With Forza 3 taking 2009 as its own and Gran Turismo 5 looking to cap off 2010, developers looking to release anything in the racing genre were opposed by two hits that were sure to prove nearly impossible to compete directly with. Hoping to sneak in some success in the second quarter of 2010, three major releases found their way to store shelves, each hoping to start a new franchise and make a place in the genre. Black Rock’s Split/Second, United Front’s ModNation Racers, and Bizarre Creation’s Blur were all released within a week of each other, each sharing a number of similarities and a number of differences. In a way, Blur is the middle ground; more traditional than ModNation Racers, but than a bit zanier than Split/Second. With 2010 already proving to be one of the more hectic years in gaming history, there might not be room for all three titles, and when push comes to shove, at least one of the releases is likely going to fall by the wayside.
Blur isn’t a traditional racing game. In many ways, it shares more in common with Mario Kart than the developer’s previous series, Project Gotham Racing. While it uses actual car models, which sets it apart from just about every other racing game to add “items,” the inclusion of powerups definitely sets it apart from most games in the genre. It's fast, and can prove to be fairly addicting at times, if not just because of the pick-up and play nature of the title. Besides needing to deal with somewhat realistic racing physics (when compared to kart racers), players also have to fear projectiles, make use of boosts, and find time to please the fans, all while trying desperately to finish in first.
Normally, the turn of phrase “trying desperately” is used as an exaggeration. In this case, however, it’s actually more appropriate than normal. Blur is an extremely hard game, something that is going to isolate gamers looking for a quick racing fix. When held up against its contemporaries, the game requires a fair bit of patience for anyone looking to jump into either the singleplayer or multiplayer portions. Both have their own benefits, that’s to be sure, but each pro is held back held back by a laundry list of cons.
When it comes to playing alone, there are problems with the AI and the actual difficulty curve, which finds itself ramping up way too far, way too fast. The game’s career mode has players competing in a number of different game types, from traditional races (turned up to eleven with items) to destruction-based matches. Completing these earns the player Lights, and works him towards meeting the demands of the section’s leader, who needs to be faced in a one-on-one match in order to unlock his or her vehicle and special ability. This is important, since unlocking both of these is key to the success of future events. While they start out fairly reasonable, they’ll quickly become too much to handle for the average gamer. The ones that are overarching throughout the entire Event aren’t too much of an issue, since “Wrecking 50 Opponents” shouldn’t be a problem, even for those who can’t finish first in every event. When it starts to ask players to complete certain game types perfectly or finish off an enemy in a specific way, things become much, much more difficult, and when Blur gets hard, Blur ceases being fun.
Luckily, it’s not actually necessary to complete these tasks before moving on to future events, since earning Lights is enough to continue, and most players will find themselves placing and calling it a day, without trying to take down each and every opponent.. Sadly, this poses to be problematic as well, since the enhancements gained in defeating these bosses can be extremely helpful in future events. With or without them, playing against up to 19 other racers can end up being more hectic than it’s worth, especially due to the inclusion of the aforementioned items. It’s one thing to deal with 19 opposing cars trying to vie for a position. It’s another when they’re all launching nonstop attacks that can easily knock a player from first to last place in the blink of an eye. The inclusion of shields and the ability to dodge said attacks is a nice touch, but doesn’t go far enough, since time spent dodging projectiles is time lost.
This specific problem carries over to the multiplayer as well, and while the problematic AI obviously isn’t as much of an issue, the madness of being assaulted by a dozen projectiles at once absolutely is. Some might see this as a benefit, as there’s great reward in successfully completing a match while under constant attack, but it’s not always worth the hassle. Chalk it up to poor level design or balance issues with the items, but it’s just not very fun with more than ten opponents on the track, and with many of the multiplayer events forcing players into 20 cars into a match, plenty of time is spent cursing at the game.
There’s a lone element that keeps things from being completely overwhelming: Fans. Fans play an important role in Blur, and are rewarded for nearly every positive occurrence. Smash into an opponent? Earn Fans. Repel an attack? Here are some fans. Complete an objective? Fans. There are even Fan-based objectives within races, rewarding players with additional Fans for pleasing the audience. It’s not so much the game’s currency as much as it is Blur’s experience points. Accumulating a large enough Fan base will level the player up, unlocking additional events and vehicles. If this were shared between singleplayer and multiplayer it would be even better, but as it stands these sections are completely separate, meaning players need to grind up both in order to succeed. Better cars are, expectedly, better, and unlocking new vehicles is very important in both modes. It’s disheartening every time something is unlocked in one mode that would help the other, and the different game types aren’t different enough to really justify this separation.
There are some shining moments in Blur. When races go well, it's white knuckle action from beginning to end. Sadly, issues often make it so "going well" isn't always in the cards, and anyone ever upset by a Blue Shell in Mario Kart will spent a lot of time huffing and puffing during Blur races. Still, the multiplayer likely has more legs than either, and is set up to support a strong community in the future. It's a more "hardcore game," as it were, and will attract a strong following despite all of its faults. That said, there's no doubt that it's going to be a polarizing experience, since it lacks the realism that will bring players into a game like Forza or Gran Turismo, it’s not as balanced and entertaining as ModNation Racers or Mario Kart, and it’s lacking in the charm or creativity to go up against anything else. It might be worth it for those who really want to see items added into a traditional racer, but for everyone else, it's likely worth trying before committing to a purchase.