Blur Review

There is no shortage of car racing games on the PC; needless to say there is a high expectation for any new car racing game coming onto the market. It’s also fair to say that the genre can struggle for innovation. Blur is an arcade style racing game with weapons that has recently been released on the PC. It is designed by the same company that brought us Project Gotham Racing so will it live up to the lofty expectations?

The game opens with a short intro of several cars racing under what looks like the Golden Gate Bridge. Immediately you’ll notice that the game is not using fictional cars. Audi, Nissan and Ford are just some of the big names that appear in the game. Excitement builds when you realise that not only can you race ‘real world’ cars but you can pack them full of powerful, futuristic weapons. The scene is set to the dramatic score from ‘The Good, The Bad And The Ugly’ or many may recognise as part of Metallica’s ‘S&M;’ album. It looks and sounds too good to be true.

Blur Review”….that’ll learn ya!”

The objective in Blur’s ‘career mode’ is simple. Get to the top. Along the way you’ll receive help in the form of some great tutorial videos, with an excellent voice over, that clearly explains what you need to do. This is a welcome feature considering it may be a little confusing to some what the hell all the ‘fan points’ and ‘lights’ are that you can collect. During each race there are numerous tasks to complete. They include, winning (obviously), gaining ‘fans’ and ‘lights’, sections of checkpoint racing and levels where your objective is to shoot drone cars in front of you. Not to mention the nineteen opponents you’ll be trading paint with. So there are plenty of goals to keep in mind whilst racing.

‘Fan’ points are rewarded for completing both standard moves, like a nice drift, a cool jump or obtaining ‘pure high speed’, to slightly trickier manoeuvres, like ‘revenge attacks’, ‘three hits in a row’ and combos (which give you even more ‘fans’). These ‘fans’ are important as they help you to unlock new cars. The ‘lights’ can be collected by finishing in a podium position and completing other in-race challenges. In turn, these ‘lights’ will unlock the ‘one on one’ (boss) battles at the end of each tier, the reward being possession of their car (in your showroom) and a custom mod. There are nine tiers to race in and therefore nine rival champs to beat.

There are a variety of weapons to obtain whilst racing and if you continuely use them to good effect you’ll greatly increase your chances of victory. The weapons as a whole are well balanced and consist of Shunt (a homing device), Nitro, Mine, Bolt (laser shooting capability), Shield, Repair, Shock (three ‘lightning’ strikes at the leader) and Barge (a charge around your car, that sends others close range vehicles flying). Luckily you have the ability to also fire backwards with the help of you rear view mirror (or the external rear camera by holding ‘tab’), so it’s not all about keeping your eyes ahead. You need to keep a look out for pesky rivals and their incoming weapons. Although the weapons look flashy they’re essentially not much different from those featured in games such as Mario Kart; in fact the majority of the gameplay feels very much like Mario Kart, which is not really such a bad thing.

Blur ReviewLooks a bit Blur-ry.

Some of the backwards deployed weapons can counter-act your opponent’s attacks, such as a the Mine (that destroys incoming missiles) and the Shield and Barge (which can block various other weapons), or give you other pivotal abilities like the Nitro (that activates an air-brake for tighter turns). Initially you’ll just grab any weapon you can get your hands on, but the more you play the more you’ll realise there is actually some strategic depth involved with the power-ups. So weapons become quite a crucial element of play (along with some decent driving), and clever use of them will bring you rewards.

Another nice feature about the weapons system is that you can hold three at any one time, allowing you to stockpile weapons until the time is right to ‘unleash the fury’. It’s a good idea to keep a Repair or Shield in one of the weapon slots for when your car is about to ‘pack it in’. Weapons can also be upgraded with mods (one per race), which gives them an additional feature or more strength.

There are quite few different track types provided in Blur, and although the tracks themselves are fictional they’re set in real world locations like Barcelona, Tokyo and Los Angeles. The designs of the track layouts are pretty good, but visually they seem to be a little bland. Some of the city levels look remarkably like those from FlatOut 2 and it would have been nice to see some more destructible environments. There is however a good variety of tracks that suit different vehicles, and occasionally they’ll reveal a little short cut that usually yields a much needed power-up.

Blur also has a fair amount of ‘real world’ cars to unlock (over fifty) and there is a good mix of makes and models. You’ll be able to race standard road cars like the Ford Focus through to sports vehicles like the Chevy Camaro or the Nissan 350Z. There are off-road vehicles such as the Land Rover and Nissan Navara Ute and even some classics like (a ‘hotted up’) VW Beetle. Be sure to check out the Ford F-100 (or more importantly what’s under the bonnet). There’s sure to be something to your liking.

Blur ReviewDon’t worry if you fall behind, a ‘power-up’ can soon fix that.

Naturally, each car has slight variations in handling, grip and acceleration, and choosing the right vehicle for a particular track might just give you a slight advantage. Cars do get damaged, which is great, as most car companies shy away from their products being shown ‘beaten up’. This damage will affect your top speed and handling dramatically (collecting a Repair power up will fix it instantly). It was quite amusing to see our Ford Focus blow out its tires and try to complete the race on its rims (although strangely the car just stopped, didn’t reset and we were unable to finish the race).

The car physics are not bad in their realism, but one must remember that Blur is an arcade game and not a simulator. It would have been nice to have had a little more attention to detail in this area though. The Camaro has a real ‘jelly’ steering feel to it and at top speeds a lot of the cars (initially) feel stiff and a little unresponsive. The AI of your competitors is quite good and gets rather challenging later on in the game. The car re-spawning can be annoying though; if you end up facing the wrong direction you’ll be re-set and won’t be given the chance to do a quick burnout to turn and get going again. It would have been better to restrict the re-spawn sequence to when the car is completely ‘wrecked’ or when you’re well off course.

Blur features nice glossy menus that are pleasant to read and convey the right amount of detail to the user. The game makes heavy use of bright neon glowing lights that helps to highlight the game’s arcade style play. It contains good-looking car models with some excellent driver animations; they’re a bit on the cartoony side but still seems to suit the game well. You can even see the drivers furiously work the wheel and turning their heads looking out for the opposition. As the weapons are the strong point in gameplay they are also the key graphical element. The effects of the weapons look great, the particle effects, blurring (it has to live up to its name) and distortion make a ‘direct hit’ all the more satisfying. The turbo power up will cause a warp speed blurring effect, which works really well, as does the water effects that leaves droplets splashing up on screen.

Blur ReviewLook out, here comes trouble.

The game has two main views, third person or front bumper, along with the already mentioned rear camera view. A very handy and well implemented wide rear view mirror is always present at the top of the screen and helps you keep tabs on your enemies and when it’s suitable to drop them a ‘friendly’ mine; it’s a very good feature. Blur also contains some nice cut scenes between races and it’s excellent how the loading screen merges into the race itself. The game runs smoothly with no detectable frame rate issues (we were using an Intel Quad Core i5 with a 1GB Radeon 5770). And when reloading a saved game you’re shown upcoming unlocks, what you’ve previously just unlocked and the percentage of the game completed, which is nice to refresh your memory.

Control wise, Blur has no customisation of keys, which is a bit of an oversight (we wrongly kept hitting a certain key to accelerate that is commonly used in other racing games). You do have the option to use a controller though; however, there is no steering wheel support. Racing itself can get frustrating at times, you can go from the lead to the back of the pack rather abruptly, and it can also feel a touch repetitive.

As far as the sound component of Blur is concerned all areas do quite a reasonable job of enhancing play. There is a licensed soundtrack that focuses on electronic/drum and bass/dance styles from lower profile artists, mainly from the US and UK. There are glimpses of rap, indie pop, jazz pop and hip hop thrown in as well. The Qemists feature heavily, with five tracks, and more well-known bands such as Coldcut and The Crystal Method are present. Generally, the music does a good job of setting the scene and getting you ‘fired up’. As far as the sound effects go the engine noises are ok, maybe lacking a little ‘punch’. The collision sounds are well done with lots of crushing of metal. Unfortunately, a couple of the weapons sound lacklustre, noticeably some poor laser noises, and the skidding of your tyres could have been better as well.

Blur Review4-player local split-screen. Yeah!

There is plenty to unlock in Blur, as you are always striving to increase your fans, lights and complete other tasks that all helps your progression. It’s great to see that inclusion of a four player split screen mode. It’s a rarity these days for the PC and we’re glad that the developers made the effort, even if it is scaled back; it drops the all awards and noticeably removes the rear vision mirror, but it’s still a blast with a few friends.

Online play is a separate game in itself, in that you do not use your single player profile. You have to start from scratch with the basics and must gradually unlock cars and open up the game as you go. Racing against humans is always better than racing bots, and Blur is no different here. It can be hectic with twenty racers going full pelt. There are also teams modes and a battle mode (score the most wrecks) as well as further options to customise race settings (choosing specific weapons, cars, etc), which are valuable features that add variety to play. Blur also contains the novel ‘Friend Challenges’, where you’re able to send an accomplishment from your single player game onto a mate to better. If they manage to beat it, they can then send it back to you. You even have the option to post your results on Facebook (and in-game photos) and Twitter.