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Old 07-20-2010, 11:40 AM   #1
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[360/PS3] - Blur Review

Title: Blur
Platform: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
Platform Reviewed: Xbox 360
Developer: Bizarre Creations
Publisher: Activision
MSRP: $59.99
Writer: Matt 'gzsfrk' Williams

Blur Review

Blurring the line between love and hate.

There’s an age-old question that asks, “Why do we hurt the ones we love?” There’s also a lesser-known corollary to that query which has come to hold even greater meaning for me of late: “Why do we continue to love those who hurt us?” After playing Blur for the past couple weeks, I can’t say that I’m any closer to knowing the answer to the latter question than I was before, but I can certainly be held up as the poster boy for the sentiment. Bizarre Creations’ latest racing game has continually left me abused and shattered, only to have me come crawling back for more—time and time again.

Blur is, at its core, an arcade combat racer which makes no bones about being a Mario Kart clone. The commercial for the game actually goes out of its way to establish Blur as being Mario Kart for grown-ups, if not quite saying so in as many words. Bizarre attempted to differentiate Blur from other kart-style racing games by eschewing the cartoon-like characters and environments which are standard for the genre (the most recent example being ModNation Racers), opting instead for a more mature setting which consists of actual retail cars zipping around a variety of realistic urban and rural tracks.

Despite the authentic looking vehicles and environments, Blur has very little else in common with other near-simulation racers such as Bizarre’s own Project Gotham series. The core focus of the gameplay is on the power-ups—various offensive and defensive items littered throughout the race courses, most of which fit the archetype of the standard Mario Kart analogs. You have your Bolt (green shell), Shunt (red shell), Mine (banana peel), Nitro (mushroom), Shield (star), and Shock (blue shell). Additionally, since your vehicle does have a limit on the amount of damage it can take before you’re wrecked and penalized by a loss of all momentum, there are Repair power-ups which restore your car’s health. There’s also another new kind of power-up attack called a Barge which repels all cars or incoming attacks in your immediate vicinity.

You carry up to three power-ups at a time and can cycle between the active power-up, allowing them to be used in any order you please. In addition to the default usage, most power-ups can be used in an alternate fashion for either offensive of defensive purposes. For example, Bolts fire forward by default; but you can also hold down on the left stick when firing to shoot them backwards. This can be handy for either nailing a tailgater or stopping an incoming Shunt. If you have a Nitro equipped, you can fire it backwards right as you enter a tight turn for super-effective braking, preventing you from smashing into the wall at top speed. That being the case, the player is constantly having to decide between firing off a power-up—such as Shunt—immediately in order to trip up those ahead of them, or saving it to fire backwards should a trailing competitor fire a homing attack. While having to strategically decide how and when to use resources either offensively or defensively is by no means a new concept to gaming, Blur forces you to do it while driving along winding roads at upwards of 200mph—quite a demanding piece of multitasking.

The game is pretty clearly demarcated between its two primary play modes: the single-player campaign and online multiplayer, with a separate leveling system for each. While the fundamental mechanics of the game are the same in both, the two offer different gameplay types and quite divergent experiences overall. Unfortunately, the single-player is easily the weakest part of the Blur package. While there are a good number of racing venues (30 tracks across 14 different locations), monotony sets in pretty quick due to there being only three basic race types during the campaign. The most fun of the three is the standard Race mode, where the player dukes it out against either a field of computer-controlled drivers for first place in a no-holds-barred race to the finish. The other two race types are Checkpoint and Destruction, and consist of either completing the required number of laps or destroying a number of target cars before time runs out. While I’m sure the Checkpoint and Destruction game types will appeal to some, I found little to no joy in playing them and only slogged through with whatever minimal score I needed to progress to the next standard race.

But while the monotony of the single-player game is a drawback, that in and of itself wouldn’t be such a terrible thing given the game’s solid play mechanic. Instead, Blur’s near fatal flaw in the campaign is that the computer AI’s difficulty is brutally unforgiving and cheap. While I’m not going to be competing on the MLG circuit any time soon, I’d like to think that I’m a few steps above “noob” when it comes to gaming, and that my “skills” are typically sufficient to pay “the bills.” However, with the game set at “Medium” difficulty, there were plenty of events even early on during the single-player campaign that I honestly had to retry 10 or even 20 times—not so that I could max out my score and collect all 7 lights for the event, but just to meet the bare-minimum requirement of taking Bronze so I could advance to the next race. Note that I’ve yet to try the “Easy” difficulty, which is supposed to make some of the game’s tougher races a cakewalk. However, I’ve read that the problem with that setting is that you end up so far ahead of your competitors that it’s hard to successfully fire off enough power-ups to earn the Fans needed to progress.

Thankfully, the fantastic online multiplayer implementation more than makes up for the lackluster single-player portion of the game. Unlike the limited campaign with its three game modes, the online mode has a wider variety of event types, including Skirmish Racing (up to 10 racers), Powered-up Racing (up to 20 racers), Motor Mash (a Twisted-Metal-style mode), Hardcore Racing (no power-ups) and team variations of each. Playing the Powered-Up Racing or Motor Mash events with a full 20 player roster is sheer, cathartic pandemonium. Because there are so many factors at play, between the power-ups being constantly launched and players bumping and ramming into each other, you really shouldn’t approach these races with the goal of winning so much as trying to to avoid coming in last. But on those occasions where you do manage to win a round—via luck, willpower, or sheer determination—the satisfaction is immense, and the bragging rights well-earned. The online progression system is also quite well thought out, with each level unlocking either new cars or new “Mods”—special power ups which you can equip that provide certain advantages when racing, such as a longer duration shield or reduced damage from incoming attacks. You can equip up to three Mods at a time, which provides a nice way of customizing a vehicle to suit your play style.

Being a big fan of local multiplayer, I would be remiss if I didn’t at least briefly discuss Blur’s split-screen support. This works pretty much as you would expect, with each player getting their quarter of the screen and going at it. And while it’s a definite tactical disadvantage that you lose the rear-view mirror when playing in split-screen (meaning that things like landing Reverse Bolt shots or effectively timing countermeasures for an incoming Shunt become all but impossible), the game is still great smack-talking fun, and an excellent addition to any game night. The only real downside to the split-screen mode is that, in addition to your friends, you’re also competing against the same ridiculous computer AI that sucks much of the enjoyment from the campaign, which means that—more often than not—you and your friends will be competing to see who comes in 17th through 20th, rather than 1st through 4th. Another nice feature Blur offers is integration with Facebook and Twitter, allowing you to update either service with notes about your most recent accomplishments in the game. It’s nothing fancy or groundbreaking by any means, but it’s still nice to see more games start to offer this kind of social connectivity.

Whitney Houston once said of her relationship with notoriously-abusive husband Bobby Brown: "When we're fighting, it's like that's love for us. We're fighting for our love.” Ms. Houston’s troubling co-dependency issues aside, I think maybe in some ways that that’s what it’s like when I’m playing Blur. It’s not that I’m fighting to love the game, but rather that the fight is my love for the game. That no matter how frustrated I can get in the middle of a race where all the breaks are going against me, I always know that everything could turn around in a flash and I could find myself sitting atop the pile when it’s all over—a sensation which makes each victory all the more satisfying.

Besides, I hear Blur hasn’t sold quite up to expectations, which has to be really stressful. So it’s really no wonder he came home angry and dropped those three Shunts in a row on me last week. I mean, I probably had it coming.

Score: 4 out of 5

The Good
  • Great pick up and play racing action that no player, regardless of skill, is ever guaranteed to dominate
  • Supports 4-player split-screen for some frantic smack-talking party game action
  • The fan-based leveling system does a good job of making you feel like you’re always progressing, even when you lose repeatedly
  • Solid visuals with excellent vehicle models, nice looking environments, and spectacular special effects
  • Stylish and intuitive menu system and user interface
The Bad
  • The computer AI difficulty in the single-player campaign is not only ridiculously hard, but also seems to disproportionately target the human driver rather than equally attacking the other AI vehicles
  • Progression in the campaign is needlessly separated from online leveling, making the frustratingly-difficult single-player portion effectively pointless and skippable
The Ugly
  • My language after I finished City Slickers Event 5 with 13.9 seconds remaining, failing to meet the 14.0 second requirement needed to advance for the 17th straight time.
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