I didn't like the idea of Blur. Ever since I was told about Bizarre Creations' first game for Activision, I couldn't help but feel disappointed. I love PGR. PGR2 is one of my all-time favourite games and the studio's last game in the series, PGR4, is up there with the best racers available for the Xbox 360. Those titles were all about finding the fine line between precision and style, pitting you and your chosen car against the challenges of real city courses. Blur, by contrast, is about firing homing missiles at your opponents. Or at least that's what I thought until I sunk hours and hours into its addictive single and multiplayer modes. Blur is anything but a disappointment.
Labelling Blur as grown up Mario Kart is a bit unfair on both titles, but it gets the point across. As in Mario Kart, you get access to a variety of pick-ups, races can change completely in a second and multiplayer is where the game excels - but there's so much more to Bizarre's racer. The use of pick-ups and your tolerance for the element of chance will ultimately determine how much you love or hate Blur. Of the eight power-ups, picked up by driving over their icons on the race tracks, the majority are fairly self explanatory. Nitro, mine, shield and repair do exactly what they say on the tin, but shunt, bolt, shock and barge take a little explaining. Shunt is essentially the red shell from Mario Kart, firing off a homing missile; bolt equips you with a number of quick-fire laser-like bullets; barge releases a shockwave around your car that pushes anyone close enough; and shock places electrical whirlwinds near the current race leaders.
Key to Blur's success is that these power-ups, and their effects on you during races, rarely feel unfair. You can carry up to three at once and cycle through them, and this gives you quite a lot of tactical options. Most attacks can either be avoided or blocked in some way, and can furthermore be fired forwards or backwards. So, someone might fire a homing shunt, but if you time the release of a backwards bolt as the projectile approaches, you can blow it up before it reaches you.
There are little defensive moves like this for many of the power-ups, so if you don't instantly use them as soon as they're acquired, in theory you will have some means to protect yourself. Of course, this is easier said than done, and if you're attacked by a sequence of projectiles your defences will almost certainly run out. There's always an element of misfortune that will send you crashing out and plummeting down the pack, but it's not nearly as wild as what's seen in the Mario Kart series.
The single-player career mode is hugely addictive, offering a series of tiers packed with multiple events. These fall into three categories: straight up races (with power-ups), checkpoint runs (hitting the required number of checkpoints before the time reaches zero), and target shooting (using a quick-fire weapon to take down other racers, each adding more time to the ticking clock). Your success in these will reward you with Lights, which in turn unlock new events to try and eventually the next tier.
Each tier is watched over by a rival who can be challenged to a one-on-one race as soon as you meet their demands, which take the form of specific targets within the previous events. There's no immediate obligation to seek out these battles, but since success here will unlock their special car and mod (a perk that grants you an in-race bonus or ability), they're well worth doing.
Kudos, a staple of the PGR series, is absent here, but in its place is the fan system. Performing certain tasks, such as hitting an enemy with a bolt while powersliding, will gain you extra fans - a currency that unlocks new cars and increases your rank. During events there are also optional fan demands and runs, activated by driving over specific icons. Each of these throws up a spontaneous challenge that, if completed, can further add to your swelling fanbase.