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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Blur (Playstation 3)

Activision and Bizarre Creations have teamed up to create the long-awaited action racing title Blur. The neon-infused driving game takes players on a wild ride with power-ups, projectiles and massive speed tied together with bonus features and a progressive rewards system that allows players to unlock additional content. The action is frenetic and intense with players trying to knock others off the course while also trying to gain as many fans and light points as possible. Blur is a bit harder than it initially seems, but the game rewards skilled players with some viscerally exciting racing action. Blur is definitely in the mold of other PS3 action racers like Burnout: Paradise and Split Second, so read on and find out how it stacks up to those titles.

Well known for mixing realism and action with their famous Project Gotham series of racers, Bizarre's latest creation takes a turn towards the arcade side of things with Blur. The game is definitely and action racer at heart, which is true despite its use of real vehicles and locations. Blur seems more in tune with kart racing titles than most other racing titles. Its extensive use of over-the-top power-ups, rubber-band AI and somewhat frenetic play makes it more accessible than most other racing games. You can tell immediately in your first race that you need to use Blur's power-ups if you want to have any chance of winning. While the basic driving mechanics are fairly good, players won't find extensive customization here. You begin with a small roster of vehicles and can unlock additional ones by winning races. There are several types of these with a mix of drift and grip vehicles plus a few more balanced ones. The vehicles are very much pick-up and play in this area, while they are ranked in terms of speed, handling, health and drift, you can't do much to change these attributes. Heavier vehicles take more damage, but these are slower while the faster sports cars are easier to damage. This gives Blur a good balance and makes for some challenging races. In addition to the standard racing events, Blur gives players other modes of play including checkpoint levels where you have to race against the clock and destruction mode where you have to earn a required set of points by destroying rivals. This gives Blur some variety in its gameplay, and the final boss challenges where you battle against a difficult end-level character are particularly exciting as you find your skills challenged.

Blur's solid gameplay mechanics are relatively easy to understand once you get the hang of things. It's a basic racing title where the main objective in most races is to come first across the finish line. You begin each race at the bottom of the pack and have to work your way through the other cars. The game's real gimmick is its use of power-ups, which are scattered across the track side by side in kart-racing style. This allows for different types to appear when you reach them, allowing you to choose which one to collect when you steer over them. This isn't always as easy as it seems and cars directly in front of you can pass over them, too. Strategy plays a key role here and you need to understand how each of the power-ups work and when they'll be the most effective if you want to succeed. There are several types of these that have different effects on the race. You can use a powerful shockwave to create lightning bolts that will flip rival cars that run into them ahead of you, a shunt device that shoots a fireball at opponents, Mines which can derail drivers behind you. There's also bolt weapon that lets you fire three small shots to disable an opponent. Non weapon power-ups include a Nitro which gives you a burst of speed, a shield that prevents attacks and a repair pod that fixes any damage to your vehicle. Each of these power-up pods is saved on your vehicle, and can be used at any time by pressing the X button at the ideal moment. These definitely add a different feel to the gameplay, which can be either exciting or frustrating depending on who's doing the firing.

Its structure is multi-tiered and allows different reward levels both in-race and during the larger game itself. The basic premise behind this is to earn fans, which allows you to unlock additional content. Obviously, you'll gain fans by winning races, but you can also add to your base by performing in-game actions. These are usually indicated by fan-indicators which are triggered when you run over them. These give you a specific timed task to complete, such as performing a drift or attacking an opponent with a specific weapon. There are also fan gate challenges, where you have to pass through a series of gates in order which will further increase your followers. After you've completed each race, your total fans are tabulated and when you reach certain levels, you'll unlock additional vehicles and content. The other half of Blur's reward system comes in the form of Lights. These are earned by winning races, and depending on your position, you can earn up to five of these in each race. In addition, there are other tasks, such as meeting a fan threshold or performing certain tasks that will give you additional lights. The lights are used to track where you are in each of Blur's levels, and when you reach the required number; you'll be able to move on to the next one. Additionally, each level has a one-on-one challenge with a boss character that you can unlock by meeting their demands, such as wrecking a number of vehicles or collecting enough power-ups. These can be fairly difficult to attain, but the boss battles allow you to collect up to eight stars and when defeated, they'll unlock an additional powerful vehicle for you to use in the main races.

Blur uses its double-ended rewards system effectively and the game is very good at keeping you motivated throughout. There's a sense of accomplishment when you beat a level and while its not easy to attain all the rewards, especially in the later levels, its definitely something that's worth the effort, since the faster cars you get later on are much more exciting to play. One of the things you'll also have to do is go back to earlier levels when you get the faster cars so you collect any lights you may have missed along the way. These faster vehicles also make it easier to meet all the demands you might have missed from earlier boss encounters. The game itself opens up fairly quickly in terms of number of vehicles and tracks and you'll find many courses and tracks available to use as you play through the game, which makes for plenty of challenge. Blur's solo game is fairly intense and exciting, but there's also an extensive online mode which allows you to compete against other players online and earn other exciting bonus items. You can also get extra decals and other online items here as well. Blur's online interface is very nicely designed and easy to navigate and the server levels were decent, suffering little in the way of lag or dropped games. While the selection of cars is limited at first, the later vehicles bring more variety to the race. This in turn gives Blur a bit more depth than you initially expect, since some of the vehicles are better suited to some races than others. In most cases, its obvious which one to use. For example, most players will probably know to use an off-road truck on a rugged course, while drift vehicles will be better suited to urban areas with many tight corners. However, there are some cases where things aren't so cut-and-dried - and in these cases you might have to use trial and error to find the right fit, which makes things a bit more complicated than it seems on the surface.

While it's intense arcade-style gameplay is the essence of its appeal, this approach also has a few drawbacks as well. The enemy car AI is very aggressive and they will attack you relentlessly throughout each race, so you have a constant battle on your hands. You can use the rear-view mirror and try and avoid some attacks, but its almost certain that your progress will reach a few brick walls from time to time. Some of the attacks can feel a little cheap, and you can sometimes lose the race at the last second because of this, which can be frustrating. You'll also find that the vehicles are largely clustered together at certain points, which makes picking up the essential power-ups a near-impossible task, making some races very difficult to win. On the other hand, its arcade-style controls mean that even novice gamers will be able to pick up and play Blur right away without having too much trouble. This is very much in keeping with other racing games in the arcade style, though its reliance on power-ups means even making well placed lines on the course won't always be enough.

With all these problems out of the way, the main thrust is that the game delivers on its promise with some intense racing that offers some thrilling contests between racers. Visually, the game's polish and neon-colored power-ups bring a colorful experience to life, while the real-world vehicles and locations ground things in reality. In the end, Blur is an interesting experiment that blends different styles together successfully. It's an enjoyable racing game that offers plenty of variety and challenge and while it takes elements from other racers, such as Mario Kart, Burnout and Wipeout most notably, it has a unique feel and look that helps it stand out against the pack. The biggest problem most gamers will probably face with the game is its level of difficulty, while it starts off rather average, it seems to spike at later levels. Despite these minor problems, they aren't enough to overtake the game's overall enjoyment. Blur's solid production values and entertaining gameplay make for some fairly intense and exciting races. This excellent release is an enjoyable, thrilling racing game that gives a neon-colored shot of adrenaline to the crowded genre.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B+

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