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Most people don't know what to make of Bizarre Creation's upcoming combat-racer Blur right now. An arcadey-looking driving game with weapons, from the people who made the excellent Project Gotham Racing series? 'Sacrilege!', cry some. 'Unbalanced clusterf*ck incoming!', cry others. But the truth is, both of those voices are dead wrong.
We've been lucky enough to spend the last three evenings hammering our way through Blur's multiplayer beta test, and right now we love it. The racing is great, the combat is great, and at no point has it ever felt like the dumbed-down, skilless mess many feared. It's like Mario Kart, but with brains and maturity. So much so in fact, that we could write a whole feature telling you why. And oh look, we have.
If you’re sick of having to do your combat-racing in goofy cartoon cars, futuristic hovercraft and Burnout’s ultra-arcadey imitations of real motors, Blur will be revs to your ears. Its unlockable line-up is made up of real-world cars covering the whole spectrum of motor-vehicular movement. So far we’ve seen everything from hatchbacks to sports cars to Range Rovers, and they all handle as you’d expect them to. As you’d expect them to, that is, within Blur’s arcade-tinged depiction of real-world driving, which we’ll explain next.
This statement is going to terrify life-long PGR fans, but it needn’t. The driving controls in Blur are lifted wholesale from Mario Kart. Accelerate, brake, powerslide. That’s all you can do and that’s all you need. But where in practice, Mario Kart only really has two inputs (who the hell ever uses the brakes?), Blur uses all three controls to much more satisfying effect.
Regardless of what you’ve heard, Blur doesn’t handle like PGR and it doesn’t handle like Burnout. The driving model is actually somewhere between the two, with certain cars being more demanding than others. You will have to use the brakes. You will have to use the apex to corner effectively. You will have to guage your pace so that you accelerate out of corners. If you try to hammer the powerslide at full speed you’ll spin out. In short, it’s a proper driving game, only with friendlier handling to facilitate all the argy-bargy, aggressive play and rapid recoveries you’ll be involved with thanks to the weapon system. Speaking of which…
Bar the side-swiping energy pulse of the Shunt, every weapon in Blur is inspired by one from Mario Kart. This is no bad thing though, as Nintendo covered all gameplay bases when it invented the combat-racing genre in 1992, and has honed the model to perfection.
Or rather it hasn’t, because while once a great series, latter Mario Karts have unbalanced things to become all about the shooting, nothing about the driving. Mercifully, Blur turns the dial back the other way, tweaking things into a much more intelligent set-up.
Essentially, very little of Blur's ordinance is unavoidable, and on the occasions it is, being hit doesn't disadvantage you anything like it does in MK. A quick rattle or swerve and then you’re right back in the race, as long as you respond with thoughtful driving. Visual and aural warnings pop up way in advance of impact when a weapon is tracking you, and even homing missiles can be slickly avoided with a little bit of controlled weaving. When you do, and when it hits the guy in front of you instead, you feel like king of the road.
Yes, there is a blue shell equivalent, in the shape of the blue lightning weapon, but it simply stakes a slalom of avoidable electricity shafts in the ground ahead of the pack. Once again smart driving wins the day.
Blur contains all of those moments you love about Mario Kart, but without all the stupid annoyances. The sweet victory of landing a long distance hit with the humble, unguided missile. The snarky joy of dropping a mine right in front of someone chasing you. The screams of “F*CKING RED SHELLS!” when two hit you instantaneously. The roaring euphoria as you trigger a last-minute turbo to cross the line inches ahead of an opponent. They’re all there, but crucially, thanks to Blur’s emphasis on driving over weapon spam, they never over-take the whole experience.
Every smashing you take feels fair. They happen because you either didn’t evade a weapon strike or because you weren’t paying attention to your driving when you did. And mercifully, recoveries, even from the full-on car destruction suffered when your damage meter maxes out, are clean, smooth and rapid. No spinning out three times in a row while the rest of the pack screams past you in the blink of an eye. In fact if you’re driving well you often won’t lose too much ground at all.
Mario Kart: Double Dash (we refuse to use the double exclamation marks in the title because the look stupid) played around with customisable weapon options on a basic level by allowing you to switch between two stored items at a time. Blur lets you carry three at a time, and unlike in MK:DD, all three are cleanly and clearly visible right on the back of your car. Switching between the three, dropping ones you don’t want, and chaining them together into tactical combos (for instance slowing someone with a homing missile, boosting up to them, then swiping them into a wall with Shunt) is a streamlined and elegant experience.
But Blur takes it a lot further by adopting a Modern Warfare-style levelling and upgrade system. As you progress and gain more XP (measured here in the number of fans you’ve accrued), you’ll unlock new cars and new perk set-ups. Initially you’ll unlock four sets of three perks relating to your weapons, defense and resilience, but as you level up you’ll gain more and more, and be able to customise your perk combos as your race environments and car choices require. You know the system. It’s Modern Warfare multiplayer.
But while we all moan about CoD being unbalanced when we get nailed by a nigh-invisible sniper with a gun made by God himself, so far we’ve found Blur’s augments to be just that. Augments, Subtle tweaks that compliment the race rather than dictating its outcome. And so far, it seems that that's what Blur is all about.