Take a popular ‘realistic’ racing game. Add the over the top powerups from kart racing games. Throw in a tiny amount of Modern Warfare 2’s Multiplayer progression system. You’d be coming close to holding a copy of Blur in your hands. Unfortunately, the only ingredient you’d be missing is the bitter disappointment of the game’s technical PC shortcomings hampering what could have been a brilliant twist on the racer genre on the PC.
Let’s start with the positive. Bizarre Creations have done a good job on the stylistic aspects of the game. It’s become somewhat of a given that most racing games featuring powerups are commonly associated with games aimed at a younger audience. In some respects you would think we’d be sick of the whole nighttime/underground-esque racing scene. However when you see how well this ‘exaggerated neon realism’ style works immensely in it’s favour, and it’s hard to see how any other choice would have worked without veering into the very stylings they were clearly trying to avoid. With this style, Blur manages to appear as a slightly more ‘mature’ racer while allowing for the exaggeration from the power-up based gameplay pretty well.
The powerups themselves are a nice rounded selection, despite appearing to be few in number. Bolt gives you three unguided, weak shots to fire straight ahead or behind you, Shunt fires a homing missle at your opponents, Shock lays down electricity based traps to the front of the pack, and Barge shoves anyone next to you out of the way while Mine, Shield and Repair do exactly what they say on the tin. They’re all powerful enough to really feel like they have an impact when you use them, while still weak enough that you think you can recover from them, at least in single player. However, at the same time Blur is the sort of racing game where you can race a perfect line all the way through, only to get shunted back to last place because of a last minute deployed powerup which can frustrate immensely if you’re the recipient.
Cars are numerous and varied. It’s certainly true that Blur caters for many driving styles from those who like to drift to those who like to muscle their way through the pack. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s great to see a game with licensed vehicles that actually lets you smash them up. In addition, the game also provides a ‘mod shop’ where you can add various perks to your car granting bonuses such as making your car able to take more hits or granting more fans when you hit others. This provides an interesting level of tangible customisation to your cars, possibly moreso than say visual customisation would provide in a driving game, when you’re spending most of the time concentrating on the road and the positions of the other drivers as opposed to if their paint job matches their rims.
But of course, all these good points are negated by what has to be said, is a lacklustre port of the game to PC. First off, graphics options are limited to three choices and the level of anti-aliasing. That’s about as in depth as it gets – want to turn off the motion blur while leaving other effects untouched? Sorry. Would you like there to be slightly less particle effects when cars are hit while leaving other options intact? Not happening. Additionally, the game only supports one gamepad – the XBox 360 controller. If you haven’t got one of those, there’s no allowance of control reconfiguration, it just simply doesn’t detect the gamepad. Of course, third party software would allow you to use other controllers by convincing the game you’re using the keyboard but in this day and age this shouldn’t be so convoluted, especially for a driving game. Even if you do have a 360 controller plugged in, the game doesn’t even bother changing the tooltips to accommodate, so with prompts like “Insert” telling you to post your achievements to Facebook or Twitter, you’ll end up pressing every button until you work out exactly which one it means – or ironically enough revert back to the keyboard to navigate through the menus.
But the worst thing about the game may not even be the fault of the developers themselves. Blur prides itself on having a great multiplayer aspect of the game. You can race others and -borrowing a little of what keeps people playing Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer – you can earn ‘Fans’ and rank up, unlocking new cars, mods and different sorts of paintjobs by completing a number of different challenges with objectives such as Shunting 100 opponents. In addition to this the Singleplayer also has a neat ‘Rivals’ function, where you can pick a friend whose scores and times you will see during your singleplayer campaign, encouraging you to beat them, and offering an incentive when you do so. However, Blur’s biggest deficiency on the PC – aside from the poor porting issues – is the lack of people playing to take advantage of these features.
See, before the game was released there was allegedly a spat between Activison and Game in the UK, which also owns the Gamestation brand. As a result, the game was hard to find during it’s launch in the two biggest shops in the UK for any platform. The situation has reportedly improved now on console, but on PC finding a copy of Blur is a bit of a daunting task. The game was supposed to be on Steam, but there’s been no sign of it for weeks. During my play from the first two weeks since the game has been released the most players I saw in total across all the game modes was 100. The majority of those were in the first few gamemodes available from the start. Of course, reviews like this very one probably don’t help matters, but for me to recommend a multiplayer portion of a game that lives or dies on the number of people playing it in this state would be completely unprofessional of me.
It’s a terrible shame because the potential there is great. It’s just a shame that the execution of Blur on the PC is so flawed. Blur could have been one of this summer’s biggest racing games on the PC. As it stands, Blur feels like a massive missed opportunity, left spluttering at the starting line before the race has even begun.