I should say at the start that, while Blur is an enjoyable racing game, the actual racing is the least exceptional part of it. Some people may have a hard time understanding how I can like a game whose fundamental mechanic is the weakest part of the mix; I had a hard time coming to terms with it myself, but Blur does a few other interesting things well enough that I didn’t mind that the core gameplay is a bit ordinary.

Whether winding your way through Los Angeles cargo yards, the streets of Tokyo or the hills of Barcelona, Blur delivers all the speed that its name implies. Players will jump into the driver’s seat of nearly 60 real cars and fight their way around a variety of different tracks. Along the way, they’ll collect power-ups — nitro bursts, mines, homing projectiles, shields, etc. — and use them to devastate their opponents as they race for the finish line. Along the way, there will be hidden shortcuts, dynamic challenges and inventive “beat the clock” scenarios to keep the action from getting too predictable.

As someone who is bored to death by the more realistic focus of titles like Forza and Gran Turismo, I appreciate Blur merging licensed cars and real locations with the high action of games like Burnout and MarioKart. At first, it makes Blur a sort of chimera and you can waste a good bit of time just trying to figure out if it’s supposed to be a racing game or a car combat game. If you play it expecting a straight-up racing game, you’ll definitely be frustrated when the AI takes you from 1st to 20th place in a matter of seconds with a few well-timed attacks. If, on the other hand, you play it expecting it to be a car combat game, you’ll be equally aggravated to discover that the rewards you earn for smashing your opponents only count if you manage to come in near the front of the pack. Stick with it though, and you’ll discover the game’s fine balance between the two approaches.

While the overall concept is solid, the racing physics feel a bit off. You can’t muscle the other cars around like you can in games like Burnout and this absence is felt strongly and repeatedly, particularly if you’re driving a large off-road truck and trying to nudge a VW Beetle. With a bit of practice and persistence, you can shove your rivals out of the way of important power-ups, or into convenient obstacles, but the collisions still feel a bit rigid. The same is true of the game’s drifting, which doesn’t really give you enough feedback or input to find the sweet spot to drift through the tight turns found on many of the tracks.

Blur takes a page from Call of Duty by offering up an incredibly varied progression system. Players can earn points towards unlocking new cars and power-up mods through a wide range of activities. You’ll place in races and complete specific challenges to unlock new races in the campaign, you’ll complete fan challenges (like using nitro boost to ram another car or scoring a bolt hit while drifting) to earn fans to unlock new cars, and you’ll go head-to-head against bosses to earn pink slips. Add in some progressive achievements that reward certain types of play, and it’s a safe bet that you’ll feel like you’re making progress towards at least a few notable goals in each and every race.

The big disappointment is that none of the stuff you unlock in single player shows up in multiplayer. After spending a couple of nights just playing through the single player campaign, unlocking loads of cool new cars and new power-up mods, it was more than a little aggravating to head online and discover that none of that stuff is available once you start playing with other people. Suddenly, you’re back at square one with just one type of car and no cool power ups. What a waste. By having two totally separate and unrelated advancement paths for single player and multiplayer, the developers eliminate any relevance that one might have for the other.

Another big pain in multiplayer is the long time between races. You may not think it’s much to have to wait two or four minutes from the end of one race to the beginning of the next, but when the races themselves are only a few minutes long, you start to realize that you’re only racing half the time. The other half, you’re just looking at loading screens and menus. It’s a small price to pay for the added fun of racing against aggressive and intelligent human opponents, but I definitely wish the downtime could have been minimized.

Bottom Line: Blur is a fun game once you embrace its peculiar nature. The combat and advancement system redeem the otherwise unspectacular racing model and the bizarre separation between the single player and multiplayer rewards. None of these faults stop Blur from being fun, but they keep it from being particularly memorable.

Recommendation: Blur offers plenty of thrills in the short term but just isn’t distinctive enough to justify a permanent place in your collection. Rent it, have fun for a week, and then move on.

[rating=3]

This review is based on the Xbox 360 version of the game.

Steve Butts has a hard time not wanting to shunt other drivers during his hour-long commute to and from the office.

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