While we've already seen some of what Blur's multiplayer has to offer in the beta, much less has been seen of the single-player campaign. Many of the core gameplay features, such as the ability to shoot other drivers with power-ups, the fan-leveling system, and challenges, all seem geared toward the multiplayer experience. Does the single-player offer enough new features and challenges to keep racers interested? We went hands-on with an updated build to find out.
The heart of Blur's single-player is in its Career mode. It's organized into nine groups, each consisting of seven challenges. When you start the game, only the first group called Proving Grounds is available. The others are unlocked as you work your way through each group. The seven challenges in a group consist of one of three types: race, destruction, and checkpoint. Race is a simple 20-car competition to reach first place, though you are able to progress as long as you place third or above. Destruction is a points-based challenge, requiring you to shoot your opponents with a specific power-up, such as bolt or shunt. You're given a score target at the start of the race and a time limit with which to reach the score. Points are awarded for successful hits, and bonuses are available for multiple hits on the same target or for skillful shooting. The final challenge is checkpoint; a timed race around the track, where you must go though gates at specific points on the map in a limited amount of time. More time can be acquired by picking up stopwatch power-ups, which are scattered across the track.
Though there isn't a narrative that ties the challenges together, each group ends with a final boss battle. This takes the form of a one-on-one race against an opponent with a special mod. For example, an opponent's car may have the ability to launch unlimited bolts or have an increased resistance to damage. Each boss has a set of requirements that you must fulfill from earlier challenges, such as completing a race in an allotted amount of time or pulling off a number of drifts on a track. Each of the requirements is listed so you can easily check on what you have to do in order to take on the boss and keep track of your progress. Boss battles are much harder than regular races, but you are rewarded with the car and its special modification for beating them.
After finishing a course, you're given the option of challenging a friend to best your time or score via Xbox Live or Twitter. This sends a message to friends asking if they wish to accept your challenge. You can customise the challenge before sending it, changing such attributes as the time it takes to complete the course or the power-ups available. If they manage to beat it, they have the option of sending it back to you, complete with even more difficult conditions. This works much like a turn-based game, allowing players who might not necessarily be online at the same time or those without an Xbox Live gold subscription to compete. It also gives your friends who are new to the game the opportunity to experience more difficult tracks further into the Career mode.
Like in the multiplayer, completing challenges earns you fans. Fans can be used to purchase new mods for your car, which increases its abilities. Certain challenges also contain fan runs, which give you the opportunity to earn extra fans. Runs require completing a task, such as racing through a set of checkpoints in a given amount of time, hitting a certain speed, or achieving a long drift. They are taken on by picking up a special bouncing icon in a challenge. You have to complete the run while trying to beat the original challenge, which adds to the difficulty of races. Unfortunately, fans that you earn in the single-player do not carry over to your online profile.
In addition to the Career mode, we checked out the achievements system, which has been dubbed stickers. Unlike most games, Blur requires you to complete four separate challenges in order to earn one achievement. None of the achievements are hidden, so you can see all of them under the stickers menu, including the specific challenges to earn them. Another feature we saw was photos. This allows you to take snapshots during a race and upload your best or worst Blur moments to a central server. These can then be shared with your friends or opponents online and are great for rubbing someone's face in it when you nail him or her with a well-placed shunt missile.
Since the multiplayer beta has been live, Bizarre Creations has been making tweaks based on feedback, which have made it into the single-player. One of these tweaks tones down the barge power-up, which was found to be too powerful. Another tweak removes the in-car view, leaving just the third-person and bumper views. This was removed because it did not leave enough of the screen visible, making it difficult to see power-ups flying toward you or on the track. A pumping techno soundtrack has also been added to the single-player, though we were told the music will not be available in the multiplayer.
The biggest difference we saw in the single-player was the graphics, which are noticeably better in the offline game. We saw a number of tracks, including the Hollywood Hills, San Francisco, and Brighton Promenade. The latter two were especially nice looking. Brighton was set at night and featured colourful fireworks exploding in the sky with a backdrop of Ferris wheels, as well as carousels. San Francisco featured a number of great twists and turns; it was immediately recognisable by the Golden Gate Bridge, which was a great approximation of the real thing. The detail in the tracks was very high, which also extended to smaller things, such as the crowds at the start of races who applauded and launched flares into the sky.
The final tidbit of information Activision gave us has to do with the game's multiplayer. Because Bizarre will monitor the game's servers directly, it will be able to keep an eye on what games people are playing and the most popular custom modes the community has created. If a custom mode proves popular enough, Bizarre will incorporate it into the game via an update and make it available to everyone. Blur is due out May 28 on the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC.