Bump and grind.
Some things look great on paper. A university diploma. Ben Franklin’s head. Possibly even a life-size sketch by Boris Vallejo of a bikini-clad Kate Beckinsale riding a warg into battle. As an idea for a game, Blur also looks great on paper. I mean, what doesn’t sound awesome about real-life cars racing in Mario Kart-style mayhem? Unfortunately, for as crazy as that hook sounds, it gets old pretty fast.
[image1]Blur looks great at first blush. It’s as beautifully polished and sharp-looking as a British movie star pulling up to a nightclub in a Mercedes-Benz SLR. The menus and visual style of the game reek of trendy European club culture, from the deep blue and red neon accents to the pumping Geometry Wars electronic beats. Even the in-game item icons, HUD, and the cars themselves all look like something straight out of some all-night exclusive dance party on some small Greek island. Like an American girl studying abroad, it’s hard not to be seduced by all this class.
The focus of the single-player mode is the career mode. You progress through a series of races, earning “fans” and “lights” along the way. Fans are essentially just currency that you use to acquire more cars, and lights are simply another name for medals which let you progress to higher tier races. Called by any name, it’s a classic—and outdated—throttling method, meant to keep you from moving through the game too quickly.
What is new, however, is the one-on-one race at the end of each of the nine tiers. These are similar to the boss races in Dirt 2, but in Blur you must first unlock the one-on-one race by meeting certain requirements in each tier. These range from simply winning races to performing a set number of specific tricks in a specific race. Meeting these requirements adds slight variation to how you play, but it also forces you to arbitrarily revisit races you’ve already won.
The races themselves play very much like the promised Mario-Kart-meets-Project-Gotham-Racing tagline. Choose a licensed car and go around the course picking up
red shells, blue shells, banana peels “shunts”, “shocks”, “mines”, and other items that don’t share names with their counterparts in Mario Kart. Most items can be fired both forward or backward, and have predictable effects for veterans of Mario and co.’s wheeled adventures. Admittedly, there are some small differences in the item effects, and the visual flourishes are undeniably pretty. But otherwise, it feels very familiar.
[image2]There are some weird quirks, though. For example, if you get hit enough by opponents’ weapons, your vehicle will get wrecked and force you to wait for a course reset. This just adds insult to injury and essentially means you don’t have a chance of winning the race, whether you’re playing single player or multiplayer. The weapons already do enough to slow you down, so there’s no real need to total your car on top of that.
Also, if oversteer sends your back end spinning through a turn, you may as well have totaled your car because the screen goes black, loads briefly, and then resets you back on the course. The intent seems to have been to keep things moving forward quickly, but the effect is to slow the game down unfairly. What’s worse is that if you spin out and then recover and face the correct direction, the game will still force you through the same long course reset.
The A.I. opponents in Blur also become incredibly challenging early on. Even on Normal difficulty, you’ll be put through the wringer, and by the second or third tier you’ll be retrying races over and over. It’s at this point that Blur rears its ugliest side. It isn’t the challenge of the game that’s so trying; it’s that it encourages you to grind. In a racing sim, grinding makes a certain amount of sense. It fits the pacing and the culture of the genre. But in a fast-paced kart racing game, the last thing you want to have to do is keep racing the same races over and over again to collect enough money/fans to get better cars to finally win a particular race. Grinding is simply out of place and at odds with the whole attitude of the game.
Luckily, once you take the game online, it improves noticeably. Much like its kart-racing forebears, racing against human opponents brings out Blur’s best qualities. Just getting into a game with some other folks and knocking them around the course brings out the demolition derby lover in all of us.
[image3]In the online game, choosing the right car for the right track is the key to winning. Specific cars in your garage can also be leveled up to gain additional abilities, and you can choose a combination of three bonus traits to suit your play style. Unfortunately, because you still have to earn fans to unlock better cars, higher-level players are always at a distinct advantage over lower-level players.
Blur is fast, chaotic, and flashy. It may not be particularly original or memorable, but it could make for some great post-bar silliness with your friends on par with a bad kung fu movie. Like a skittish commitment-phobe, as soon as you start to take Blur too seriously, it all falls to pieces. For all its apparent style and class, Blur really just amounts to fast cars racing around shooting missiles at each other. So long as you don’t expect anything more than that, you won’t be disappointed.