Previews

Blur

Hands-On: PGR meets Mario Kart?

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Blur's "perks" currently consist of Shock, Shunt, Barge, Nitro, Mines and Repair and take the form of simple, distinctive neon icons floating on the track. Players begin with just a single slot to store their power-ups but eventually the number will grow to five, allowing you to switch them around - and potentially create combos.

Most of the perks you'll be able to work out from their names; Mines drops a glowing yellow payload onto the road, Nitro gives you a boost and Barge shoots other racers up the rear like a crackling, electric green shell.

Our favourite though is Shunt; a burst of electrical energy that shoots from both sides of your vehicle and sends opponents skidding into the roadside. Sparking visual flair combined with a new, damage system means it looks powerful and feels satisfying.

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After playing it Blur's perks definitely require skill and timing to use effectively. Fire an engine-disabling Shock on a straight for example and targeted cars will simply carry on rolling forward anyway.

Shunt and Barge are also totally dynamic, which means if you skillfully target a rival on the rear in the middle of a turn he'll spin-out wildly into the scenery - which is also where drift-heavy muscle cars come in handy.

One aspect of Mario Kart thankfully not making it over to Blur though is the feeling of being cheated by the power-ups.

Every time a competitor locks a rocket or energy-fuelled shove onto your motor, you're given the chance to counter. A quick warning sign flashes onto your HUD when you're in danger, and if you press the X button quick enough you'll activate a shield that deflects the projectile.

This is a crucial addition and even if you're totally annihilated, your car quickly respawns on the track.

But the most interesting piece of Blur's makeup is the social network, at this stage cleverly called 'Blurb' (other suggestions included 'MyRace' and 'Racebook - but the lawyers turned up for those), which powers the entire offline and online functionality of the game.

When you turn on Blur you're asked to create a profile. From there you can make friends, post photos and messages, customize your motors and even create Facebook-style "groups" to shape the style of racer you want to play.

When creating an online group in Blur players will be able to define a wide set of rule sets, from the way points are scored (coming first, taking out another racer - even the number of yards you're ahead of the car behind), a group 'badge', environments and cars used... or you can just turn off the power-ups and play straight PGR-style.

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The potential for creativity, at concept stage at least, is big. With this mock social network Bizarre hopes to bring a human element to the racing genre, and yes - put some of the fun back in as well.

At this point in development Blur is still a good few weeks of balancing away from being quite near what we'll see on the shelves at the end of the year.

But the solid handling is encouraging and with more than five excellent racing games under its belt, you'd be silly not to expect Bizarre Creations to come at least close to bringing the party back to the genre.

Read our interview with lead designer Ged Talbot for much, much more.

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