Hands-on: Blur (single player)

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Bizarre Creations is known for its racing expertise, honed in the great Project Gotham Racing series, and their latest title, Blur, is no exception. The arcade sensibilities of Bizarre's own Geometry Wars and the underrated (I said it!) The Club add a few new colors to the mix, but the driving is as solid as ever -- as you'll know if you've been playing the multiplayer beta.

The real key to Blur, though, is the much-discussed social features. Bizarre has more or less perfected console racing over all of its past iterations, and so when we were invited to Activision HQ last week to check out Blur's single-player components, the focus wasn't so much on the how of racing, but the why.
So why are you racing? Because you want to beat your friends, Bizarre answers, and Blur is permeated with ways to challenge, beat, and compare yourself, your cars, and your performance to those of your friends. On nearly every screen in the game is a "Share" button, and hitting that button lets you share anything in the game with absolutely anyone (Blur owner or otherwise) on Twitter or another very large social network that you're probably a part of.

Win a race? Share it. Unlock a new car? Share it! Unlock an achievement, hit a new multiplayer level, or beat one of the in-game bosses in a one-on-one race? Share, share, share. Blur isn't just a racing game, it's a social racing game, and like most social games out there, it begs to be shared, even with those who don't own it.

Friend Challenges are a big part of the game as well, so big that they take up a space in the main menu, next to the Career and Multiplayer modes. Whenever you finish a race, you can send a Friend Challenge out that invites up to three friends to play the same race with the same car and the same limits. And of course once you've sent that challenge, you can share the fact that you've sent the challenge. If you get a challenge and win it, you can share that, too, and then send another challenge back (and don't forget to share that you did that as well).

Career is the main single-player mode -- you race AI cars in Race, run against time in a Checkpoint mode, or play a Burnout-like Destruction mode, shooting down as many cars as you can while earning more time on the clock. The goal here is to play through nine different "bosses," whose challenges and goals you have to meet before you can race them one-on-one to earn their unique vehicles and mods.

But even in Career, your friends make themselves known: A leaderboard appears after every race, and you can even choose one friend as a "rival" to compare your times and scores every time you play an event.

Before you start worrying too much about spam, keep in mind that the game plays fair -- you can't share anything without pressing that share button, so if you're seeing too much about Blur in your social feeds, you've at least got a button-presser to yell at rather than the evil empire of Activision.

Blur isn't just a social engine -- the racing is rock solid and the powerups add a lot of fascinating gameplay to the mix. The multiplayer component, as seen by the recent public beta, is quite deep, bringing all sorts of Modern Warfare-style progression and reward ideas to the racing genre.

But that Share button is the real innovation. Even if you don't plan to pick up the game later this month, you'll see it in your friends' Twitter feeds anyway.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.