Review: Blur

Traditional racers never truly impress me. I can appreciate raw speed, brilliantly designed tracks, and slick vehicles, but nothing really brings the “wow” factor for me. I simply coast through them and take the subtle variations in speed, control, and handling with a grain of salt. Another day, another racer. I find myself wishing I could instead fire up a rousing game of Mario Kart and take some scrub out with the dreaded blue shell. And you shouldn’t be fantasizing of another game when one’s already in your disc drive. Alas, the closest I could get to capturing the feeling I got when playing a “realistic” title short of simply running to Sega’s latest mascot offering was pulling off takedowns in Burnout. And Burnout Paradise just didn’t hit the sweet spot.

So you can imagine my excitement when my wish finally came true: a simple blend of the elements of both arcade and quirky kart racers with a focus on foiling your opponents’ progress. Even better, brought to you by the creators of Geometry Wars, Bizarre Creations. Now, since they’re also responsible for Project Gotham Racing, there was room for my eyes to roll. But, this one seemed…different. Thus, I kept my eyes peeled. I was right to do so.

Blur, a curious hybrid of realistic and arcade racing, combines the cut-throat “you-hit-me-I’ll-hit-you-back” sensibilities of Mario Kart and the slick, electric Kool-Aid color palette of games like Geometry Wars with the mundane world of racing. It’s based heavily on grabbing power-ups and gaining speed boosts to jet to the finish, and one might label it as the adult version of the kart racers we enjoyed as children (and still do!). Still, to toss it out as a mere competitor or retread of the roads mascot racers paved at their inception so many years ago is a travesty. There is much more here than meets the eye. Under the surface is one of the most engaging and exhilarating racing experiences I’ve had in a long time.

This, of course, is due mainly to the addition of power-ups. Sure, it’s been done before, but never to this perfectly-blended extent. Blur serves up eight different ways that you can screw over your competition, repair your vehicle, or give yourself a much-needed boost. Interestingly enough, most of these power-ups correspond to similar items in kart racers (again, referring Mario Kart here) and mirror their functions. Nitro packs a speed wallop to get you back in the lead. Shunts and Bolts act as flashier versions of red and green turtle shells, with Shocks channeling the devious nature of a blue turtle shell. Barges and Mines act as traps — banana peels, offensive attacks. Finally, Shield and Repair keep you from being damaged by other power-ups in the field and fix you up if you’ve taken a hit, respectively.

As you careen around hairpin turns and through lap markers, you’ll gain usage of these powerups simply by driving through them. It’s a race in itself to snap the one that you want up since other drivers have their eyes peeled as well, so it can be downright frustrating to add the power-ups you’re really looking to use to your arsenal. You can hold three at a time, cleverly displayed on the back of your chosen vehicle, and you’re able to choose between them in order to strategically deploy whichever you think will give you the greatest advantage. It’s a very simple system, to be sure, but one that works so, so well.

The game allows even newcomers to jump right into the action with detailed (and mandatory) first-time tutorial videos that explain the specifics. After viewing these short introductory clips, it’s simple to slide into the virtual driver’s seat and get going. I chose to first explore the single-player mode, which sounded immediately more appealing to me than the game’s multiplayer aspects — I’m a lone wolf, what can I say?

The solo adventure spans nine different stages chock full of various events and even a traditional gaming style “end boss” upon completion of the rest of the challenges. These events are set in several real-world locations: San Francisco, Barcelona, Brighton, you name it. The surreal nature of the game may throw you off, but it’s important to remember everything else is just as you would see in the less entertaining real world of racing! As you jet set across the world, you’ll be completing simple Races, Destruction challenges, and Checkpoint events.

Races are self-explanatory. Destruction peppers the tracks with Bolt power-ups and asks you to defeat waves of oncoming opponents, then rewards you with a time bonus. Checkpoint challenges are time trials with Speed Boosts and Timer icons floating around for the taking. As you progress you’ll earn XP, and are in turn rewarded with Lights. XP isn’t explicitly called such, taking instead the guise of Fans. Lights unlock new tracks and whatnot, and Fans are earned in an interesting manner. You’re rewarded with Fans when you initiate several different combos during races. It’s a way to encourage you to try new tactics rather than relying on spamming the same maneuvers or power-ups.

There are ways to further expand your racing experience as well. Driving through specific gates can initiate Fan Runs, where you’ll need to continue hitting gates in order to complete that challenge. Fan Demands will see you attempting to cater to your adoring underlings by performing certain prerequisites, such as pulling off several different shots within a time limit. They’re tricky, to be sure, but provide a new dimension to that of a simple race. Coupled with boss battles and the additon of the aforementioned power-ups, there’s a lot to enjoy here. And that’s just the single-player mode.

If you choose to venture into multiplayer territory, a whole new world opens up before you. Taking cues from the insanely popular Modern Warfare franchise that superbly handles an experience point system, it’s as if you’re unlocking a completely different part of the game. Aside from a multitude of multiplayer modes, the Mod Shop is, perhaps, the best reason to keep chugging through online matches. Much like the perk system seen in Call of Duty, you can unlock mods to customize the car of your choosing. Perhaps you might optimize the distance from which you can grab power-ups, or choose to install a shield that converts attacks into more power-ups. It’s addictive in the same sense that a Mario game is. You can’t help but want to see what the next level will bring, and for that this mode is brilliant.

Blur looks and feels fantastic, coupled with energetic tracks that keep you nodding your head through each neon-laden race, ready to kick some butt and take some names. It’s a vast improvement over the droves of racers out there that offer little more than bullet points on a press release: more cars, more licensed music, etc. For me, it brought the fun back to racing, the fun I thought was just about dead. It’s certainly a step in the right direction, and I can’t wait to see the next game to try and improve on what’s been laid out here with Blur.

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