By Kill 4 Comments
Blur wasn't even on my radar until I got my beta code off Giant Bomb. To be honest, I hadn't even heard about the game. Racers are usually completely off my radar, especially the usual realistic forays by the Gotham Racing blokes at Bizarre Creations. The combination of Mario Kart and Burnout (the only two racing franchises that I actively enjoy) was too much to pass up. I've spent around three hours with the beta so far. I've hit the level cap and messed with all the modes. Here are my impressions...
From the off, Blur feels completely different to any racing game on the market today, yet it feels amazingly derivative. The cars handle somewhat realistically, making you slow to go around corners. The cars also feel extremely solid. The fact that they are licensed cars may be the reason for this somewhat "realistic" handling but it threw me off big time. From the gameplay videos, the speed and the handling of the cars looked a lot like Burnout. After playing through a hefty amount of Burnout Revenge in anticipation of the beta, I found that they could not handle any differently. Burnout lets you glide around corners with a graceful drift. In Blur, the camera veers violently as you drift and you often have to fight for control as you return to the track. The difference between the two games is not a bad thing; just unexpected. You adapt to the handling very quickly. I am not a fan of realistic driving sims and usually veer away from the Gran Turismos and the Forzas of the world. This may be why it was difficult for me to accept that Blur is not a fully arcade racer, at first. However, with time, I found myself enjoying the solid feeling of the cars and the constant struggle for control. It added an additional element of mayhem to the game.
Blur also feels different to its competitors due to its Geometry Wars-style graphics. Neon lights are used heavily and power-ups have similar iconography. It is a truly beautiful game at times, with a hyper-realistic approach to racing. It's how i'd imagine a race would look if you were watching it on a massive TV inside a nightclub, while on drugs. It's so colourful that my eyes started to hurt after an hour of play. My ears rang too, because the sound design is incredible. Power-ups sound futuristic. Cars slam with impressive exaggerated thuds. It's real life... but better.
The power-ups in Blur are identical to Mario Kart in a lot of ways. In fact, they brought back memories of the original Mario Kart on the SNES for me. Gone are the more modern game-breakers like Blue Shells with the power-up count brought down and the power balance less CRAZY than what Mario Kart has become in recent years. You have your red shells, your three-round projectiles, your "banana peel" in the form of a mine. What makes Blur interesting is its robust counter system. In Mario Kart, no matter what your skill level, you could always be scuppered by a well-placed red shell. While this danger is present in Blur, you are given a multitude of options to avoid it. You can swerve at the right moment, go off a jump, fire a projectile backwards, use your shields... it goes on, and this is why Blur feels unique and derivative at the same time. There is a true feeling of strategy to the proceedings, as you see people reflect your projectiles with lightning reflexes. Thanks to the three power-up banks, you can save these options up and react quickly yourself. It can be extremely satisfying to see a homing missile in your rear-view mirror and to manage to deflect it through quick-thinking. It feels empowering rather than frustrating when you take someone out in Blur, as opposed to the feeling of chance that Mario Kart has adopted.
Another spin that Blur takes on modern game mechanics is its take on the Modern Warfare "perks" system. You level up during a race by earning XP and by levelling up, you access more cars (guns) and more mods (perks) for these cars. While you may groan and think "another perks system that is similar to Modern Warfare but not as well-thought out", Blur unexpectedly handles this extremely well. The balance is already good enough that I saw level 2 players beat a lobby of mostly level 10s. However, the perks and cars do give you that familiar feeling of advantage over the others, even if the low level players can perform just as well. This is what always made Modern Warfare so exciting to me; even if I prestiged, I could still win. Blur is the same way. I look forward to seeing how this mods system is expanded on by the time the retail game comes out.
My gripes with the beta... well, there are many. I found that, in too many cases, if a player got out in front, they would pretty much always win. This left a constant struggle between small groups of racers but no real sense that you could catch up. I often settled for getting XP by satisfying challenges. While this is fun in itself, it was still frustrating that I felt the race had already been lost before even the final lap had started. Another gripe is that the beta often punished me for no reason whatsover. There is a quick restart whenever you get stuck in the geometry of the track that usually works well. However, a lot of times, the screen would black out and i'd be set way back for no reason. I'd maybe be hit by a power-up beforehand but there was nothing stopping me from recovering from this. I also had issues with matchmaking and have only got into one 20 player lobby... there was only three people in it. No one else joined in half an hour of play.
Another issue is that, although the balancing is tight on Blur, the power-ups still leave you feeling t hat the outcome of races is entirely up to chance. While you may memorise the tracks and master the handling of the cars, the complete chaos on screen at all times makes your skill seem less important. I feel this is why the XP system was used in the first place; it distracts you from the fact that, like Mario Kart, luck plays a major part in winning, not skill. In a lot of ways, this is why the beta failed to addict me as much as Modern Warfare. In MW2, I felt a constant increase in my skills in conjunction with the tools I was unlocking. I felt like I didn't need the additional guns to succeed at a certain point. In Blur, I don't think I feel the same honing of skill. However, it is only a beta and things may change in the final product.
Blur is an exciting racing game. When there are five cars exploding all around you and neon colours erupting from all directions, you can't help but feel your heart pounding. I worry about its lasting power and the repetition inherent in a multiplayer focused title. Can the perks system keep people hooked for long, or will people drop out once they hit the cap? What will single player be like? Blur has a ton of promise but still seems to have a long way to go, in my opinion. With the release still a few months away, I hope that Bizarre Creations use this beta well and pump out a finely-tuned arcade racer for those of us who like a bit of ridiculousness in our lives.