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Blur (Xbox 360) artwork

Blur (Xbox 360) review


"the weapons that you have at your disposal aren't particularly thrilling. The most explosive of them are the homing missiles, as well as mines that sit on tracks like rubber balls with black rings around them. The mines are easily avoided and even the missiles can be shaken from your trail with a well-timed swerve. Shields and nitrous boosts look to add strategy to the proceedings, plus I like the fact that you can hold as many as three items at once, but the races are so focused on providing a frantic experience that any of that theoretical strategy is rendered null and void. You'll quickly discover that in most instances, you can do alright by using items immediately rather than hoarding them."



Maybe you've seen the commercials for Blur on television recently and maybe you haven't. They feature cute mascots at the starting line of a kart racing course. There are sunflowers and furry critters and just about everyone is smiling, but as most of the karts speed off from the starting line, one lone fellow wanders over to the side of the course to see what he's missing here in the real world. A genuine smile spreads across his face as he peers through the wire-mesh fence and spies a race in progress. Cars are flying into the air, trading paints, firing missiles... and they look real!

The message I took from that commercial was pretty simple: Blur is a serious racing game infused with special weapons, grit and adrenaline. If you like car-based combat and you enjoy thrilling races, the commercial suggests, then you should love Blur. I was anxious to experience that wonder for myself. Then I played the game and now I wonder if maybe I just misunderstood.

My problem with Blur is that it doesn't seem to know what it wants to be. The result is a thoroughly competent but mostly forgettable game that lacks a distinct identity. From Mario Kart it cribs the special items: nitrous boosts, shock waves, electric missiles, thunder bolts and the like. From Burnout, it takes the idea of building up a score by doing dangerous things throughout a race such as shunting drivers or drifting crazily around corners. From the Need for Speed Underground titles, it borrows the notion of rivals and a saucy announcer who walks the player through the tense races that ensue. And from Project Gotham Racing 3, a franchise also handled by Blur developer Bizarre Creations, it snags nearly everything else. Those were all great games and, unfortunately, nearly all of them were superior to what you'll find here.

By the time I'd completed my first race, I could tell that I was going to need to adjust my expectations. I decided to try the multi-player since my brother-in-law, a frequent collaborator during such moments, was readily available and anxious to race. He usually kicks my butt when it comes to racing games, and that first session was no exception. We both chose our vehicles and then took to the track. The game forced us to choose from two possibilities, since players aren't provided with a roster of tracks and given the option to choose the one that suits them. That kind of sucks, but at that point we weren't familiar with any of the tracks anyway so it's not like it mattered.

The multi-player mode is handled separately from the single-player mode and presents unique options. You can race online with people around the world, or you can play locally and the screen will be split in as many as four chunks if you have enough players and controllers. System link is also an option, if you're endowed with more hardware than I am. That kind of support is definitely appreciated and puts Blur ahead of most of its competition. Bizarre Creations should be commended for that, and also for giving the player three distinct ways to play. You can choose to go all-out with weapons available, or you can select a mode where you're rewarded just for trading paint with other cars or you can just play things straight and rely solely on your racing skills to get you across the finish line. My brother-in-law and I started with that last option and worked backward through to the full-on rush, but I can't say that there was ever a moment where things felt like a real thrill. The collisions and the environments simply don't look as good when you can't see much of them.

To be honest, the underwhelming environments that I encountered during those early multi-player races didn't improve a whole lot even when I had the screen all to myself. Blur is a gritty game, with canals, dusty hilltops, dingy city streets and warehouse districts serving as the main backdrop. Technically, the art design is proficient. Cars race through puddles and there are convincing reflections and water ripples and all of the stuff that gamers have come to expect from a next-gen racing title, but the scenery is so drab that it's difficult to care. You've surely seen worse if you've played many racing games at all, but this definitely isn't a step forward.

If the courses themselves are uninspiring, though, the cars at least look good. There are a variety of licensed vehicles available and they can be customized as you work through the single-player mode. Even without tweaks the models look good and, when necessary, they look bad. Take damage as you speed around the courses and you'll see cracked windshields, flapping trunks and dings and scrapes that make wanton destruction more satisfying than it would have been if every vehicle looked pristine from start to finish. Officially licensed cars add a lot to the experience, too. I love watching a Volkswagon Beetle belch flames from a chimney-like tailpipe.

Unfortunately, the weapons that you have at your disposal aren't particularly thrilling. The most explosive of them are the homing missiles, as well as mines that sit on tracks like rubber balls with black rings around them. The mines are easily avoided and even the missiles can be shaken from your trail with a well-timed swerve. Shields and nitrous boosts look to add strategy to the proceedings, plus I like the fact that you can hold as many as three items at once, but the races are so focused on providing a frantic experience that any of that theoretical strategy is rendered null and void. You'll quickly discover that in most instances, you can do alright by using items immediately rather than hoarding them. There's generally no real reason to delay using a homing missile to take out your next rival when you can take him out right now. It's easy to stay in the lead once you manage to get there, so that's about as deep as your strategy ever needs to get.

The good news is that even though the standard races feel underwhelming, there's decent variety when it comes to race objectives. Periodically, you're asked to do what you can to excite fans who are watching from the sidelines. You can pass over icons to cause a series of ethereal gates to line the track, for instance, and racing through the lot of them will provide a nice bonus. Some race types revolve around such objectives, while others make you take out as many of your opponents as possible or pass through checkpoints or go head-to-head with an area rival. You're awarded both fans and headlights as you complete such challenges and those rewards grant you access to new vehicles, upgrades and venues. That system makes it easy to feel good about tackling a challenge multiple times. As an added bonus, gamers who have friends on Xbox Live who also are playing Blur can easily compare scores after completing each objective. That's a nice touch that makes it easier to care about your performance throughout the races, as long as you're competitive and have friends.

Blur gets a pass in most regards because it's thoroughly competent. The exception for me was the play control. You'll need to barrel through most of the races at breakneck speeds to get a lot out of the game, yet cornering is a nightmare. Even when you know the tracks well and you know that a corner is coming, you can start braking well ahead of the curve, turning a hard left or right, and still slam into the wall with enough force that you wonder why you even bothered trying to turn. This happens more frequently than it really should. Even the cars that are promoted as possessing excellent grip have trouble making it around corners, plus they move slower than an old woman writing a check in the supermarket express line. You're essentially forced to utilize the drifty vehicles if you want any real speed, but of course they steer horribly. Adjusting the game's difficulty level (it defaults to "Medium") eases things up a lot by increasing the margin for error, but it's disappointing to think how much better things could have been with just a little more fine tuning.

The same could be said of the whole game, really. The combination of ideas here isn't bad, but the implementation is mediocre. Blur is just pretty enough, just frantic enough and just engaging enough to justify your time and perhaps a purchase at a good price, but it's never the triumph that it so easily could have been. For now, I think I'll stick to racing sunflowers and teddy bears. Get back to me when the serious racing going on across the fence actually lives up to its promise.

Rating: 7/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 07, 2010)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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Feedback

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Halon posted June 07, 2010:

Good review that pretty much confirms my suspicion about the title without ever playing it. Seems like there are plenty of interesting ideas here, but for some reason the whole package doesn't seem to interesting. I'm a big PGR fan and not too excited about this, despite all the promises and new features it has.

Maybe I'll pick it up at a budget price.
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honestgamer posted June 08, 2010:

I'm glad to hear that the review worked for you, sportsman. I felt pretty comfortable writing about Blur because I've played so many racing games over the past decade. I didn't realize just how many until I stopped to think about it. I do notice that my reviews are starting to get longer again, though. I need to watch that. There's no point in boring people and lately I often feel like I'm getting a little too close to "PC clocking" territory.
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Halon posted June 08, 2010:

Well I was pretty interested in the title so maybe that's why the length didn't bother me at all haha.
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CoarseDragon posted June 10, 2010:

I really liked your opening about the commercial and having seen that commercial I thought much like you did that this game should be awesome. Well, thank you for shedding light on that and filling in some holes I was wondering about. I found this review very helpful and very well done.
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aschultz posted June 15, 2010:

I liked this review as it felt more polished than the Picross review. I also like the introduction in the review, as pointed out above. So--taking my critic pen, what would I change? Not much...

But here's the big one. "Conversational" throw-aways which seem ok in real life when talking with our friends--but here we're talking to strangers so we can't get away with it so well.

That kind of sucks, but at that point we weren't familiar with any of the tracks anyway so it's not like it mattered. "This wasn't annoying until we got used to the tracks five races later." But then, that contradicts your claim that by the first race, you knew there were problems.

To be honest, This phrase is one of my least favorite, because you've given me no reason to believe you weren't. When people use it around me, I often look for an excuse to say so. If you're being blunt, say so. Or if you think they overdid the "grimy racing stuff, no sunflowers allowed to drive cars etc.," that's a good point.

This is tinkering, though, because the review is interesting, to a non racing fan like me, and that's no small feat. The 3rd paragraph is a good pivot as it described pretty much how Blur never lives up to other landmark games. The review seems much better organized than the game it looks at, and the end is a clever twist.

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