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Shifting Gears With Blur
by Ryan Davis on
We catch up with Bizarre Creations on its home turf to see how its powered-up racer is coming along.
It's been nine long months since we last saw Blur at E3 2009, and at the time, it wasn't looking... great. It hadn't quite found its equilibrium, and it lacked the kind of clarity and finesse that has defined Bizarre Creations at its finest. Originally slated for a late 2009 release, the developer was granted an additional six months of development time--time that was, based on what we saw of the multiplayer portion of Blur during our recent trip to its Liverpool headquarters, well-spent.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of Blur, I think it's important to talk about the kinds of expectations you might have for a new racing game from Bizarre Creations. This is a game that, in a pinch, could be quickly described as a dark Mario Kart, or as some kind of retconned progenitor of the Wipeout series--something that sheds some of the simulation-inspired technicality of Project Gotham Racing in favor of neon-washed roads littered with momentum-swinging power-ups. In a sense, this is a game that feels informed as much by Bizarre Creations' non-racing games like Geometry Wars and The Club as it does anything the developer's done featuring four wheels.
That said, there's still a sturdy technical base underneath all the sliding and shooting and flipping and generalized chaos that have defined my experience with Blur thus far. The game isn't completely free of reality, with tracks that recall specific real-world locations like sections of Tokyo, Los Angeles, and, in a move that caught our attention pretty specifically, Giant Bomb's hometown of Sausalito. Similarly, there will be a wealth of licensed cars in the final game--more than 50--which Bizarre Creations gathered a quantity of real-world performance data on before tweaking each vehicle's handling profile to make them more approachable. With both the tracks and the cars, Blur seems more interested in evoking the player's perception of these places and these machines rather than their reality.
It became apparent to me after just a few multiplayer races that different tracks favor different types of cars. I found that my performance on wide, dirt-cornered tracks flourished with more drift-prone cars, while narrow, urban tracks with lots of hard 90-degree turns benefitted from something with a little more grip. The folks at Bizarre suggested that a lot of that comes down to personal preference, though one thing is for sure--the trucks, SUVs, and other heavy-hitters were never really contenders in a straight race, and will instead be better suited for a demolition-derby-style mode that wasn't being shown during our visit. Another factor to consider will be Blur's mod system, which can tweak a variety of your vehicle's performance stats.
But what seemed to decide the majority of the races I participated in--be it the fully chaotic 20-player battle royales or the surprisingly peppy four-player split-screen games that, while not part of the multiplayer beta, will be featured in the final game--were the power-ups. This is where Blur makes its clean break from reality, letting you drop explosive mines, generate small, 360-degree blasts of concussive energy to knock around nearby contenders, trip up the first-place racer with serpentine gauntlets of ball-lightning, shoot homing missiles, or just nitro boost your way past the competition.
These are, for the most part, pretty common ideas for combat racing games, but what I found interesting in Blur is the way almost any offensive power-up can be countered with another power-up, or if you're good enough, dodged completely. Getting the right power-up rarely meant an automatic win, but it can certainly help. The way the power-ups handle, as well as the way they interact with one another, was one of the areas that seemed most improved over what I saw of Blur back at E3 2009. The power-ups are also a source of much of Blur's visual flair, which tends towards a high-contrast mix of dark, wet streets and over-saturated colors. There were some highly specific touches to Blur's look that really left an impression on me, like the way your car's taillights will bleed out into the environment, or the slick color-separation and video-compression artifacts that crop up when you take a particularly brutal hit, suggesting that you're watching the game through some kind of car-mounted video camera.
Copping its multiplayer progression structure from the Modern Warfare games, you'll unlock access to more mods and more cars in Blur as you level up, though, surprisingly, I found that winning races wasn't necessarily the fastest way to level up. Your progression will be governed by how many fans you have. Fans are kind of like kudos in PGR, and you're rewarded more for mixing it up with other racers than staying ahead of the pack. Hitting an enemy with a power-up will net you a certain number of fans, but hitting them while drifting around a corner or while sailing through a jump will earn you much more.
The importance of style is an idea that seems to permeate Blur, which is a big part of what I find interesting about this game. I've still got significant questions about how the single-player experience will pan out--after all, there's always been a considerable disparity between the way AI opponents and real, live racers behave on the track, which can fundamentally alter the race experience. I have no doubt that there will be plenty of Project Gotham fans out there who will be at least a little cool towards the direction that Bizarre Creations has gone with Blur, but, if nothing else, it seems that now the developer is poised to deliver a game that it's satisfied with.
EDITOR'S NOTE: In the spirit of full disclosure, all airfare and hotel expenses for Giant Bomb's trip to Bizarre Creations' Liverpool headquarters were furnished by Activision, publisher of Blur.