An Hour With… Blur

By Alec Meer on July 20th, 2010 at 10:51 pm.

The achievement for beating the female driver is called

Well, more like three hours. Make of that what you will. Particularly if it’s “Alec hasn’t had the internet for several weeks so being able to play games again is probably over-exciting him.”

So: figured I’d take a look at Bizarre Creations’ powerup-infused racer Blur, which seemed (on console at least) a little overshadowed in May by redemptive cowboys and men who were awake. On PC, it seemed barely mentioned, including by us bunch of hapeless jonnies. Whoops.

Nonetheless, I’ve idly been curious about it because a) it’s Mario Kart but without that mawkish, unchanging nostalgia and b) this old story from 2008. Racing is/has been in danger of painting itself into a specialist corner (though I look to GRID/DIRT and TDU as strong fight-backs), so seeing a bunch of its major creators worrying about that got me pretty excited about how they’d experiment with ways of broadening its appeal. I wonder if Bizarre were already working on Blur back then, or if it was, in part, inspired by their chat with their peers that day.

Unhappy rumour has it that Blur sold a fairly pitiful number of copies, though Actvivsion have since refuted it. Whatever the case, I can’t say I ever look to sales as a measure of a game’s quality. In other words: let’s play, chums!

First up, to get it off my chest so I can then natter, untroubled, about the good stuff: it looks awful. Just dismal. At least a generation old (subjectively speaking, needless to say), unconvincingly blocky and a mad clash of luminous colours and depressing desaturation. Make it neon! But also gritty! Oh, leave that stuff to Tron 2 or whatever it’s called. This is about racing cars equipped with magic guns. Lighten up.

The look almost derails Blur, and I can totally understand why anyone would pass it over for that reason alone. While I’ve only played two to three hours, and not dabbled at all in the multiplayer as yet, I reckon that’d be a terrible mistake.

It’s the halfway house between Mario Kart and Wipeout, which obviously shared more than a few DNA strands in the first place. Blur manages the Serious Business of the latter and the Anyone Can Play of the former, resulting in a game that feels a whole lot more dangerous but without necessarily being so.

It’s a good trick. I felt powerful and clever, even though I was almost never pressing the brakes and was firing my power-ups with all the strategy and precision of a monkey lobbing handfuls of faeces at visitors to the zoo. I am the best!

I am not the best. But I felt enough like the best to be pleased with myself – the rubber-banding didn’t seem blatant, the effects of shots I did land well seemed fairly profound and, in the modern idiom, I was rewarded with oodles of spurious points and achievements come the close of every race.

I often object to hollow progression mechanics, but Blur does it with enough flash and verve that I was quite happy with it. I can’t say I was totally on-board with the concept of Lights and Fans as the whojumwhatchmacallitthingies I need to score, with their feeling just a bit too abstracted from driving around a track really quickly (as opposed to DIRT 2, which totally nails the simple glee of racing well and being given bucketloads of cash for it). But the strange, gentle tug of Will I go up a level was in evidence, and pleasantly so.

Funny thing, though – I didn’t care a jot about the cars I unlocked, outside of seeing if they were faster, harder, stronger than the other ones. The muted presentation and the push for points, points, points meant that the car wasn’t, in fact, the star here. It was just a tool to help me do better.

In that respect, it’s the polar opposite of my old sweetheart Test Drive Unlimited, in which racing and scoring seemed a distant second to the superficial but oh-so-satisfying pleasures of simply owning an incredibly expensive motorcar. Maybe that’s the Mario Kart element making itself known – you don’t care what Toad’s Kart looks like or what it says about your tastes, because you’re fixated only on whether it can outpace Diddy-Kong.

The power-ups definitely make it. There’s nothing novel about them, and at least a few are direct lifts from games involving dumpy men on go-karts. They do, however, require just that little bit more precision and timing: there are no mega-cheaty ones designed to reverse the fortunes of helpless stragglers, simply temporary toys that grant an advantage if used sensibly.

The extra challenges beef Blur up nicely too. Again, nothing especially fresh – pass through all these gates, kill this many cars, brush off this many attacks, yadayadayada. The pick’n'mix, optional nature of them, however, seemed enough to have me creating my own freeform narrative through the game, rather than unthinkingly trying to beat every race and leaving it at that. Minor things, but God is in the details. By God I mean “a reason to care about why you’re playing.”

Would I play more? Oh yeah, no question. I will play more, in fact. Ton o’fun, as long as you can get past the newspaper-in-the-rain aesthetics. It’s a racing game that rewards me for playing it, rather than punishes me for not immediately being good at it, and I’ve always been a sucker for those. I subscribe to the most basic fantasy of fast cars: that simply being in one turns me into an ace driver.

Given the power-ups and mysterious energy fields and whatnot, obviously it’s about as far from a simulation as you can get without trying to argue that The Sims is also a racing game, but I suspect there’s some mileage (that sounds like a pun. It isn’t) to be had from stony-faced sim fans trying to beat shooty-shovey types purely by driving skill, with none of that power-ups funny business.

A real shame Blur’s potentially been a sales casualty, then. It’s nowhere near as slick and smart as Codemasters have been with GRID and DIRT (I appreciate a bunch of people don’t like them, but they’re incredibly well-realised crossover titles), but it’ll be a hell of a shame if Bizarre end up saddled with stuff like Blood Stone for the rest of their existence, rather than being able to further explore the car-games-for-everyone space they’ve dabbled in here.

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43 Comments »

  1. Dao Jones says:

    The scroll over text is killing me! :(

    • Zerrick says:

      The full text is: “The achievement for beating the female driver is called “hot date.” Grow up, basically.”

      I found this by directly decoding the source-code of this page, using add-ons forged in fire and the knowledge of generations of web wizards.

      A message at the code monkeys of this site: there seems to be something wrong with the handling of double quotes.

    • Dao Jones says:

      Thank you, Zerrick! Appreciate your work, since I am lazy. :(

  2. Dhatz says:

    could this game fail any harder? why does shooting others just flip them in the air the same boring way every time? why can’t it beat their bumpers off the roan to damage them when it already has to return them to the right direction? another good idea-failed development game. also S/S owns this anytime. real cars don’t even make sense here.

  3. Godl1keStev3 says:

    @Dhatz I couldnt disagree more tbh, I found Split/Second an utter waste of effort.

    I dont actually have Blur for the PC (got it for the 360), but I have to agree with just about everything said in this article, its stupid without being irritating, its tough without being frustrating, and its more fun than almost any other game of its type, Mario Kart included (although my gf would disagree with that one :)).

    Modern Carfare indeed, the multiplayer is so much fun its compulsive, Ive lost entire evenings to this game. :D

  4. Frye says:

    Lots of good racing games lately. I love it. But how many arcade racing games do you need?

    Although i agree it’s not a pretty game, it runs well on very high resolutions which i feel is important for racing games. Since all relevant information is usually in a small patch near the center of the screen, it’s nice if you can spot details in the distance. This is one of them games you can play for a few minutes without missing out on anything nor do you need to be totally focused while playing as with dirt 2. The cars handle quite well, a lot better than Split Second at least, but nowhere near as good as Burnout Paradise (which happens to have a free roaming world instead of tracks). This is a perfect budget title if you ask me; get it in 6 months, i feel i paid too much for it.

    • Radiant says:

      Have you seen that TF2 fan video of the pyro?
      Where they’re just running around an empty and silent map?

      That’s my issue with free roaming racers, they’re just so quiet.
      Like on your own in an empty house.

    • Radiant says:

      Like ‘playing’ on your own in an empty house rather.

  5. Hoernchen says:

    How can you not have the Internets for several weeks ?!

    • TeeJay says:

      I seem to remember Alec saying he was moving house (to work at GI.biz in either London or Brighton maybe?) and I’m also guessing it might have to do with BT sometimes being very slow at connecting up land-lines plus mobile broadband often being really patchy, slow and expensive?

  6. TeeJay says:

    As someone who only really drives in sandbox games like Just Cause 2 / Far Cry 2 (and my current favourite – the tank missions in Crysis), my initial problem is remembering which is which out of GRID, DIRT, FUEL, BLUR (have I missed out any other one-word-name driving games?). Also, should I invest in a joypad before trying any of these?

    • Bremze says:

      Only if you wish so, you can do perfectly fine with a keyboard. None of those games are even slightly ”simulation-y”.

  7. Premium User Badge

    Malcolm says:

    Being a massive Project Gotham Racing fan (XBox 360 only: boo hiss etc.) I bought Blur on release day and it’s certainly fun and handles well etc, but it seemed a bit too lightweight for my liking, PGR always had a great sense of purpose that Blur seems to be missing (that and it seems to be trying far too hard to be “street” a la NFS Underground). PGR just had more elegance.

    • Rath says:

      Agreed. That Peugeot Flux Concept DLC they released was the height of class.

  8. Radiant says:

    Fuck me.
    Play Split/Second.
    It is one of the best games this year.

  9. syMptom says:

    Why would anyone play this over split second?

    • Godl1keStev3 says:

      Because its better. See what you miss if you dont pay attention? :D

      Nah, its all a matter of opinion, I really didnt like S/S at all, and the port isnt exactly what you could call flawless. I just really enjoy Blur.

  10. Major Disaster says:

    I wanted to get this, but no demo on any format (xbox requries gold).

    Silly people

  11. Chizu says:

    I like blur, but I like Split/Second more.
    I have Blur on the pc, and while I ahve played the MP a few times, I have massive problems connecting, as the game insists I ahve strict NAT, whatever I do. (Infact Transformers does this aswell, I am really clueless on how to fix it, as I have forwarded the supposed ports as instructed in various places :/)

    It’s fun enough, and getting from second to first online with a forward fired mine is always satisfying
    But its far too easy to stay in first.
    Almost everything can be used Defensively, you can stop any incoming projectiles so long as you have Mine/Shunt/Barge/Shields or the little 3 shot things, and those lighting things that create the domes on the track are easily dodged, often having massive gaps around them anyway.

    It’s nice, but I haven’t played it since I got Split/Second which is far harder, and more fun IMO.

  12. Dan(WR) says:

    I wrote a little ‘Wot I Think’ for this in the forums a while back: http://rockpapershotgun.com/rpsforum/topic.php?id=2984

    Similar thoughts really, but I’d now add that the single player mode gets a bit annoying – there’s a difficulty spike part way through the career that renders the game much less fun (for shit racers like me).

    I think the the number of people in multiplayer has dropped even further too.

  13. Premium User Badge

    Rikard Peterson says:

    Sounds interesting. Maybe I’ve missed something, but I’ve been waiting for a game similar to my favourite racing game – Rollcage 2 – for a long time. (Sadly I can’t get RC2 to run on my present computer.) This sounds like it may be closer than anything I’ve tried.

    • Premium User Badge

      Bozzley says:

      @Rikard Peterson – ROLLCAGE 2! One of the finest games ever made. Ever. Takes a simple premise “what would happen if you could drive upside down in a racing game?) and runs with it, straight into a space shuttle, and then flies it to the moon. Haven’t played it in years. Damnit, I’ll have to buy it now :( Anyone know if it’ll run on 64-bit Win 7? Or 32-bit Win XP?

    • Premium User Badge

      Rikard Peterson says:

      I can’t get it to run in Vista.

  14. Phinor says:

    As a huge racing genre fan (mostly sims but I like good arcade ones too), I find myself hating the following games: Grid, Blur, Split/Second, any Burnout, any recent Need for Speed title, especially Shift. I’ve tried all of them and there’s just no fun to be found in those games. Most of them have ridiculous driving models but every one of those games has more flaws than just the driving model. Dirt 2 was almost playable but the menu system killed all the fun.

    Before those games we’ve had Flatout and Trackmania games both of which have been great and umm.. Test Drive Unlimited which doesn’t seem to work in Windows 7. Based on the media they have released TDU2 is not even a driving game. Where are all the arcade racing games I like? The sim racing genre is pretty thin too with iRacing and Richard Burns Rally the only games worth mentioning and nothing in sight (well unless they drastically improve the engine in rFactor 2).

    Oh and I liked Wacky Wheels so don’t pull any punches like “you just hate unrealistic games!” ;) The state of racing genre is just sad and it’s hard to stay positive..

    • Jake says:

      I agree with you that DIRT was pretty much ruined by the menu (and the lack of many proper rallies) though it did have a really great driving model, what little there was of it was great fun if you really concentrated on ignoring the x-games crap.

      I think the Burnout series has been brilliant, second only to the San Francisco Rush series of yesteryear in the stupid-but-fun driving game category (third if I can count Carmageddon 2). Paradise takes a while to get into, and arguably the open city is never going to be quite as good as a real track you can memorise, but it gets great when you get to the top tier cars with more traffic – a much faster, twitchier game than Split/Second (haven’t played Blur).

      I can’t stand the way Blur looks, mostly the power-ups floating over the track. What’s the point in having realistic graphics and cars and then having big glowing power-ups hovering around? Plus, the whole thing looks very bland, desaturated and boring.

  15. CreepingDeath says:

    “Unhappy rumour has it that Blur sold a fairly pitiful number of copies, though Actvivsion have since refuted it. ”

    Yea, yaknow what might have helped that? If it had been given a wider release on Steam than just the US, or if I could find it in ANY UK retail store. Activision only has its own piss poor marketing and distribution of the game to blame for its bad sales.

  16. pakoito says:

    Try Split/Second and make a vs comparative because they’re very close in both flabour and feeling.

    • Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

      flabour- a blend of flavour and labour? :)

  17. Vinraith says:

    Do either this game or split/second have split-screen multiplayer? If so, can you add AI competitors as well or is it strictly one on one?

  18. spork says:

    Game is a complete flop, IMO, as it’s the most crash-prone game I’ve seen since the first Stalker. I have no problem running any other game right now, but Blur can’t make it past an hour of playtime without “blur.exe has stopped working” popping up on screen and throwing me back to the desktop.

    Waste of 40 bux. First game I’ve bought on Steam that I was unsatisfied with.

  19. thinsoldier says:

    Stupid steam won’t let me buy it.

    See this product page
    store.steampowered.com/app/42640/

    likes to pretend it doesn’t exist when I look at it.

  20. Premium User Badge

    dog says:

    for the me the AI bots in split/second (and lack of in blur) is the deal-breaker…

    playing blur on lan with 2 or 3 friends you find the tracks are so quiet and empty…

    on s/s you’ve always got the full compliment of 8 drivers for the maximum chaos…. and the bots are good… usually not too good as they do make mistakes, but good enough to occasionally be a challenge when you’re trying to drag yourself up from 8th place to 7th…

  21. David says:

    There’s a multiplayer demo on PS3 – spent a good hour with that the other night and will play it again. That’s not normal for a demo where, even if I like the game, I’ll usually delete as soon as I’m done

  22. Spooty says:

    I found to be incredibly dull. I also despise the marketing scheme – they slag off “kiddie style” graphics and Mario Kart (it’s blatently implied) yet they make an absolute arse of the formula, even though they essentially ripped the entire thing from Mario Kart,

    The graphics, sound, handling, menus, gameplay – everything is so bland and dull and unimaginitive.

    Split/Second on the other hand has at least brought something new and refreshing to the genre. Well done to both Disney and Sega. /applaud

    • Wayward says:

      Bah! HTML fail. I was trying to link to the fact that MCV and Eurogamer quizzed Game over rumoured lack of stock for Blur.

    • terry says:

      The Steam restriction basically ensures the game is dead in the water, given it seems pretty multiplayer focused. The retail thing is even more bizarre, but then last time I visited Gamestation they had removed the PC section entirely.

    • Radiant says:

      Yeah I’m uk and I got it on European import (completely by accident).
      It’s basically impossible to get Split Second for the pc in the uk.

      The Split Second website says available on steam but that’s a bloody lie for the UK.

  23. Vrooooooooom says:

    Until someone redoes Hi-Octance and adds a true Carmageddon successor, “aggressive” / destructive racers will not progress one inch forward.

    All these consoley mini-boosts come nowhere close to the idea of picking out your hovercraft based on whether you think you can outrun the others with your speed soon enough before their MINIGUN that everyone gets can chew through your armor OR whether you want to just blast everyone to heck yourself and then leisurely settle into first place, firing your BOOSTERS into the finish line.

    What a great balanced logic that thing had. Anyone had boosters all the time, but use them to much and guess what? You need to stop to refuel. Such a simple, yet effective balancing solution.
    And add in the odd shortcut / secret fuel powerup spot and boom, a game that has been unbeaten in it’s singleplayer and splitscreen on one PC fun to this day.

    And that’s just Hi-Octane.

    Don’t even get me started on how much fun it is to zap pedestrians in Carmageddon, mangle the other drivers and explode wildlife by driving into it at 230 kmph.

    Seriously, NOTHING has come close to these two in 20 years, and I have been waiting and looking.

    Where is the true contender? These wussy “boosty powerup here, maybe single missile shot every 5 laps there” piles of suckage can’t hold a candle to them, let alone a minigun.

    • TeeJay says:

      You know what would be another good feature? Allow each player to secretly place a certain number of surprise booby traps and environmental hazards (eg land mines, fallen objects, weakened bridges, herds of sheep, police road blocks, oil spills etc) before the race starts, anywhere they want on the course. :D

  24. Chris says:

    More along the lines of “a message to the codemonkeys: don’t put double quotes inside of an attribute delimited by double quotes” They’re handling just fine, according to the SGML spec.

    A better message to the codemonkeys would be to use the title attribute for rollover text. ALT means ALTERNATE which is supposed to contain the content to render if the image is unsupported, unloaded, or simply not rendered (as in the case of screen readers for the visually impaired, or in geeks who use Lynx to browse the web)