Blur had a great marketing campaign. Cutesy little characters racing around in a faux Mario Kart or Mod Nation Racers style with cutesy little cars firing cutesy little weapons. Then one little ball of adorable pulls over, gets out, and watches real licensed cars racing asphalt streets with destructive weapons. The theme: Mario Kart grows up.
Sadly, the game doesn’t quite live up to the awesomeness of that campaign.
Blur hits you from the start menu with a cool, funky, futuristic neon vibe. Fire it up, be treated to one of the coolest intro videos I’ve ever seen for a racing game: cool shots of Blur set to The Ecstacy of Gold. I jumped straight into the career to find a good looking (though not great looking), solid racing game. The cars are all licensed and many can be repainted in one of thirty or so colors. While the game makes no claim to reproduce actual city streets, it does set tracks in different real world cities. None of these tracks really capture the cities they are ‘set’ in, but they are all different. Even second visits to certain tracks can change the race, like the LA River Basin dry and flooded. Unfortunately, though, none of the tracks offer the kind of depth, dimension, or character we've seen from better games in the kart or hardcore racing genres.
Weapon pickups appear as glowing neon symbols on the track at regular intervals, much like in any kart racing game. Unlike most kart racing games, most of the tracks are very road-based and not conducive to the arcade atmosphere created by the game. There are a few tracks with some big jumps or strange alternate paths, but the majority don't give you this option. Perhaps this is the attempt to bridge the gap between a game with licensed cars and an arcade kart racer, but I found the road-based tracks boring.
The core of any racing game, of course, is the car selection. Blur has a healthy roster of licensed vehicles, though several are variations of the same car. Vehicles are divided into classes D, C, B, and A; naturally getting more powerful as the rank improves. The cars unlock as you progress through the career or multiplayer separately. That is, progressing in the career unlocks career cars and progressing in multiplayer unlocks multiplayer cars. Cars are classified anywhere from very grippy to very drifty (read: undrivable) with the only exception to the scale being off-road vehicles. Despite this scale, each vehicle has ratings for speed, acceleration, grip, and difficulty.
While the nice roster of cars seems great, you quickly realize that there is definitely a 'best car' in each class, regardless of the event. Very grippy, fast cars are always the way to go. They handle just fine off-road, handle corners well, and kill in the the straightaways. These cars aren't usually the last car unlocked in a class, either, which really takes the joy out of unlocking more vehicles.
The other key element to a successful kart racer is the weapon selection. Blur features quite a few futuristic weapons, though most have an easily identifiable Mario Kart counterpart. There's the bolt which fires in a straight line (green shell), the shunt which is heat-seeking (red shell), and the shock which creates pools of electricity at the front of the pack (blue shell). There are also barges that create a short-range shockwave, shields, health, nitro, and mines. One really cool feature is that most weapons can be fired forwards or backwards. The nitro is a particular treat when used backward. It freezes time momentarily, creating a shockwave behind you that knocks enemies around, while you can turn your car on a dime and launch out of it in a straight line. This is hard to use, but highly effective if you are coming into a tight corner filled with opponents.
Progressing through the solo career involves earning 'lights' in events. There are three types of events: race, destruction, and checkpoint. Races are exactly what you would expect: beating your opponents to the finish line using every tool at your disposal. Destruction spawns enemy cars in front of you and provides you with only the most basic weapon drops, then a time limit and time bonuses for destroying enemies. Checkpoint mode is all about speed. No enemy cars. Just you, the clock, nitro pickups, and the checkpoint-exclusive time bonus pickup. Each event has five lights available for achieving the goal of the event. This would be coming in first in a race, destroying the requisite number of vehicles in destruction, or finishing checkpoint with the requisite time remaining. There is also a checkpoint mini game called a fan run placed in each event that yields up another light when successfully completed, as well as a fan target for each event.
The solo career is divided into different menus, with a particular opponent as the boss of each menu. That boss will be your toughest opponent in each race in that menu and achieving particular requirements will unlock the one-on-one with the boss. Most of these one-on-ones are races, though a couple are destruction events. However, destroying the boss in a race will also win you the event. I really liked the requirements for unlocking the bosses. They weren't just 'get x lights in all the events', but get rather specific and challenging as the game progresses.
All this sounds fairly cool, but with only three event types the game becomes monotonous in the solo career very quickly. What's worse and really ruins the solo career are the faulty difficulty levels. I began the game on normal and quickly was getting annihilated by rubber-band opponents and vicious AI that would ignore each other and hone in on me. I was getting very frustrated in just the second solo career menu. So I did the unthinkable: I backed it down to easy mode. This is aptly named. I was now nearly lapping opponents on races and getting way too much time to complete destruction and checkpoint events. I tried hard mode and it was unthinkably difficult. The game really needed to rename normal to hard, hard to extra hard, and add an actual normal mode.
That would probably have destroyed the game's rating, but then I jumped online. Ah, this is the game I was hoping for. Forget about rubber-band enemies and vicious AI, the online multiplayer component really saves Blur from being a bad game. The online component is set up similar to Call of Duty. You earn experience by placing in events and accomplishing specific challenges. Your experience unlocks cars and mods as well as higher ranking events. The more you progress, the more the multiplayer opens up. Custom mod loadouts really allow you to make the game your own. In addition to standard racing and a destruction mode dubbed Motor Mash, the game opens up with team-based racing. Have friends over? Blur has all the multiplayer aspects covered with up to four-player split screen and system link. Really, once you start playing multiplayer, you'll lose all interest in the single-player campaign.
Blur is one of those games that starts with a great concept and just doesn't quite pan out. However, it makes promises that a possible sequel could be a great game if they could just iron out the AI and the insane difficulty settings. As it is, those problems render the single-player campaign almost completely unplayable. Personally, I would have liked to see much more car customization as well, more like the hardcore racing games. Particularly with the great online play, having a pimped-out and custom-designed ride would be an awesome feature. At $60, you're getting about 2/3 of a great game since most of your time will be spent online anyway. So wait for the bargain bin; it'll be a great pickup then.