman also welcomes players back to the game whenever they boot it up, giving a decidedly television-style rundown of progression milestones that were hit the last time the game was played. It’s small, flashy elements of the overall presentation package like this that give Blur a unique feel without becoming a nuisance.
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