Will this modern, kart-style racer bring the crowd back?

Blur past the opposition!

Blur is the latest racing game from Bizarre Creations, the makers of Project Gotham Racing and Geometry Wars. Unlike most of the other racers on the Xbox 360 & PlayStation 3, Blur ditches the realm of simulation in favour of over-the-top weapons, loose physics and multiplayer fun. It may all sound a little bit like Mario Kart so far, but Blur’s unique twist is that all of the chaos takes place in licensed cars and in real-world locations. We have recently had access to the online multiplayer beta to get a first-look at how the game is shaping up.

There are 4 circuits in the online multiplayer beta, including Barcelona Gracia, Tokyo Shutoko, Amboy and Long Beach Docks, though the layout of each one isn’t really significantly different from the next. Most of the tracks are extremely wide and with long sweeping corners, so there is very little need to get drawn into the technicalities of when to brake and which lines to take. Of course, Blur isn’t meant to be a simulation, but some more intricacies in the circuits would have helped to make the game more enjoyable. The long wide straights certainly help when it comes to dodging weapons used by other players, but if you are out in front on your own, it can be very tedious.

A garage full of licensed cars

The 14 cars in the Blur beta are classed from A-D and each race is specific to a certain class of car. Some of the classes feel unbalanced, with the default cars being much slower than those that are unlockable by levelling up online. Hopefully Bizarre Creations will learn this from the beta stats and change the default cars in the final product. Unlike previous games from this developer, there are a lot of customisation options available. Custom paint schemes can be chosen with unlockable special options, such as metallic and pearlescent colours, but you can’t indulge in completely customisable liveries in the same way you can in Forza Motorsport 3. The best part of the customisation in Blur is the use of “mods,” the racing equivalent of Call of Duty’s “perk” system. They range from getting extra XP at the end of each race, to increasing the range of certain weapons. You can use up to 4 mods at a time and can choose from pre-arranged sets of 4, such as “all-rounder,” or create your own set from scratch. While the idea of mods might not be wholly original, it has been applied to the racing genre in a really interesting way. However, not all of the mods’ effects are always noticeable enough and it would be great to see them made more impactful before the final release.

Mario Kart meets Call of Duty

Once you are competing in a race the handling is very much that of an arcade game and in a weapon-based racer it’s definitely well-suited. Drifting around corners and powering down straights is definitely the way to succeed in Blur. The weapons are well designed and balanced, though none of them are completely original. The Mario Kart & WipeOut archetypes are all there. Blur’s banana peel is a mine and its red shell is the “shunt” weapon. You’ll also find equivalents of blue shells and green shells, with a shield and nitro boost thrown in for good measure. Weapon pick-ups are laid out on the tracks in the traditional Mario Kart style too, spread across the width of the circuit. However, in Blur, you can see clear icons displaying which collectable is placed where and they are in the same place every lap. In many ways the appeal of Blur is simply that its Mario Kart combined with Call of Duty’s XP system. This combination is certainly no bad thing and could prove to be very successful at attracting FPS fans back to racing games.

The graphics in Blur do a good job of matching the real-world locations, such as Barcelona and Tokyo, and creating a real sense of place. This has been a great strength of Bizarre’s work going back to the PGR games. Unfortunately the sense of speed isn’t fantastic and the car models don’t come close to matching the quality of some of the simulation racers released in the last year.

There is still work to be done

The biggest issue in the beta is that the 20 player races seem to play out in only two different ways. In some cases entire races can be spent being knocked around by other drivers in the middle and back of the pack. However, avoid the chaos at the start and you can find yourself miles in front after 2 corners and facing a very tedious few laps of lonely racing. Once you have a gap to the rest of the pack the weapons are useless and the game defaults to being a sub-par arcade racing experience. If you are caught up in the madness of the main pack it’s very easily to be repeatedly “wrecked” by weapons fired from those at the back of the pack and the punishment for this is a very slow respawn. Even if you are at the head of the midfield pack it can seem impossible to catch the leader, as chances are that they just happened to be the one that avoided the first corner melee, giving them an unassailable lead.

When the races work as they are supposed to, without one person running off in the lead, Blur is great fun. But when the pack gets stretched the game’s unique hook of weapon-based racing falls completely flat and it becomes no different to any other arcade racer. If Bizarre Creations can find a way to encourage closer racing and include a greater variety of tracks in the final product then Blur could well be the modern, kart-style racer that brings the Modern Warfare crowd back to racing games.