A powerful combat arcade racer with smooth handling and a slick interface. Good balance of action but some issues hold it back.
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.
Barge is every bit as satisfying as it looks
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.
Oh trust me, this will buff right out
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.
The interface in Blur is pretty slick and consistent starting with the good use of colors in a semi 3D menu. Early on video tutorials gradually introduce you to game modes or gameplay during the campaign. You can navigate the menu using the 360 controller or the keyboard. There are really only three game modes in the Blur campaign: Race, Checkpoint and Destruction.
Race is a standard journey around a track using normal power-ups to finish first against other drivers. Checkpoint is just you versus the clock as you collect time bonuses or speed boosts to finish before time runs out. Destruction gives you high access to the bolt power-up and places a few AI controlled vehicles in your path. With each vehicle destroyed a time bonus is granted so you can meet your destruction quota. An additional destruction derby like mode, Motor Mash, is present in multiplayer placing cars in an arena with loads of power-ups to destroy other vehicles.
Incoming red glowing thing!
The single player campaign is just a series of tiers which are unlocked as you earn Lights. These Lights are gained from completing events successfully and there are six events per tier. Eventually you will race off one-on-one with the tier leader(s) after you have completed some objectives for that tier level. These objectives might be a certain number of power-ups used, finishing first in a specific event or staying above a particular speed for an entire lap. Side objectives will generally have you going back to replay some of the races because you probably won’t get them done first up. Other tiers are unlocked before you dispose of the leader, so if you are getting stuck you can always skip ahead.
The campaign difficulty is fair on normal although it starts fairly easily during the opening tiers. To take down all the tier leaders it will probably only take you half a dozen hours. After that you will have more cars to unlock and fan challenges to complete should you desire to keep going. You will be repeating many tracks more than once, some which are quite basic, but the game never feels like a chore because of its length. During races you steadily work through the AI competitors and assuming you drive well you can finish first without trouble. A few misused power-ups or not paying attention to the action ahead will greatly reduce the chances of a podium finish. In fact the races proceed so quickly the race may be over before you even realise, a testament to the combat being somewhat distracting.
The cars in Blur control relatively well, they have a tendency to float around a little bit and crashing into objects can look a little strange. You won’t need to follow the ideal racing line to win, in fact ramming into a curve in the track will likely make you go around it faster, at the expense of some health. The biggest issue, perhaps unforgivable, is that there are only two keyboard layouts and no way to remap individual keys. None of the defaults actually use the arrow keys for acceleration but there is support for WASD.
Split-Screen on PC! I'm having Wacky Wheels flashbacks.
There is one exception to this arrow key rule, split-screen supports the arrow keys for the second player. Yes the PC version has split screen but one has to wonder how many PC gamers would still think of using this feature, good news is that it works fine. There is also no support for a wheel and no indication any if these features will appear in the future. The 360 controller works flawlessly with the game and the rumble gives you additional feedback to the action.
Blur makes no attempt to hide its arcade nature with only a rear and bumper camera views. The cars never really look heavily damaged, cracked windshields, smoke, sparks, a missing wheel and a bent fender is about as extreme as it gets. Slamming directly into the track boundaries can look bizarre as does flipping your vehicle against invisible walls in the sky above corners. The car sounds aren’t the best as they have a very flat tone but your vehicle also makes lots of unnecessary clunks and thuds going over bumps. The focus is clearly on the power-up sounds and probably the techno style music but these racing sounds could use a little bit of tuning. The sense of speed is relatively well represented with a nice presence of motion blur, even during multiplayer the action progresses quickl.
Online there aren’t huge numbers of players with the PC version but the process of getting into a lobby is pretty flawless. Even migration of servers is pretty quick when a player the host leaves. Lobbies will let players vote on the next track but also get you into a game pretty quickly. There sadly doesn’t seem to be support for text chat during races or in lobbies, making the community feel distant. The load times are quick even when you have to wait for 9 others players to enter a game. The netcode on the PC is also above average for a racer with little warping and very few disconnections. There are some issues where high pings will cause delays from power-ups or when you ram into other vehicles but these don’t hamper the enjoyment much.
Shunt meets shield, the rest is a blur
Blur is a good arcade racer that has been ported well to the PC if you can excuse the inability to remap keys. All menus work well with the keyboard (no mouse support) and the performance is pretty good for the visual display with no framerate lock. The game never suffered from bad framerates but there were occasional brief pauses and a few crash issues. Even though there are some delays online, it’s certainly no worse than any other racer of recent times.
It’s a shame that the short campaign is a little boring, the tracks are pretty bland and having licensed vehicles doesn’t seem to fit well with the power-ups on display. More outlandish design, in particular with the tracks, would help the game and fit in even more with the crazy gameplay. The PC platform doesn’t get a lot of racing games, especially arcade games so Blur produces a pleasant surprise in more ways than one.