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Hands-on: Blur (split-screen multiplayer)

I'm a pretty tough customer when it comes to the adoption of racing franchises. To me, the driving genre seems much like a foreign language -- because I haven't been a strict stuent of virtual vehicles since my early youth, attempting to add it to my expansive areas of expertise would be a near-impossible task.

Bizarre Creations' upcoming arcadey racing title Blur eschews the genre's unsavory, ultra-realistic bits, replacing them with weapons, power-ups and fast-paced neck-and-neck action. It's not the first time racing games have swapped out real for enjoyable -- but after playing a handful of four-player split-screen matches at Activision's PAX event, I couldn't remember the last time a racer made said switch so sublimely.

The last write-up we did on Blur pinned it as a "hyper realistic Mario Kart" -- and honestly, that's not too far off. As I careened through the game's gorgeous curves, blasting enemies with electricity and rockets, I hearkened back to long nights spent on the Luigi Circuit. However, Bizarre Creations has fastened a sizable amount of meat onto them bones by adding the ability to dodge and shield yourself against these attacks, turning races into parry-filled vehicular fencing matches.

That horrible metaphor falls apart, I imagine, when the maximum number of players (see: 20) are introduced to the mix. In those situations, I can only imagine it's less of a fencing match and more of a blender full of car parts.

One of the developer's main goals for Blur was to make sure that players were always in the action, constantly overtaking their competitors and strategically implementing their power-ups. Bizarre hasn't done so with love-it-or-hate-it rubber-banding -- instead, spin-outs and crashes are less of a detriment to success. If you stop moving for any reason, the screen cuts to black for a fraction of a second, then straightens your car out, putting you back into the fray.

We imagine these cutaways could get disruptive -- however, after a few post-collision resets, we appreciated the help.

Your performance is augmented by a uniquely robust customization system. Unlike other automotive games, players don't upgrade their cars in Blur -- they upgrade the effectiveness of their power-ups, health, and shields. You purchase these upgrades with funds donated by fans which you acquire by performing well during races. You can even bolster your rate of fan acquisition by purchasing the help of "forumites" -- or, for a crisp $800,000, you can purchase the undying enthusiasm of a blogger.

Our rates are way lower. (This is where we'd put in a winky emoticon face, if we didn't find the use of emoticons of any sort completely vile.) (Also, we're joking. Chill.)

Bizarre hasn't left car enthusiasts completely out in the cold. There's plenty of purchasable cars, many of which are conceptual designs of actual licensed vehicles. Certain vehicles -- particularly ones based on actual cars with huge modding communities -- can be customized with a few cosmetic items. However, most of the focus is placed upon improving the player's capacity for creating (or defending themselves against) destruction.

It's a refreshing hybrid of the Burnout-esque gameplay that has always resonated with me and the Project Gotham Racing polish that I've always admired from afar. Blur's going to face some stiff competition when it drops November 3 -- but it's certainly got a fair share of originality which might help it (insert racing metaphor that means 'do somewhat better than its direct competitors' here).

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