It’s an awesome time to be a racing fan. With ModNation Racers, Split/Second, and Blur all hitting within a matter of weeks from each other, there’s no shortage of racing fun to be had. While S/S focuses on environmental destruction, both ModNation Racers and Blur manage to put new spins on kart racing - the former with its customization, and the latter with its use of real-world environments and vehicles alongside power-up-based gameplay.
The biggest difference between Blur and your typical kart racer, aside from the real-world stuff, is that it requires you to not only use power-ups, but also time them perfectly and learn the tracks to progress. What Bizarre has done is use kart racing as a base, but expand upon it to give the game more robust gameplay. You can hold up to three power-ups at once, ranging from the usual missiles and mines to boosters, drop one if you’d like, or switch between them at will. To me, this made the biggest difference in gameplay compared your usual kart racers. Instead of being stuck with a weapon you don’t want and having to discharge it, being able to drop one and replace it with something else is a huge plus.
This setup also allows you to stack your power-ups, so if you need to catch up quickly and happen upon a few boos power-ups, you can simply use one boost after another and do so. I also loved that some weapons could be fired either forwards or backwards - including devastating ones like the lightning shock that puts large electrified domes on the track. This weapon doesn’t make much sense to use in front of you since you have to avoid it yourself, but being able to throw it behind you makes it a deadly weapon when you’re in first and need to do whatever it takes to stay there. You can also enhance the power-ups by winning in one-on-one races - another seemingly small innovation that makes a huge difference in how the game is played. The power-up icons are all color-coded with distinctive colors and signs on them to show you what they do, however, that does add to the learning curve of the game as it takes time to figure out which icons do what. Fortunately, it becomes second nature after a few hours.
Blur’s single player mode is limited to its career mode, which is kind of unfortunate. There aren’t any quick races available if you want to just put the game in for a few minutes and have fun, although you can quickly access the career mode and get into a race, it’s not quite the same thing and does take up more time. Career mode revolves around sets of levels spread across a variety of racing types to enjoy, including traditional races, demolition stages that turn Blur into a car combat game ala Twisted Metal, a destruction mode where you’ve got a strict time limit to destroy a certain amount of cars. No matter what kind of modes you endure, each set of levels culminates with a one-on-one boss race at the end.
There’s usually a theme for levels centered around the boss’s racing style - an aggressive boss who loves to use power-ups will have a stage that will test your defensive mettle as everyone gets power-up hungry and sets them off constantly. While another may be a crowd pleaser and have requirements that aren’t based around aggression, but meeting the many mid-race fan challenges to gain imaginary fans and unlock more cars when you reach a certain point. The challenges can range from hitting a certain number of reverse attacks with a given weapon to reaching a certain speed, but the most common involves racing through a series of gates. The gates are part of the challenges with good reason because you’ll have to go off the beaten path sometimes and miss power-ups to beat them.
Blur shines brightly as a multi-player game as well. Like the classic Mario Karts, I think people will love the single player, but multi-player is what will keep them coming back for years to come. Local multi-player is well-executed, although when four players are involved, things can get a bit too crazy for their own good. Online play is about as good as one could hope. There are set tiers in place for newcomers to learn the ropes without frustration, as well as areas for more experienced players to play in. Every race I competed in was lag-free, and I liked how Blur allows everyone in a party to vote on the next race locale. It’s a nice way to give guests some power and not just giving it all to the hosts. On or offline, Blur controls like a dream, with a logical, intuitive button layout and responsiveness that allows you to pull off the fancier defensive moves that will be needed to succeed at a high level.
Visually, Blur is impressive due to the sheer amount of things on-screen as 20 cars can race at once, you can also have weapons firing and their light trails going off quickly. Despite the insanity, there’s no slowdown to speak of. However, a price has been paid as far as details go - the environments aren’t particularly impressive although they certainly do represent their real-life counterparts well enough, and the cars themselves aren’t the most detailed either. Blur never looks bad, but the m
The backlight-heavy menus remind me of the graphics in the Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved games, which I like quite a bit. It further helps the game stand out, and the ability to switch cars after a race without having to go back to the main menu is incredibly handy. It definitely encourages you to try out all the available cars instead of just finding one you like and sticking with it. Every car selection menu also tells you what kind of handling a vehicle has, so if you want a grippy or loose vehicle, you can just check the main screen itself without having to dig into its stats - a perfect solution to group play with impatient players around as you can get a lot of information in very little time with this setup.
The soundtrack is strangely turned off by default, which is strange, but works nicely at placing the emphasis on the sound effects, which is rarely done. They are very realistic as far as vehicle sounds and pretty impressive since you can easily use them to tell how far away a rival is. Weapon effects are distinct, and you’re able to use them to tell exactly which weapon is coming at you and also tell how close it is to your car - although it’s probably better to let the rear view mirror do that for you, if you don’t want to risk looking at it and losing track of where you are, you at least have the option available.
The weapon sound effects are so important that even when you have the soundtrack turned out, the weapon sound effect completely drowns the music out. The optional licensed soundtrack is perfectly fine techno music, however, unlike Wipeout, it doesn’t quite fit the gameplay like a glove. It’s just basic club fare that is enjoyable to listen to in short bursts, but not something that holds up well over extended periods of time. This part of the game reminded me more of PGR’s design than anything else, as that series also had licensed music I wasn’t particularly fond of (except for PGR 4), but it excelled when you just turned the music off and let the sound effects carry the audio. It’s rare that you actually have a game that can actually pull that off, and yet Bizarre always can. It’s become a staple of Bizarre Creations for me, and I’m glad to see it continued here.
Despite its shortcomings, Blur winds up being a fantastic racing game. Its kart racing innovations, razor-sharp controls, and incredibly fun multi-player modes ensure that it will be played for quite some time. After years of the PGRs, it’s good to see Bizarre Creations try something new with the racing genre while still keeping some of the best aspects of that series around, like the real-world locales and vehicles. Blur is a must for anyone who grew up on Super Mario Kart and wants to see what a more in-depth take on that genre is like.