Shunting other cars out of the way in a desperate bid for the front of the pack in an all out 20 player online duel sounds like a blast. Chuck in some power-ups, arcade handling and even some social networking and you have yourself a solid evening's entertainment out of the rain. It all sounds nice in theory, but how is it in execution? As your humble NZGamer.com reviewer today, I sacrifice some of my bandwidth to hop on XBox Live and find out.
Loading up Live (because let's face it, that's why you're buying this title) is a painless experience. Your options are immediately available; you can jump into the newbie room, a skirmish with up to ten racers or an all out road rage extravaganza with up to twenty. There are other options that will open up as you get more races under your belt, but even when you do, it's these last two modes that will be taking up your time. One great feature I noticed straight away was how the game tells you how many players are active in each mode. If there is obviously nobody playing 'Motor Mash', then you can either expect to wait for someone to join, or play another mode until there is more interest. Matchmaking also lets you choose to only join local games, in case a room of nineteen Americans with mics isn't your thing. Another clever aspect is that the game will select two tracks, with everyone in the lobby having a chance to vote on which you'll end up racing on.
Blur can also access your Facebook and Twitter accounts so you can share your progress with your mates. I doubt many people will be any more interested in these updates than they are with your constant updates about lost cows in Farmville, but it's still interesting how these mediums are mixing lately. You can also share what you want to share, when you want, so it's a bit more advanced than just trophy updates. What is pretty cool, though, is the ability to take shots of the game play and then post those to your Facebook page. I wouldn't mind seeing that more in the future. Tagging a friend's car flipping through the air would be a good laugh.
Okay, so the layout is easy to use, and the TweetFace options are a real novelty. What I really need to get onto is the gameplay. And it's good. It's very good. I'm sure most people will jump straight into the 'Powered up' lobby, which is where the game really shines. Twenty cars on one fairly small track is pure chaos. Especially with weapons. Blur is a blast, but if you need to win, or are easily frustrated - this may not be the game for you. One hiccup can see you overtaken by almost all of the field, and rules are out the window completely. You need to approach this mode just to have a bash and a laugh. Taking it seriously will end in tears. Sometimes the chaos of mass-multiplayer races will take its toll and joining the skirmish races provides a welcome, slightly less chaotic, race.
Power-ups include shields, repairs and boosts, but it's the 'shunt' which is used the most. This ball of destruction targets your unfortunate adversary and is pretty tricky to shake. A hit from it will see you looping through the air and is bound to result in a couple of lost places. Thankfully there are a variety of ways of neutralizing this attack. Most power-ups can be used to escape this ball-of-position-losing-death, and the use of your rear-view mirror is crucial to your timing. Just don't forget to keep an eye of what's happening in front of you. Once you get familiar with the pros and cons of each power-up the races get a lot more strategic and you will find yourself better equipped to deal with certain situations. Rationing, dumping and selectively picking up choice power-ups is key to a good result. If by coincidence or plan, half the field target you at the same time, there isn't too much you can do.
Handling is purely on the arcade side. I love the depth of handling Bizarre Creations embedded into their Project Gotham series, but Blur needs to be a pick-up-and-play game with immediate payoff. Sure you will need to point the car in the right direction, but familiarity with the tracks and weapons will pay off more than racing skills. Interestingly enough, cars and weapon options for use online are earned online, so players with more games under their belt have an advantage that experience alone could ever give them. That said, anything can happen in a race, and even if you're green, sheer luck could win you a result. If finding the perfect apex is your thing, perhaps Blur isn't the best place to be.
Single player races against the AI are actually pretty entertaining, but doesn't quite have the same mayhem or personality of the online mode. Arcade fans or renters will enjoy themselves, but it's a little too shallow to justify buying the game if you are a solitary gamer.
The developers haven't held back on production values either. Everything looks and feels super slick, and there are plenty of nice little touches, such as a (skippable) summary of your progress through the game every time you start it up. Graphics may not be a selling point for Blur, but the cars and environments look sharp, bright and more than do their job. The game may not be visually stunning, but it all runs well and looks good. That said if you have time to ponder over the graphics, then you really are doing something wrong.
Blur may not be a top tier title as such, but it certainly is worthy of being in your online arsenal. The game is pure arcade candy. You won't lose yourself in the game for days, and you certainly shouldn't take it seriously. But it sure is a blast to fire up and have some fun jostling for position for a couple of hours. I'll certainly be jumping online from time to time in the future. It's not like you'll lose your competitive edge if you play other games in the meantime.