Going solo in Bizarre's urban racer.
UK, May 3, 2010 - Blur has changed. That much was clear last time we saw the game; from being an intriguing if confused attempt to restore the racing genre to the heights of success that it enjoyed in the early nineties it has transformed, thanks to a delay and a minor rethink, into a game that's looking quite incredible – a racer that takes cues from the likes of Modern Warfare 2 in its approach to multiplayer and ties them together with Bizarre's near-unrivalled expertise in the racing genre.
Cynics – of which there were many when the game was first announced – have been won over, thanks in no small part to the excellent multiplayer demo that's been wowing on Xbox Live of late. There's a different side to Blur, of course: the single player, another area of the game which has also gone under Bizarre's scalpel and come out looking all the better for it. First time round, Blur's solo campaign revolved around a fictional social network within the game, housing a series of game modes, races and challenges from a colourful cast of characters.
That's been made redundant by the integration of Twitter (as well as the inclusion of another as yet unnamed social network), and in its place there's a more streamlined structure to Blur's single player. The cast has been honed down to a mere nine characters, each one acting as a boss to the game's nine separate levels. They're less obtrusive than when we first saw the game – obnoxious trash talking was thankfully absent from what we played through – though they do make themselves known via boss demands, a checklist of achievements that must be ticked off before you can go wheel to wheel with them.
Those demands can be ticked off in a variety of modes – there are straight-up races, bustling affairs with some 20 cars duking it out and utilising Blur's beautifully implemented weapons (more on those in a tick), OutRun-esque checkpoint dashes, demolition-derby style destruction matches or simple one-on-one bouts. There's variety in spades, for sure, but what makes Blur's single player appealing is its many levels of reward.
Tying the game to Bizarre's heritage with Project Gotham, Blur is a game that endows its players with a real sense of achievement. Firstly there's the fan system, a not-so-subtle continuation of the kudos system that debuted in the decade old Metropolis Street Racer. It's topped up by the spectacular – be that drifting, drafting or taking out three rivals with a well placed Barge. More fans equals better cars, a vital tool for progression in later stages.
Joining this is a multi-layered achievement system – a sticker album lists a series of meta-games to be played throughout Blur, be that totalling a set number of rivals to spending a certain amount of time sideways in mid-drift. Progress in each task is helpfully charted, and with some 50 of them to unlock it's a completist's nightmare.
All these systems conspire to make an experience that, while not groundbreaking, runs much deeper than other like-minded racing games. The real innovation, it seems, has been reserved for multiplayer, and it's something that even seeps into the single player game. Online leaderboards are present at each race's end, as expected, but less expected is the option to lay down a challenge to a friend on Xbox Live. After a single player event the game records your achievements, and it's possible to ask friends to match or better your results.
It's a smart feature that goes to show how social gaming is at the very heart of Blur. Ultimately, however, it will live or die by the quality of its racing, and spending an hour in the company of the single player campaign reasserts the fact that Blur should have no problem here. The urban backdrops have come a long way since they were first revealed, and are now soaked in neon splendour – a run down Brighton's promenade that sends players drifting around the Old Steine lends some vivid colour to the seaside city, while San Francisco's Russian Hill is an electric blue parody of the real thing.
And while the handling is obviously skewed towards the arcade scale of things, the combat is wonderfully deep. Each weapon has a counter, negating some of the cheap tactics that muddy other weapons-based racers, lending the racing a uniquely tactical air – something that's come to the fore throughout the multiplayer beta.
There's not much longer to wait until the real deal lands – we'll be sure to give you the full verdict ahead of the May 28 release date.