Can Bizarre Creations win this summer's racing crown with Blur? A real mashup of a racer, inspired by Project Gotham and power-up-friendly titles such as Mario Kart (we'd also be very surpprised if some of the developers hadn't played a fair amount of Roll Cage Stage II on the PS1). Does it grab pole position? Or does it blow a tyre, career off the track and explode into a fiery ball. We get shunting, barging and nitrous oxiding to find out.
Let's get one thing straight, Blur is a whole lot of game with both single player and online modes laying out a veritable banquet of cars, mods and rewards to keep you interested for some time - and incidentally both, for the most part, are distinct with progress in the single player mode not giving you an easier time in the online racing.
The gameplay is hectic and a huge amounts of fun - perform well and you will either be rewarded with lights, awarded for winning races, which open up new events, or fans which you accumulate for your in-game actions and will earn you new motors.
The single player consists of working your way through levels, each with their own set of challenges. These include 20-car racing, a timed checkpoint affair, a destruction challenge, and one-on-one event which becomes available when you've earned enough lights and fans to take on the end-of-level boss. All are fun and the difficulty pitched just about right, although later on it does get pretty tough.
There are also other challenges to occupy you when racing, other than smashing your fellow drivers. These take the form of gaining points for destroying opponents in a certain way or driving through fan checkpoints - make them all and you'll get a fan bonus.
Online, and there is just as much to keep you entertained with plenty of mods and cars to be had as well as lots of race modes to unlock by levelling up. To achieve any of this you'll obviously have to get to grips with both the racing and the power-ups. The racing is good for the most part, the handling of the cars changing depending on whether you go for something drifty or with better traction. Bizarre has kept to the idea of real-world cars, something it is good at, and Blur in this respect is no disappointment. Cars give good feedback, and while there is an arcade feel to the vehicles they are distinct - players will have to get to know each one if they are to get the most out of racing.
The gameplay is fast and keeps you on your toes as you'll not only have to make sure you keep the racing line, but also deal with the power-ups. There are eight in total and all can be modded in some way to suit your driving style. We had mixed feelings about the the power-ups and their impact on the gameplay. On the one hand it certainly adds something dynamic, with a real sense of satisfaction when you nail your opponent with a well timed bolt along with a message telling you how many point/fans you've just earned yourself. However there was a real sense of frustration when all hell's breaking loose and your attempts to come first are continually thwarted by, what seems at the time, a lucky shot.
The power-ups although well executed felt too numerous to really value - players firing them off with reckless abandon making for a somewhat messy gaming experience. When you have a power-up you want to feel as though you have something precious at hand. And although skill and timing is required in order to effectively use them we felt at times it detracted rather than enriched the racing - Blur is definitely not one for the purists.
With time however, this frustration subsides as you learn the ropes and find different offensive a defensive manoeuvres, the rear view mirror becoming an essential tool as you fend off attackers coming up behind you.
So there's a lot of nice touches within the game and clearly it has been developed with some care, and choosing the right mods and cars to fit the track you're going to be racing on makes all the difference. The trouble we had was that all these nice touches don't seem to gel together into the great gaming experience we'd hoped for.
Admittedly, this lack of gelling is more pronounced in the 20-player mode where things quickly become chaotic; to get the most out of the game stick to the 10-player, team-based and battle modes. The four player split screen option, although fun, lets itself down, as the rear view mirror is removed to make way for extra screen real estate - as mentioned this is somewhat essential to success in Blur.
However, the more you play the more you realise that there are plenty of other ways of getting an ego boost and progressing within the game even if you're not coming in first. This is done through the post-race rewards; such as furthest jump, most successful rams and longest without being hit, to name but a few. And in a slightly perverse way, because of all these extra achievements are available, you end up content to finish somewhere in the middle of the field; even when you lose there are rewards to be had to keep your interest.
Graphics are good, but not stunning and damage models on the car evoke an appropriate mixture of dread and anxiety as you see smoke billowing out of the bonnet - though more spectacular crashes would have been nice when you wreck or career off the track.
Blur is a very good racer, but won't be for everyone. There are plenty of in-game modes, mods and cars for the gamer who's looking to get head first into it, and the online aspect hits the mark in both gameplay and its level cap of 50.
However, it isn't without its faults as the mashup of arcade racing and power-up battling, for us, wasn't perfect - too many cars and too many power-ups on track at one time made things a bit chaotic and frustrating. Other game modes addressed this to a degree where fewer players were involved.
Buy this if you want to get heavily involved as there is depth to this racer, and we're sure those who persevere will reap the benefits. For those who want a quick fix, and for that matter a hell of a lot of fun, buy Split/Second: Velocity.