First Impressions: PGR/Mario Kart love child?
UK developer Bizarre Creations is best known for its outstanding Project Gotham Racing series which helped launch Microsoft's gaming business into the stratosphere (PGR 1 and 3 were launch titles for the Xbox and Xbox 360 respectively, and PGR 2 launched Xbox Live). Now that Activision owns Bizarre Creations, the PGR franchise is sadly out of their hands ? but don't worry, they have something new up their sleeves.
PGR was always fun and exciting, with the aggressive AI and challenging difficulty making it a favorite among hardcore racing fans ? but at the cost of making it fairly inaccessible and punishing to the less fanatical racer. Bizarre is promising to change all that with their new project, Blur.
In looking to the future, Bizarre looked to the past at classic racers like OutRun, Mario Kart, Micro Machines, Road Rash and other ridiculously fun games whose mere mention evokes fond memories of pure racing joy. What made these games memorable was beyond simply getting from point A to point B; rather, it was the journey that was so much fun.
In the same spirit, Blur shifts from a more realistic driving experience towards a classic arcade racer. This doesn't mean cars will handle like they're on rails; in fact, you'll still be able to pull off some mean drifts. But rather, the focus is on increasing the fun factor and letting you enjoy the journey as you battle for position.
And when they say battle, they mean it. Similar to how Bizarre brought racing mechanics to the shooter genre in The Club, they are bringing shooter elements into the racer. Don't worry, there won't be any crazy cannons or rockets like Vigilante 8 or kooky mushroom missiles like Mario Kart. Instead, you'll have power-ups like Shunt, which is an EMP blast that pushes an opponent out of the way; Barge, which blows opponents aside with a powerful lateral shockwave; Mines (self-explanatory); the always popular Nitrous speed boost; a rechargeable shield that protects you from attacks; and more.
You will have a limited number of power-up slots so you will need to use them strategically, which is the whole point of the system. Rather than create power-ups that are so powerful they can decide the race in one shot, they are instead designed to augment your racing strategy ? as well as generating laughs as you tick off your buddies with a well-timed attack.
While PGR had the Kudos system that awarded points for drifts, jumps and flawless driving, Blur uses a similar system called Fans. You can still earn Fans for your driving skills but you will really rack up the points using your power-ups and chaining together combo multipliers. For example, you earn Fans by using a Shunt attack, but earn bonuses if your attack flips your opponent or causes him to crash into another car; basically, the more mayhem you can cause with a single attack, the bigger your multiplier. You can also earn a ?revenge? bonus if you successfully land a counterattack within a time limit.
Car physics are being tuned for greater accessibility, which is a fancy way of saying handling will be more arcadey and less sim-like ? good news for casual racing fans who don't know a drift from a draft. It may sound like bad news for hardcore racers but you shouldn't fear that Bizarre is ?dumbing down? their racing heritage because there will be plenty of cars with more realistic handling similar to what you would expect in PGR.
The game sounds like an updated version of Mario Kart, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. But Blur is still fundamentally a Bizarre racing game, which means gorgeous photorealistic cars, real-world locations, blazing speeds and lots of fun. Bizarre wanted to do something different in the racing genre already crowded with sim-like games like Forza and GRID, and Blur certainly sounds like a refreshing new entry to the field.
Reflecting the new style of gameplay is the atmosphere surrounding each race. While tracks are still located in real cities like London and Los Angeles, they will appear in the grittier side of town rather than the sparkling postcard locales of PGR, reflecting the new urban street racing theme. Each location has been optimized for gameplay so don't expect the realistic recreations from PGR, but they should still be familiar enough to residents.
Naturally, real-world cars will be plentiful but with a more diverse variety, ranging from tuned beaters to exotic sports cars to wild rides like a Ford van powered by an F1 engine. Each car will display realistic damage effects with pieces falling off as you get banged up.
Races will be set up using the in-game version of Facebook, where you will receive messages and challenges from racers in the single-player campaign. Fans hastily set up the course using old furniture and sawhorses (no metal crash barriers here) and all races occur at night or sunrise/sundown; after all, you wouldn't hold a street race in the middle of the day when there's tons of traffic, would you? The darkness highlights the colorful neon visual effects like streaming trails from car lights, the flashy Hollywood-like power-up effects, and the glow-sticks waved by fans lining the course. It looks pretty and brings a nice serving of eye candy to what is typically a special effects-challenged genre.
The Facebook interface will also be used to set up custom groups and rules in online multiplayer. Up to 20 players can hit the track online, with the host having full freedom to customize the parameters of the game. Don't want power-ups and only specific car types? No problem. In fact, your customized rule set can be pushed out to the community, so you will be able to share your own version of Cat and Mouse with everyone.
And fortunately for those who are not online or like racing with buddies sitting beside them on the couch, the game will support four-player splitscreen. Splitscreen is slowly and sadly disappearing as developers emphasize online play, so it is good to see Bizarre is still supporting this feature.