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Blur Beta Hands-on

Blur was originally intended to be released back in November 2009 but was granted an extra 6 months of development time for some fine-tuning and extra polish. As a result, 2010 has suddenly become a rather competitive field for arcade racers with the explosive Split/Second and power-up heavy Blur leading the pack. Liverpool based studio, Bizarre Creations, definitely have the pedigree and credentials to create a fantastic racing experience having worked on the immensely popular Project Gotham Racing series for the past few years. With Blur they’ve taken the licensed cars and real world tracks of a simulation-style racer like PGR and meshed them together with a plethora of offensive and defensive power-ups to give birth to a ‘darker’ kind of Mario Kart. It’s competitive, fast, strategic and community driven, and the beta is just the start.

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Featuring 12 cars, 4 tracks and 4 game types, the public beta showcases plenty of what Blur has to offer. Skirmish Racing kicks things off for up to 2-10 players with that number eventually rising to 4-20 in Powered-Up Racing. Both of these modes utilize Blur’s core racing mechanics with players competing for that elusive podium finish. The 4 tracks available offer a nice degree of variety, moving through the streets of Barcelona and Tokyo, to LA’s dockyards and the ghost town of Amboy in the deserts of California. Each track is quite diverse in its design, if a tad simple and predictable. Barcelona moves through tight street corners with paths branching off over and under bridges; Tokyo is extremely fast paced, pushing the action along a vast highway; the LA dockyards are compact, funnelling racers through tight corridors, while Amboy opens things up with its wide roads and expansive factories and airfields.

“The handling of the cars is bordering on simulation”Whichever track you race on should influence your choice of vehicle. Some are better suited to specific tracks with stats for acceleration, speed, grip and health. So, for a track like Barcelona you might choose something more adept at gripping the corners, while Tokyo would suit something faster and LA favours a big 4×4 so you can barge your way through the pack. This isn’t a simulation so your choice won’t have a massive effect on the outcome of the race, but it will help give a slight advantage in your favour and is definitely worth considering. Because while Blur is still an arcade racer, those with the proper skills will succeed more often than not. The handling of the cars is bordering on simulation, forcing you to brake early to get around corners in one piece. The over-the-top drifting is still in full effect, and it’s easy enough to succeed by crashing into the barriers and sliding around each bend, so there’s a fairly lenient learning curve in effect. But once you’ve got a hang of things and mastered the cornering then the podium finishes will start heading your way.

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Though only if you also master Blur’s biggest aspect: its power-ups. While all of that skilful driving will put you in pole position, one power-up can easily dislodge that and send you back down the queue. Unlike a Mario Kart, the power-ups aren’t generated randomly, instead being laid out on the track in a specific way. You can store 3 at a time, allowing players to pick up the power-ups they want, planning ahead with both offensive and defensive sets. There’s a diverse range of various power-ups for different situations, so there’s a lot of room to experiment. Shock emits EMP fields ahead of the race leaders, slowing them down if hit; Shunt is a powerful homing missile, like Mario Kart’s red shell; Barge is a close-range attack that blasts away any nearby vehicles; Bolt fires three bolts of energy, not too dissimilar to Halo’s Needler; Repair fixes your health when low, and Nitro, Mine and Shield are all fairly self-explanatory. Each offensive power-up is a lot of fun to use, and you’ll need to utilize the full range of defensive power-ups to survive a full race. Though what’s great about these is that each power-up has its own alternate fire, normally allowing you to fire backwards, so particular offensive weapons can also be used on defence as you shoot away incoming threats. When you get a full room of 20 players it’s absolute chaos as everyone’s shooting each other, deflecting shots and being spun out of control.

“The sense of speed is on par with the exhilarating BurnoutThe cacophony of effects on screen during these moments is spectacular. Blur uses a very distinctive visual style, mixing the licensed cars and real-world tracks with bright neon lights and terrific use of light and colour. The sense of speed is on par with the exhilarating Burnout, and when you combine that with the beautiful pink mist of the Bolt power-up, or a neon-infused explosion as a car is rocketed into the air and you have a feast for the eyes.

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And all of this action is motivated by Blur’s progressive ranking system. Drifting, dominating races, dodging a Shunt and winning, among other things, will reward you with fans. Earn enough fans and you’ll move up a rank, unlocking brand new cars and different modifications for your loadout. It’s similar to PGR’s Kudos system, though it would be a fairer comparison to look at Modern Warfare 2 as an obvious inspiration. You can choose 3 mods at any one time, with particular ones giving you extra fans for finish bonuses, increasing the blast radius on certain weapons or improving the effectiveness of your car in collisions. There are only 7 open in the beta with many more unlocked at higher levels, so there looks to be a lot of customisation and depth hidden beneath the core racing package.

And that’s what makes Blur such a promising title. It should appeal to a wide audience with its party atmosphere and community driven qualities, but look below the surface and there’s a fantastic degree of strategy and customisation, with a rewarding ranking system, placed atop a competent racing engine with some superb power-ups. You can blow away your friends and beat the competition and the game will even Twitter that for you. What else could you need?

Blur will be dropping this Spring.

The author of this fine article

is a Senior Staff Writer at Thunderbolt, having joined in June 2008. Get in touch on Twitter @richardwakeling.

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