Hands-on: Blur

Blur is a hyper-realistic Mario Kart. There is no sugar coating it.

After being behind the development wheel of realistic racing titles like PGR (well, realistic at least in look), Bizarre Creations has decided to do away with its half-and-half arcade style and create a different kind of racing experience. That experience is Blur, published by (new parent company) Activision.

As we sat down at the (ridiculously loud) Activision booth in the West Hall during E3 2009, we were greeted by an enthusiastic Bizarre employee who explained this was the game the developer always wanted to make. A fun, almost party-game style racer where players jump behind the wheel of powered-up, real-world vehicles. Yes, strangely, Blur features licensed cars -- with unreal abilities.
As players race through the game, which is set to feature up to 20 vehicles per race (on and offline), they can collect power-ups -- represented by floating color-coded icons on the track -- each sporting a different ability. Nitro (green) shoots players ahead of the opposition, Shock (blue) disables vehicles ahead and Barge (purple) throws enemy cars (in the vicinity of its use) off the road, to name a few.

At an E3 where racing was everywhere... Blur did a good job of standing out as something different.

Players can grab up to three power-ups and cycle through them for, what was explained to us as, a "strategic racing experience." Players also have the ability to activate a short-burst shield, protecting their ride of choice from dropped land mines or oncoming enemy attacks.

At an E3 where racing was everywhere -- from arcade style of Split/Second to realistic approach of Need for Speed: Shift -- Blur did a good job of standing out as something different.

While we must caveat that the game is still a ways from release, it is important to note that Blur doesn't look as sharp as Project Gotham Racing 4 (or as the screenshots released late last month). This, according to a representative attentively cheering us on as we raced, is because Bizarre no longer holds the rights to use the engine that powered the PGR series. That engine belongs to Microsoft. In response, Bizarre is working with a new engine. And while Blur features a very stylized look, it failed to achieve the intense sense of speed we'd expect from such an arcade-style racer (ala Burnout) -- unless we used the aforementioned Nitro boost power-up.

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[The demo] failed to achieve the intense sense of speed we'd expect from such an arcade-style racer.

We had a lot of fun racing through Blur's real-world environments (we only spotted a single track in the demo), battling for position against the mix of players and computer controlled adversaries.

The tracks feature multiple converging paths, sprinkled with the easily identifiable power-ups, which made spotting the alternate routes a cinch from a distance. After a few races it was easy to remember the ins-and-outs of the track -- which can be a blessing if the final track listing is high, but a curse if it's too low. Bizarre could not confirm final track or vehicle numbers with us at the time.

Blur is still early, but from what we've played and heard around the demo, Bizarre is keen on creating something new and different. While it would be easy to dismiss it for not wowing us immediately, we're eager to see how the game evolves. After all, this is Bizarre Creations and racing is what they do best. Given the proper amount of time and care, Blur could transform into something special.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.