Game Review: ‘Blur’ for XBox 360

XBox 360 (Also available on PlayStation 3 and PC)
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Bizarre Creations
$59.99
Score: 8.0

Growing up, we all loved Mario Kart. There was something about getting four friends together and surrounding a TV, playing split screen and systematically screwing over your best friend at the last second with a well timed red shell to capture first place. The series continued to shine as it moved from Super Nintendo all the way to the Wii but at the same time, it didn’t feel like that different of a game. Instead, it was more of a wash, rinse, repeat formula with updated graphics. And we all grew up along the way as well.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love the fat plumber who seems to be stuck in platonic-friend-land with Princess Peach even though he has saved her life a million times. But eventually, go carts don’t do it for me anymore. When I think of a racing game I could walk out of a store purchasing, it has real cars in it. I still want the insane chaos of blowing my friends off along the way though. Enter Blur.

Gameplay:

Blur is everything described above and then some in terms of gameplay. Instead of just mirroring what Mario Kart did well, Blur improves upon it. Instead of straight up races with weapons, Blur features multiple game modes. While it does feature the traditional combat racing, I’ll get back to that in a second. Also included are Checkpoint and Destruction modes.

Checkpoint is pure speed. Players need to cut corners perfectly, time speed boost power-ups to the millisecond and collect stopwatches to add more time as they try to not just finish a race within its time frame, but to have as much time left as possible on their leaderboard score. There is no true opponent in this mode as players are only racing against themselves. For people who love time trial modes, this is where they will find themselves most.

Destruction is the complete opposite where time and racing don’t really mean a thing. It’s all about accuracy and well… destruction. Players race behind a pack of ever repopulating vehicles that they must use power-ups to destroy. The more cars taken out, the higher the score and more time added to the clock.

The traditional races vary from 14 different locations of various cities like L.A. or Tokyo as well as the number of laps. Some are simple “turn left” scenarios while others are single lap hairpin turn courses down the side of a mountain. In addition to guided missile style Shunt attacks and simple three bullet Bolts, players can set Mines, rain down Shock lightning storms and hit a Barge pulse to repel nearby cars.

Gone from Blur is the age old concept of rubber banding. If you race a bad race, you don’t still catch up to the rest of the pack and squeak out a win. At the same time, if you race perfect and properly save your protective power-ups, you won’t have to worry about a last second screw job from a computer controlled driver. It finally feels like a arcade style racing game awards a player for driving smart. Added to Blur is the health system where vehicles must be repaired after taking hits or they will fall victim to slower speeds and be at risk of being blown up which halts them for a short time in the race before re-spawning.

Multiplayer puts the true insanity into the game as up to twenty players can race against each other. This often degrades from a fair race to an epic onslaught of power-ups within the first five seconds. Cars begin flipping over each other as the quickly reproducing power-ups are launched across the racetrack. This becomes especially exciting in the smaller and more contained tracks as players who are in first can quickly drop to last in a few well placed hits. This quickly becomes the game’s most entertaining feature as truly no two races every play out the same amongst the chaos.

Blur looks to build itself a strong online community like racers like Forza have done in the past. Though it doesn’t have the customization that Forza does, there are a plethora of competitive functions built in to the game. In addition to leaderboards, friends can issue each other specific race challenges to take on. They can also post their accomplishments on their Twitter, XBox Live or Facebook accounts.

Story and Presentation:

Though there is no formal story to the single player mode of Blur, the game presents itself in an interesting manner. Players see a string of challenges they must accomplish. In addition to earning Lights in races by either getting top three finishes, winning Checkpoints with a certain margin of time left on the clock or earning enough points in Destruction mode, players can earn additional lights through Fan and Checkpoint challenges.

In the Fan Challenge, players are awarded more fans for any excitement they bring to the race from destroying other cars to jumping up into the top three. Checkpoints start a series of gates a player must pass through in order to be awarded the accomplishment. Additionally, Fan Demands provide unique challenges to add to the current race such as ramming another car within the next five seconds or hitting a power slide and hitting a bolt shot at the same time.

All of these lights along with a few specific challenges lead to one on one races against specific drivers that, if won, will unlock new cars for the player. Gaining more fans increases the player’s level which also unlocks more vehicles. Some of these are better for speed while others are built for off-road tracks. These vehicles vary in aesthetic style as much as they do in racing style. From a Ford Bronco to a Dodge Viper to a VW Bug, the over fifty cars in Blur each provide unique experiences depending on the type of racer behind the wheel.

Graphics and Sound:

One thing that instantly stands out to anyone playing Blur is its astonishing visuals. All the cars represented bring their real life counterparts to the screen in stunning detail. As cars take damage, so do their bodies which can all miraculously be repaired mid-race with a magical Repair powerup. They all appear sleek and polished.

Power-ups, as seen in the screen shots keep the excitement going strong with their over-the-top explosive visual style. Big explosions, green speed lines and plenty of motion blur should be expected when sitting down for a race.

The locations of Blur are also well done as each has its own unique atmosphere to it so no who places feel the same. Along with different layouts, they are each visually distinct whether you are racing over a busy pier or through factories in the desert.

Overall:

It doesn’t matter that Blur is a new IP for Activision. It strangely brings with it a sense of nostalgia for the days of old when kart racers were the fad and everyone from Mario to Diddy Kong had their own take on it. Much like Street Fighter 4 has recently revitalized fighting games, so has Blur to racing. If our days battling it out with three friends with turtle shells were unforgettable, the time spent in Blur against 19 other racers from all over the world has the potential to be epic.

Sadly, Blur’s biggest weakness may be the time in which it has come out. In the age of XBox Live and the PlayStation Network, fewer and fewer gamers gather together in person to play group games. And as fun as it is to taunt over headset, it still doesn’t live up to knocking them off the couch after they nailed me with a turtle shell to win the race.

When looking at the core of Blur however, it is hard to fault it. The marketing for the game has proven that they know they are a cart racer, but they are one for the big kids. After being given the chance to play it, you will already begin hoping for more modes, more cars and more mayhem in the likely sequel in the series.

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