There's a new racer in town folks and with its ultra-lounge neon presentation, Activision's Blur gracefully bridges the gap between flashy arcade racing and tactical power-up usage almost perfectly. It's best described as Super Mario Kart crossbred with Project Gotham Racing buzzing on Ecstasy, and while that analogy might have Nintendo disapprovingly wagging its finger at me, Bizarre Creations' Blur ranks up there as one of the most engaging and entertaining racers of recent times.
Like so many high profile games these days, Blur's offerings are distinctly halved out into a fulfilling singleplayer experience and a nitro-infused online multiplayer affair. The game's not afraid to successfully rip off aspects of other popular franchises, and even though there's no fictional desert combat, Blur takes more than a couple of leaves from Infinity Ward's mould-breaking Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare online philosophies.
This is Joe driving. You can tell because he's at the back.
The name of the game is career progression; singleplayer offers up eight individual brackets to conquer while the online game sees you start all over again as you rise through the ranks to a lofty level cap of 50. At first glance, Blur initially comes across as a great-looking racer that can be beaten inside of 10 hours or so of intense play. But it's only after you start to scratch the surface of both of the modes that you realise it'll be a hell of a lot longer before you can truly say you've completed the game. Blur's Fan system features in both single and multiplayer modes and acts as an experience points progression metric for both instances. You earn Fan points by racing hard, completing objectives and thrashing your opponents in cyberspace.
Singleplayer starts you out as a noob with only one car in your garage and a lot of gameplay mechanics to wrap your head around. It's very much a power-up geared gameplay experience, so if you don't like maintaining pole position for the vast majority of a race only to be nailed by an unfortunate hail of lightning bolts right at the end, then tough luck. It's possible however to stay at the front of the pack through sheer skill and the lack of annoying rubber-band AI is most welcomed.
Drive fast enough to leave a trail of ice cream behind you
Blur offers eight different power-ups which favourably stack up against those found in other popular racers. They range from ultra offensive to super defensive and everywhere in between. The Shunt launches a homing missile either in front or behind your car which does a bang-up job of causing weaker and indeed weakened cars to wreck. The Nitro provides a healthy speed boost, but when used in reverse, causes your car to experience a clever air-break affect before shooting forwards like a rocket -- great for navigating those hideously sharp hair-pin corners. The Bolt gives up three rapidly shot bullets which do big damage and cause your opponent to swerve just enough to be a pain in the arse. They can be shot backwards too in order to take out incoming enemy fire.
Some of the more defensive power-ups include the God-like Shield which negates all damage, the Mine which is a bitch to avoid at high speeds and the Barge -- a move that bumps close cars into a nasty spin.
The idea of singleplayer is to win "lights". These act as the bracket unlock system of the game and the more lights you win (by placing third or above, completing fan challenges and fan runs and facing off successfully in one on one battles) the more extra features you unlock. Unlocks see the game's 55 real-life cars start to arrive, which range from drifty, grippy or balanced rides including Audi's R8 4.2 FSI Quattro, BMW's M3 E92, Ford's Shelby GT500 and Nissan's 350Z NISMO S-tune. Car nuts will probably lose their minds at Blur's selection of four-wheeled friends. Other unlocks include Mods (very much akin to Modern Warfare's Perks) which vary widely and can be used to gain a much-needed edge.