A powerful combat arcade racer with smooth handling and a slick interface. Good balance of action but some issues hold it back.
Posted by Ben Thomas (nutcrackr) on Jun 11, 2010 - 6:52am EST (Jun 11, 2010 06:52)
Arcade racing with vehicle combat is not a new idea, but Blur does it well enough to be a fairly strong contender in the genre. The combat in Blur is created by using power-ups placed carefully around the tracks, often in chokepoints. Most of the cars you drive are real, the tracks you drive on look real and the weapons you get to use are completely unreal. The power-ups contrast and provide useful offensive and defensive qualities that keep you constantly occupied during a race. In some ways it could be compared to the long running Wipeout series but there are noticeable changes and tweaks to the formula presented in those games. Power-ups can be fired forward or backward and they are individually placed on the track – they aren’t randomly assigned. Although picking up the power-ups requires careful steering the tracks are generally very forgiving on player driving skill.
Make no mistake the power-ups in Blur make the game. There aren’t conventional machine guns or rocket launchers, these are purely fantasy based powers that expel from your vehicle with a satisfying glow and haze effect. You have the standard combat based arsenals like a missile (shunt), shield, repair and mines, but Blur also includes other more interesting powers. Barge erupts from your car like a shockwave – knocking nearby cars back, perfect when taking the inside line. Shock provides a neat way to slow the leading cars by creating a series of lighting storms that the front cars will need to dodge. Bolt gives you three fast missiles that push forward (or backward) into enemy cars to jolt them of course, or hopefully away from power ups.
These powers are staggered along the track, each with a logo and specific color. Cars will jostle for position to get certain power-ups but it will also allow you anticipate the next move of the car ahead if the driver has a bias for particular powers. The powers themselves are visually very well done as they have real volume and produce a great light show when the action gets heavy. The effect they produce is also very distinctive even when viewed from a distance. The interface will inform you if any of your powers have hit another vehicle even if you can’t see the impact directly. They all feel useful but without much crossover in functionality and there are multiple ways to deal with different tactics.
An interesting aspect of the powers is that you can use many of the offensive powers in a defensive fashion and vice versa. This ensures the leading cars do have some method to attack cars closing in without resorting to mines and shields. It is harder to hit vehicles behind you, mostly because you have a restricted view of their position in your rear mirror. But it is satisfying to hold the lead and be informed you just hit a vehicle with a reverse Shunt. The power-ups held by other racers are shown above their vehicle along with their health. Each vehicle can hold up to 3 powers so you can save them or use them straight away. Saving certain powers for chokepoints or straights can obviously be very beneficial. Just like many combat racing games, your vehicle can be wrecked once your health hits zero. Getting wrecked can be shameful but it usually only moves you back a few places in the race. This move places you perfectly to get some revenge on whoever caused you grief.
One early observation is that the powers provide a lot of action regardless of your position in the race. If you are well out ahead chances are you’ll be dealing with many lightning storms (especially from AI) and these can constantly put you under additional pressure to stay in front. The action can make it hard to climb through the other drivers to a podium finish. If you are starting from the back of the grid then you will need some luck to get ahead. You may be caught in the crossfire or suffer a barrage of attacks for no reason other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Conversely if you start at the front of the grid you will have a better chance of finishing first. You get first access to power-ups and can easily plant mines in good positions without being cramped by other cars. The grid positions seem to be randomized in multiplayer so it gives everybody the ability to finish on top. This doesn’t mean you have a free ride at the front; in fact you have to be constantly attacking using rear shots or preparing defences.