In many racing games, "more power" might refer to installing a more efficient exhaust system or a beefier engine for your favorite ride. In developer Bizarre Creations (best known for its Project Gotham Racing series) and Activision's upcoming Blur, "more power" takes on an entirely different meaning--from force fields that can knock your opponents off a cliff to nitro boosts that will blast your car to supersonic speeds. It's just one of the ways Blur is set to differentiate itself from the always-crowded racing genre when it's released this November. Earlier this week, Activision brought by a build of the game and gave us some hands-on time with this arcade racer.
As Activision producers pointed out to us numerous times, the goal with Blur is to make racing games accessible to everyone. As a result, you won't find menus loaded up with gear head jargon for adjusting spoiler angle or setting gear ratios. In short, if that's your thing, then Blur might not be your thing. For those who don't get caught up in the minutiae of mechanics, you can expect an approachable arcade racer that puts a premium on track mayhem rather than ideal racing lines.
You'll play as an up-and-coming racer in Blur who is looking to make a name for himself in the underground racing scene. Along the way, you'll meet a bunch of recurring characters; some of whom will be rivals, others who will act as mentors. Early on in the game, one character named Rhymer will take you through a tutorial. If you've spent any time at all on a console racing game, you'll feel right at home with the basics--right trigger for gas, left trigger for brake (though you won't need that much), and left stick to steer.
Driving is a simple affair, but it's the power-ups that add the spice. In the early goings, you'll only have a few to choose from--the nitro boost and the shunt--which you can use to blast the car ahead of you. There's no aiming involved with the shunt power-up; instead, you just need to wait until an icon appears over the car ahead of you and press the A button to fire. As you progress a bit deeper into the game, you'll find races with additional power-ups-- one will fire a long-range electrical blast that will temporarily slow down opponents while another will drop mines directly behind you (and is ideal to use in corners or just ahead of power-ups).
The power-ups are effective from the get-go, but as you progress through the game, they'll become more powerful. You can use the money you earn from race events to purchase upgrades to your power-ups, as well as the number of power-up slots you have available to you during a race (you start off with two slots). If you have banked two power-ups of the same type, you can also fire them in quick succession--known in-game as a double tap--for a boosted effect. For instance, using a double tap nitro will give you a much more dramatic and extended boost than your typical boost. In addition to the offensive-minded power-ups, you'll have shields you can temporarily engage by pressing the X button. If you've been locked on by an opposing driver when racing, an icon will appear onscreen and you'll have a small window of time to activate your shield.
Although racing to cross the finish line first will be your goal in most races, it won't be the only way to progress. By performing daring moves in races and using your power-ups liberally, you'll earn fans during a race. These fans will give you money you can use for upgrades and to purchase new cars. Fans will also unlock new content throughout the game. During a race, you can earn chain multipliers by stringing together several power-ups in a row and reaping the fan rewards in the process. Certain races will also have "fan demands" pick-ups, which essentially act as midrace objectives, such as finding a hidden power-up or performing a nitro jump. If you manage to nail a fan demand objective, you'll get a boost to your fan totals at the end of the game.
Most of the cars in Blur are officially licensed models, and the game features a mixture of cars from all over the world. You'll have your American muscle cars, imports from Europe and Japan, and a few specialty vehicles that look to be a lot of fun to drive, as well as some concept models that were specifically designed by the folks at Bizarre. It won't just be cars either--we saw trucks, hot rods, and even a van that was said to be outfitted with an F1 engine available for purchase in the game. Cars are defined by several characteristics: acceleration, speed, strength, drift, grip, and stability.
You'll take all of these cars through varied locales, such as Los Angeles (including the opening races that take place in the LA Basin), the hills of San Francisco, London, Japan, and elsewhere. By the looks of things, track design is fairly open to begin with and only gets into tight, curvy sections once you're used to the extremely forgiving handling in the game. That said, there is the occasional surprise thrown your way. Early on, you'll be racing in the Hollywood Hills, and your opponents will be able to knock you off the track to send you barrel-rolling down the hills if you make a mistake. All cars in a race--yours included--will have an associated health meter, and if the meter goes down to zero, your race will be over. However, you'll find repair power-ups strewn throughout a level that will return your car to full health.
In addition to the single-player game, we got a peek at Blur's multiplayer aspect, specifically a look at the four-player split-screen. It's been a while since we've played a split-screen racing game, and while the frame rate seems to take a bit of hit, the trash-talking is amped up considerably when the cars are zipping along and the power-ups are flying. You can choose to set your multiplayer options along a large variety of criteria--locale, car class, number of AI racers, and the like--or play in World Tour mode, which will set random races up in sequence for as long as you and your friends wish to race. One cool thing about multiplayer is that fans earned by all players in the game go to a central pool and can be used to unlock content, such as new race modes.
Yes, Blur represents a change in focus for the Bizarre team. That said, it's worth noting that even the Project Gotham Racing series had an element of approachability that set it apart from the more serious console sim racers out there. Nonetheless, the studio is throwing its hat fully into the arcade racing scene this time around with the hope of expanding the genre to an audience that might not otherwise even look at this type of game. We'll find out if this new direction pays dividends in fun factor and sales when the game is released on November 3.