Review: Blur (PS3)

Title: Blur
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: May 25, 2010
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Original MSRP: $59.99

There’s no question that when Bizarre Creations’ arcade racer Blur was released it was at a time that included some rather stiff competition.  Going head-to-head against the underdog that was Split Second (Blackrock Studios) and the powerhouse that is ModNation Racers (San Diego Studio) it was a crap shoot as to which game would lead the pack and which would be left behind.

Each of the three titles had something unique to offer over the others and each were just as appealing as their competitor.  Having been diagnosed with “the sickness” it goes without question that all three eventually wound up on my videogame shelf.  Although I may have started with and completed Split Second before even considering ModNation Racers or Blur I am happy that my untreatable condition prompted me to invest in each one of these fun and exciting racers.

Gameplay:
Gaining and increasing your fan count is the name of the game and the basis by which both the single player career and the multiplayer events are established.  The more fans you have and the quicker you add to that number the better off you’ll be and the more fun you’ll have.  As you increase the number of fans you unlock new vehicles and make available the next set of career competitions.  How one gains fans is dependent on not only the success of the individual races but some of the included fan challenges and demands that pop up mid-race.

What makes this game unique from the likes of Split Second and ModNation Racers can be found in the variety of offensive and defensive power-ups:

  • Shock – Fires three lighting domes to the front of the pack, slowing cars that cannot avoid and drive right through them.
  • Shunt – A powerful homing missile that flips it’s targets into the air.
  • Barge – A close-range radial attack that forces nearby vehicles out of the way, into walls and each other.
  • Mine – Dropped behind your high-speed car it will cause pursuing vehicles to spin out of control.
  • Bolt – Shoot 3 (and sometimes more) energy rounds.
  • Nitro – Provides an intense, timed burst of speed.
  • Shield – Just as it states, it’ll protect you from all impacts for a limited amount of time.
  • Repair – An essential power-up to this crazy race for first place.

You’re allowed to pick up and carry 3 power-ups at a time that become available as the races progress.  These power-ups are prominently displayed on the rear of the vehicle you have chosen.  You also have the ability to rotate between these obtained power-ups and select that which will provide the most amount of strategy and help elevate you closer to first place.  Providing this level of flexibility to the  power-up substantially increases the level of depth this game has to offer.  Add to it the ability to change the direction you shoot these power-ups (in front and behind) and suddenly this Mario Kart clone has become the thinking man’s racer.

The career mode seems to be a bit of an afterthought to the more interesting and popular online modes.  It’s a twist on the racing-for-pink-slip mentality.  Each level is comprised of roughly 6 individual events leading up to the final showdown of a one-on-one race with that level’s rival.  You are required to not only complete these events in at least 3rd place but also satisfy your rivals “demands” of completing several other challenges.  Unfortunately, you’ll find yourself replaying many of the events to meet these demands; without them you’ll be denied access to facing off against your rival.  Aside from quite a bit of trial and error, the payoff can be quite nice in the form of your rival’s car – and all the statistics and unique powers that come with it.

Visuals:
There’s no question about it, Blur is a pretty game.  The silky smooth frame rate helps present the gamer with the sense of incredible speed.  The devastating effects of the power-ups deliver some interesting spectacles of destruction and chaos on the track.  A better real-time damage mechanic for both the vehicles and the environment would have been a nice addition but I realize that Bizarre Creations’ primary focus was in both the real life cars and their capabilities.

The variety in vehicles and the detail associated with each was quite impressive.  In addition, you have the option of adding your artistic touch to your vehicles of choice by putting them through a quick, and simplistic, change in color.  Selectable from a standard pallet of colors your options in appearance are fairly limited and seem unnecessary.

A better looking environment would have also been a nice touch.  The limited number of tracks available throughout the game include the same bland environments.  The building are incredibly flat and less than impressive.  Occasionally, Bizarre Creations added  flair of creativity in the form of a low flying airplane or spectators along the side of the road; beyond that, one track can be difficult to discern from the next.

Audio:
Although Bizarre Creations went the extra mile by including multiple Home Theater audio set-up options the end result just didn’t live up to my initial expectations.  Located within the menu options you are provided not only with the option of TV, Stereo or Surround Sound, but also the option to reposition the angle of your front and rear speakers.  Because I take great pride in my current surround set-up (Onkyo 7.1) I thought I’d really take some time with this feature.  Unfortunately the results were less than noticeable.  That’s not to say that the final surround sound wasn’t appreciated, it’s just that I would have expected greater results from that which was offered.

Even though the surround sound was solid from the start to the end of each race the overall variety of car and truck engine revs were nearly indistinguishable from one to the other.  A VW Bug sounded almost identical to that of a Ford Pick-Up.  This was unfortunate because the team at Bizarre Creations obviously made a concerted effort with the variety and performance in real life cars and trucks available – they simply gave up on how they all sound.

The sound also came up a bit short in the effects department.  I would have expected some of the individual power-ups to have more umph behind them.  The bolts, when fired, sounded tinny and non-threatening and I was hoping the Shunt would have put my sub-woofer to the test – it did not.  Even the crashes sounded relatively weak in comparison to the damage being inflicted on screen.  A minor detail in the grander scheme of things but one that was significantly noticed.

Online/Multiplayer:
As I mentioned earlier, Blur’s Online Multiplayer is really where the action is.  You have the choice between several race styles and, when filled to the 20 racer limit, the event can quickly become chaotic and intense.  Each race provides for a voting not only of the track but in the class – A, B, C, D – of cars that will be doing the racing.  In limiting your car’s class Bizarre Creations has leveled the playing field for just about everyone.  Although you might have attained a higher fan base and consequently a greater selection of class vehicles, you are still limited to the class of vehicle that was selected with the track.  It really does provide a nice opportunity for just about anyone to win.

Local split-screen is also available for multiplayer.  I spent several hours trying this out with my son and we both enjoyed it tremendously.  A point of interest – the local split-screen (top and bottom) does not include a much needed and oft-used rear view mirror.  For the life of me I cannot understand why this was left out.  If you’ve spent anytime with Blur you’ll understand that proper use of the rear view mirror is nearly as essential to your success as proper power-up management.  The mirror provides a quick glance behind to strategically drop a mine or disrupt a shunt that’s headed straight for you.  Although the local split-screen doesn’t provide this essential automotive component it does allow the player to switch to a behind view – like looking over your shoulder.  However, in a game like Blur, where the action is often frenetic, taking your eyes off the road, even for a quick change in camera view, can be detrimental to the outcome of the race.

Conclusion:
Blur may have had an uphill battle with the number of immediate competitors but Bizarre Creations made a solid and exciting racer.  The game is much deeper than I could have hoped for and the online multiplayer is still receiving a high level of traffic.  Although the single player career mode is entertaining it quickly grows dull and flat.  I realize that the long awaited (and much delayed) PlayStation exclusive Gran Turismo 5 is due out in the next few days (fingers crossed) but that shouldn’t deflect any interest in what Blur has to offer – a thoughtful and fast-paced arcade racer.  Pick it up on the cheap – you won’t regret it.

Score:
8.0

Written by Bill Braun

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  • Nice review, Bill.

    I was very disappointed with BLUR.  When I heard “Blur blends Mario Kart combat with HD graphics”, I was sold.  Maybe it was my high expectations given Bizarre Creation’s pedigree with PGR and The Club, but Blur seriously suffers from side-by-side comparisons with its far superior competition.

    Even though BURNOUT PARADISE (2008, Criterion) dramatically raised my expectations for current gen racers, I would have been satisfied with Blur as a decent change of pace had it been released in late ’08 or ’09.

    But by the time 2010 rolled around, when it had to run head-to-head against outstanding racers like SPLIT/SECOND (Black Rock), MODNATION RACERS (United Front), and especially NFS: HOT PURSUIT (Criterion), Blur just could not keep up.

    I read a lot of magazine and website reviews of both Blur and Split/Second that gave them similar scores.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Perhaps it depends on the experience you want.  But Split/Second is an outstanding experience and was sadly one of the most overlooked games of 2010.  Blur was just an “also ran”.  Even when it comes to multiplayer car combat against friends, an area you’d think Blur should excel, Split/Second was still a much more unique and entertaining experience.

    That said, I was very sad to hear that Activision shuddered Bizarre Creations.  They were a good developer and deserved better from the evil empire.  I was even more disappointed to hear that Disney did the same to Black Rock.  I’d love to see more from both studios and franchises.