It's not often that racing games compare themselves to adrenaline-fuelled action games, yet that is exactly what Bizarre Creations is aiming to do with Blur. We headed to Bizarre's studio in Liverpool for hands-on time with the fully licensed cars, supershiny graphics, and cacophony of over-the-top power-ups in the upcoming multiplayer beta of the full game.
At first glance, Blur seems like a typical arcade racing game. There are more than 30 tracks, and many of them take inspiration from real-world locations. There are also many cars to drive, which include fully licensed brands, such as BMW, Ford, and Lotus. Where Blur differentiates itself is in its use of power-ups, which enable you to launch homing missiles, deploy mines, or drop electromagnetic pulse fields on competitors. There are eight types of power-ups available, and all of them are unlocked from the get-go in the beta. You're able to hold three at any time, switching between them with the B button and launching them with A button.
Blur's online multiplayer supports up to 20 people, which is currently the largest available in a console racing game. There are eight different game modes to choose from, though only four are available in the beta. Your goal in most modes is to simply cross the finish line first, though other modes, such as Motor Mash, require you to earn points by damaging cars with power-ups or by ramming them off the road. The game employs a rank-based system, which is similar to that of such shooters as Modern Warfare and Gears of War. Competing in events earns you fans, and the more fans you get, the higher your rank, which, in turn, unlocks new game modes, cars, or mods.
Mods allow you to change how your car deals with things, such as power-ups or damage. They are organised into three distinct types: aggressive, defensive, and show-off. You can choose three mods for each race and pick from each category. You can also save your favourite combinations of mods in custom categories, allowing you to easily switch between them for different races and cars. Some of the mods available include battering ram, where your car deals more damage in collisions; splash damage, which increases the range of the barge power-up; and fan favourite, which gains you extra fans for finishing a race. Not all mods are unlocked from the start of the game, and in some cases, you'll have to rank up all the way up to level 50 to get a hold of the best ones. There are also online leaderboards, so you can see how you stack up against the competition with stats, such as how many races you've won, your rank, and your driver score.
We also got to play with the multiplayer challenges. These are like achievements, and they reward you with fans for accomplishing a simple task, such as blocking 50 attacks using a shield or evading 75 shunts. More complex challenges are unlocked as you rank up, and you can view your progress with them at any time. In single-player, challenges are tied to a specific race or mission. For example, they may require you to complete a race in less than 2 minutes without using power-ups. These challenges can then be shared with your friends over Xbox Live and pop up as a dashboard message asking your friends if they want to try to beat your score. You can even customise challenges to make them more difficult should your friends be beating you too easily. This feature is open to Xbox Live Silver members, so everybody can take part in some form of multiplayer, even if it doesn't involve racing against people directly. Twitter is also integrated into the game, and you can share challenges you've completed or any of your statistics over the social network. Fortunately, tweets aren't automated, so you shouldn't have to worry too much about getting a barrage of Blur statistics from your friends.
If you're familiar with Project Gotham Racing, then you'll see some similarities between the two games. Car handling is forgiving, and it's only once you've unlocked some of the more powerful drift-style cars, such as the Ford GT, that you'll run into any trouble. The vehicles look good, and there are plenty of nighttime locations on offer to show off their shiny surfaces. The most impressive effects come from the power-ups themselves, which erupt in brightly coloured bangs and flashes when used. They're accompanied by some great sound effects, which we were told took most of their inspiration from science fiction films, such as Star Wars and Star Trek. The bass, in particular, is brutal and makes the power-ups that much more satisfying to use.
Combining over-the-top power-ups with realistic vehicles and tracks gives Blur the feel of a grown-up Mario Kart. The in-depth multiplayer ranking system also looks to be a great addition. The Blur multiplayer beta goes live March 8 on Xbox Live, and GameSpot users can sign up for their free key here. The game is due out later this spring on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.