Although ostensibly a racing game, what Bizarre Creation’s Blur is really all about is careful strategy and cool-headed multi-tasking. In trying to gel the seriousness of a real-world car sim with the haphazard flippancy of a kart racer, Bizarre have hit upon something that against all manner of odds feels entirely unique. Unlike even the finest kart racers, victory is never anything other than hard won, and the level of concentration and deliberation that you’ll need to display in order to succeed means that Blur feels more like an RTS than a racing game. It’s hard not to resort to the worst kind of cliched analogy, but there is no more appropriate way to describe it; because of the way that it takes the simple pleasures of a standard genre title and amplifies them to near-deafening levels of engagement and reward, it feels like nothing less than a classic racing game. On steroids.
Like Black Rock’s recent (excellent) Split Second: Velocity, Blur feels the need to shoehorn a pointless and brazenly idiotic plot into its anatomy, but (pleasingly) it is of even less importance here. A similar emphasis has been placed on the accumulation of fans, and this has as much to do with skillful driving as it has with crafting compelling action set pieces on the track. Although you can unlock a great deal of the game’s content this way, you’ll also need to pay close attention to each tier’s ‘Owner Demands’. Each level set is hosted by an owner who makes specific demands of you, and these can involve achieving speedy lap times or decimating a specific number of your opposition with a particular weapon. Although you can progress through the majority of the game without doing this, the one-on-one battles that occur when you do are thrilling without exception, and each victory will unlock the defeated owner’s vehicle.
The weapons are immediately familiar, but because of the way that almost all of them can be used defensively as well as offensively (and aren’t given to you at random) you won’t start winning races until you form an impromptu battle plan and use them strategically as part of your arsenal. Because the AI is so thoroughly oppressive and unpredictable there are going to be stretches when you’ll have to do nothing but defend yourself. These periods don’t exclusively emerge during desperate final laps either, so making weapon-based decisions is never as simple as holding back and expecting to hammer your way through to first place in the dying moments of a race. You’re constantly weighing up your options, deciphering and trying to second guess the behaviour of your opponents, and at every turn viewing each bout as both an observer and a participant.
You’ve also got to keep at least one eye on your car’s rear view mirror, which rather than being an easily neglected button press away, takes up a small but ever-present space at the top of your screen. Using your shield and other weapons defensively is something you’ll need to get to grips with pretty quickly (as attacks tend to come in bunches) and although it is difficult to master, as a last resort you are also capable of swerving at the opportune moment to avoid homing shunts. Customisation options are limited, and are restricted to paint-jobs and minor weapon upgrades, but if a specific car isn’t working for you (or isn’t appropriate for the track you’re racing on) you can re-choose another instantly after failing, rather than having to traipse back to a main menu. Difficulty settings can also be altered with a bare minimum of fuss.
As with Split Second: Velocity, things are perpetually freshened-up by a handful of other events. ‘Checkpoint’ is an Outrun-style arcade race that pits you solely against a ticking clock, and ‘Destruction’ places you under similar duress, with every opponent acting as both an amiable sitting duck and the key to prolonging the duration of the event. Constant Achievement/Trophy updates keep everyone abreast of the game’s enjoyable secondary challenges, and the experience has been expertly tailored to encourage healthy competition between friends. Each pre-race menu features the hi-scores of everyone on your friends list, and ‘Friend Challenges’ – which can be set by you at every turn and sent to anyone – are an absolutely ingenious addition, and frankly every racing game from now on needs to implement them.
Blur represents a pretty astonishing balancing act that should really never have worked. It has everything that you’d expect it to have; great weapons, fiendish AI, devious short cuts, great multiplayer options…. But just how shrewdly it blends its two core influences into something that is arguably better than either, makes it stand out as a dark horse contender for inclusion in the more discerning gamer’s ‘Best Of 2010’ top ten list come December. Blur is big, clever and rich, and deserves to be a slow-burning word-of-mouth smash.
Watch the Blur trailer here…