Blurring Past the Competition
September 9, 2009 – Project Gotham Racing definitely is a series that holds a special place in the minds of racing simulator fans everywhere. When it was announced that the PGR series would not be continued after its fourth iteration, it was definitely a shot through the heart for many gamers. However, the team behind this blockbuster series has gotten back in the driver’s seat with an all-new IP: Blur. But the only thing that Blur has in common with its predecessor, is its loving treatment of the subject matter. Everything else, from the style of racing to the track design, has been taken in an entirely new direction. Even though fans of PGR may balk at some of the changes, trust me, it’s all for the better.
These changes are most apparent in the core racing system. Though PGR garnered fame for being a strict simulation-based racer, Blur very firmly belongs in the arcade genre. We were able to go hands-on with it for about an hour, and the game definitely has a control style that emphasizes speed over accuracy. All of the cars we tried out accelerated amazingly fast, and we were able to fly through the streets of a fantasized version of the streets of Spain without much regard to our speedometer reading. However, like any arcade-style racer, you do have to master certain driving techniques to get ahead.
We were able to talk with the team at Bizarre for a little while, and they explained to us that during their research it seemed that people who played high-speed racing games liked the thrill of overtaking other players the most. The team wanted to create an environment where the thrill of this driving maneuver is always present. Unfortunately, in simulation-style games, it is all too easy to fall behind and spend the rest of a race trying to catch up to the other cars, much less overtake them. Fortunately, Blur has a simple solution to this issue. Every time your car falls too far behind, or you get into a catastrophic crash, Blur will reset your car and you’ll be able to start again at the back of the pack. This is a great way to keep players that might not be that experienced with automotive games from becoming discouraged. The approach was somewhat reminiscent of Mario Kart, and even though I crashed my ride several times during my first few run-throughs, I never felt like I was hopelessly behind, and I was always able to gain enough speed to pass the cars in front of me.
Another aspect of Blur that was somewhat reminiscent of Mario Kart was the presence of power-ups. While you are driving through the different tracks, you will occasionally see neon-lighted boxes pop up in the middle of the track. Driving through these boxes will yield you a special boost that can be activated immediately or saved for later. These boosts come in several different varieties, including the destructive “shunt” power-up, which sends out an energy pulse around your vehicle to blast through the competition as well as the racing-standard nitro boost, which gives you a temporary burst of acceleration. There are also mine and shield power-ups.
However, instead of just giving you one boost to use at a time, Blur attempts to inject a bit of strategy into the mix by giving you several power-up “slots” you can cycle through, making these buffs stackable. So, for instance, if you got three nitro boosts in a row, you’ll be able to trigger a triple-powered nitro burst that will burn up the track. Conversely, if you have two nitro boosts and a shunt, you can use your shunt immediately but save your double nitro boost for later. The power-up concept for the racing may not be entirely new, but the stackable element is certainly an interesting augmentation, and I can’t wait to see how it plays out, especially in what is sure to be super-competitive online matches.
Although we weren’t given too much information about Blur’s online modes, we were able to hear about the game’s local multiplayer. Though many racing games have been solely focused on the online multiplayer aspect, Blur aims to get back to basics by including a split-screen multiplayer mode that has support for up to four players. Though the team was mum on whether the split-screen multiplayer could be used in the main story mode or not, it seems that the multiplayer will be a great way to get friends in on the racing action, and Blur’s easy accessibility will help bring both casual and hardcore racers into the foray.
Racing games sometimes seem like a dime a dozen these days with established franchises releasing game after game, year after year, without much change. And even though franchises like Need for Speed, Forza, and Midnight Club have done a great job of continually upping the ante in terms of difficulty and realism, it’s nice to see a new game that goes back to basics and improves on the simpler, more fun aspects of racing. Blur is certainly a high-octane game that will promise plenty of thrills and exciting moments for both hardcore and more casual automotive fans when it releases this fall!