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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

About a Day Into Blur (360)

So, I've spent the last day or so of my free time digging into Bizarre Creations' newest racer, Blur. Right now, this weapons-based racer seems to be in a tie with Split/Second for "experimental racing games no one is buying." Which is a shame since Blur has a lot to recommend it in spite of the developer's off-putting PR campaign to convince us that it's a grown-up kart racer. It's not a lie to say that's it's Mario Kart with licensed vehicles, but such dry, merely descriptive pushes obscure what a weird experience it is.

It's interesting to look at Blur alongside the Project Gotham series, tracing that genealogy and seeing how traits have been shed and acquired in the hopes of surviving the marketplace. The trick and stunt-based Kudos system has evolved into the somewhat more esoteric Fans persistent points meter. Like that other Activision offering, it's all about the process of tracking player experience and doling out points for the basic experience of playing the game - but unlike other titles it maintains two separate persistent experience systems for both the single player campaign and online multiplayer mode which perhaps speaks to the different competencies of meat and bone drivers versus AI gremlins.

I can attest to the "stickiness" of what's on display here. The campaign mode's triangle of demands (placing in races, gaining fans, hitting "Fan Run" special race lines) invite, nay coax the player into revisiting race challenges to max out the number of "lights." The multi-function weapons ensure that the flow of races will be elaborately chaotic dances of destruction whose manifest pleasures are only mitigated by the nagging sense that the AI is racing only against you and not against the other AI competitors. Not to whine but that feels a little unfair. As a gamer, I'm going to choose to ignore the attempts to propagate the game from within the game via Facebook and Twitter integration - linking the same to one's gamer score feels like the most odious, mercenary type of move that creates a cracks of doubt in otherwise sound products.

By necessity, Bizarre has had to distance their latest offering from the storied Microsoft exclusive given their publisher Activision's platform agnosticism and as a result, you don't see "From the makers of Project Gotham" in the marketing materials. But you know where this baby comes from.    

The big crisis I see for the game is the small pool of players in the multiplayer mode. Presumably, sales have not been as robust as hoped, prompting the concerned parties to offer $20 off of the game, which has the net effect of getting you a copy for around $20 or maybe less at some retailers. Right now, the online lobbies aren't quite barren but triple digit numbers of users online at any given time tell me that it's not really being embraced.

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