Blur answers the long-contemplated question: What would happen if a speeding Renault dropped a land mine in front of a gaining Nissan at 130mph? The answer is, of course, a massive wreck, but it’s only now that Blur has merged the real-life cars from Project Gotham Racing with the over-the-top weapons more commonly found in the cartoony Mario Kart series that such questions can finally be laid to rest forever. This odd combination paves the way for an exhilarating racing experience with an absolutely relentless pace, but there is another element borrowed from a popular franchise that makes it even harder to put this racer down. An experience system similar to the one that worked so well in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has been integrated into the missile-shooting, corner-taking action, giving you a healthy stream of prizes for successfully pulling off specific maneuvers. The thrilling racing does hit a couple of rough patches, though. The drifting is a little too stiff, and the level cap in single-player can be hit long before you finish up your career. But once you get a handle on the driving, nothing can slow down your fun in this exciting racer.
Despite all the fancy rewards and destructive weapons in Blur, the most important aspect is still the driving, and thankfully, it's a blast to take to the road. This is a fast-moving game where quick reflexes are paramount to success, and the controls rarely get in the way of your chance to grab the checkered flag. You can smoothly glide between competitors, dodge land mines and missiles without any worry, and take tight turns at top speeds--at least after a bit of practice. The drifting is a bit stiff, and it can take a little finesse to steer yourself around corners without slamming into the wall. This stiffness can be mitigated by selecting a vehicle with more grip, allowing you to stay fully in control when cornering at the expense of speed. But once you get a handle on the timing needed to perform a perfect drift, it's a rush to scream around corners with style.
The early portions of the single-player campaign make it easy to learn how to drive on the fly, but the challenges become stiffer once you get deeper into the game. There are 63 events to compete in, topped off by nine bosses that are none too pleased that you're trying to wrest their racing crowns from them. There are three unique event types: racing, checkpoint, and destruction. In racing, you test your mettle against up to 19 other drivers, squealing around corners and unleashing weapons to claw your way to the top. Checkpoint removes the weapons and competitors, and the game is just as fun when you're focused on the smooth driving without anything to distract you from the road. Destruction flips that idea around, forcing you to dispatch as many nameless drivers as possible before your time is up. With only three different event types, there isn't a ton of variety, but the action is so engaging and fun that it hardly matters that your overall objective doesn't change much.
A lot of the enjoyment comes from the secondary objectives you need to complete. Every action you take in Blur is tracked and tallied, and rewards are doled out when you reach certain milestones. Rewards include new cars and passive modifications, giving you plenty of control over your on-track strategy. The mods give you all sorts of additional powers to play around with, such as earning turbo boost at the beginning of every lap or equipping your car with a laser sight to make shooting weapons easier. There are also mini challenges in every event that let you earn more fans which unlocks more cars after you gain enough. Every track has a checkpoint challenge where you must drive through a series of markers within a time limit, but there are more specific challenges as well that keep the racing fresh. These include hitting opponents with a missile while you're drifting or achieving a certain high speed, and it's a blast to strive for these goals while trying to overtake the car in first place. The only strange thing is how quickly you reach the maximum fan-level limit. In single-player, 25 is the highest level available, and you can reach this long before you finish all the events. There are still other rewards to strive for, but it's disheartening to reach your fan limit and be left without levels to strive for before you reach the end of the game.
The weapons have mostly been inspired by Mario Kart, but they're well balanced and provide a satisfying way to overcome your foes. The assortment of missiles, land mines, and homing bombs are expected inclusions, but most items have multiple uses that make you strategize a bit more. For instance, your force push attack can slam a nearby enemy into a wall or straight off the course, but you can also use it as a defensive mechanism. Time your button push right, and you can destroy a missile homing in on your tailgate. Also, unlike in Mario Kart, none of the weapons are overpowered. The lightning bolt does send three electrical clouds after the pack leader, but these are easy enough to avoid that they won't drastically upset the balance. Because defense is just as important as offense, the rearview mirror is incredibly useful. You need to have eyes in the back of your head to counter offensive barrages or accurately shoot missiles backward, so you have to learn how to protect your backside while still concentrating on where you're going.
All of these different elements culminate in a thrilling experience. Between the weapons and objectives, there is plenty of variety to be found in each race, with a new experience waiting for you every time you take to the track. And earning the right to challenge a boss takes more than just coming in first in enough races. Instead, every one of these battles comes with its own set of requirements, and it can be difficult to pass some of these tougher objectives. Some of these requirements come in the normal course of your racing. Passing drivers using a nitro burst or drifting for a set number of meters comes with the territory, but there are others that require you to change your tactics. Knocking an opponent into the water with a push attack or maintaining at least 120mph for an entire lap are not easy goals, but it's still a lot of fun to reach these lofty levels. The rewards system ensures that you have a chance to earn something even when you come in last place, always giving you an incentive to take on one more race.
The tracks are just as varied as the objective types, making each race feel unique. Although they are based on real locations, they are not necessarily realistic. One ridiculous track takes place directly behind the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles, where one lousy turn could see you tumbling off a cliff. Another track takes place on the hilly streets of San Francisco, and as long as you don't mind slamming your undercarriage repeatedly against the ground, it's tons of fun swerving through this iconic city. There's also a one-lap course that takes place on a mountain. You have to navigate narrow, winding roads at top speeds, desperately trying to make it to the finish line in one piece. Because of the diversity in the track types, you need to plan a strategy ahead of time. Certain courses have so many tight corners that you need a car that's good at drifting, while others have dirt shortcuts that beg for an off-road vehicle. The assortment of tracks makes it interesting to play these courses again and again as you attempt to unlock all the rewards.
Once you finish the single-player experience, there is a multiplayer mode with its own rewards to strive for. Like in the campaign, you earn fans for pulling off fancy maneuvers during races, and these points go toward your overall level. Instead of being limited to the single-player level cap of 25, the independent level cap goes up to 50 in online play, giving you much more reason to keep getting out on the track to prove your worth. You unlock cars and modifications as you get deeper into the game, and it's a blast mixing and matching to form the perfect strategy for coming out in first place. When you first go online, you're limited to just a few different race types, but after leveling up for a few hours, the rest opens up to you. These include races with or without power-ups and even battle arenas on circular tracks. Adding to the online experience are challenges you can send to people on your friends list, giving them specific goals to try to beat. If you get an impressive time and high score during a race, you can see if your buddies are good enough to top your best. It's a lot of fun to send out and complete challenges, and the diversity in objectives ensures there's always something to strive for.
There's a split-screen mode as well, but this is far less entertaining than single-player and online multiplayer. First of all, there are no persistent rewards. Even though point markers appear whenever you strike your friend with a weapon or pull off a smooth turn, they don't accumulate, and there aren't any prizes to earn. This removes much of the appeal of the other modes in which striving for new toys to play with is almost as much fun as the racing. Furthermore, the rearview mirror has been taken out, which makes it difficult to play defensively during races. It's almost impossible to dodge attacks when you can't see them coming, so you find yourself immobilized far more often. Finally, you can't go online with a friend in tow. Split-screen is fun if you just want to play a quick race with a buddy, but it lacks any sort of long-term appeal and doesn't stack up to the other elements in the game.
The visuals also have a few rough patches. When your health gets too low, the screen throbs read, which is fine except that it makes it difficult to see the road in front of you while you’re desperately trying to stay alive. Crashes also leave a lot to be desired. When you tumble off a cliff or fly into the water, you passively watch your car fly off in the distance without a satisfying explosion. Everything else is technically proficient but lacks any sort of flair to keep your eyes entertained. The cars are nicely detailed and move at a breakneck speed, but everything has a generic look that makes it difficult for this game to stand out from the crowd. The one bit of personality Blur's visual exhibit is in the outlandish power-ups. The neon purple missiles and shocking blue lightning bolts add a dose of energy to the sterile view. The bland visuals don't take away the thrill of the high-speed action, but it lacks the artistic brilliance that could have made this a treat for your eyes.
Thankfully, the lame split-screen mode and unremarkable visuals won't keep you from enjoying this exciting racing game. The odd combination of Mario Kart and PGR is surprisingly fun, and the added rewards system makes it extremely difficult to put this racer down. Blur is so fast and fun to control that you can lose hours slamming into enemies and racking up fans, always coming back for one more race before you turn the system off and walk away. This unlikely marriage has created an offspring that does a fine job of honoring its well-respected parents.
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