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Blur comes to town but not quite as we expected. A mix of karting and racing vie for the family's attention. Those that get it are in for a considered racing treat - but the danger is that there will be many of us that never discover it.
Bizarre Creations, the Liverpool based creators of the Project Gotham Racing series, is in something of a state of flux. Parting ways with Microsoft Game Studios, as well as the code base and name of their biggest success, means they have had to come up with something entirely new.
Blur is their answer to all this and it will surprise a lot of people because it isn't a simulation racing game. Instead Bizarre Creations have returned to the drawing board - and the late 90's - to reinvent the Kart racing game.
It has all the elements of Mario Kart - green, red and blue shell equivalent weapons, four player split screen modes and plenty of nail biting finishes - but as well as all this it looks and feels like a arcade racing game.
This is quite an odd mix - these days racing games have divided between serious looking arcade racing and fun loving cartoon Kart experiences. Blur brings these elements back together. And risk alienating both camps. Parents find the explosive driving too high octane for young players while the hardcore may balk at the Kart racing play style.
On first impressions this seems to be true. Blur initially looks like it falls between two stalls. But as you play on - in the online and single player particularly - you realise there is much more depth here than in other Kart racing games.
It gives Blur a real-racer rather than kiddie-kart aesthetic.
The driving style is more realistic and takes quite some getting used to. Although at times this feels floaty and a little compromised, it serves its purpose well enough to give Blur a real-racer rather than kiddie-kart aesthetic.
But the real meat of proceedings is developing your online persona and crafting a driving style that fits your skills. Here Blur culls from Modern Warfare's playbook. A series of perks can be unlocked that make different cars suite very different drivers. Some will enable you to turn invisible, whilst others boost speed, strength or ramming power.
I spent a number of evenings just playing with the different perks available, figuring out which ones went well together. This Top Trumps approach to customisation not only results in a wide variety of play styles, but also makes you want to collect them all to have a full deck to play from.
Blur manages to put all these elements together, stir in a comprehensive (and unlocked from the start) four player split screen mode, and create a very competent experience. On top of this is a solid party system that isn't a million miles away from that of Halo 3.
All pretty impressive, but here is the rub. Next to the brash style of Burnout or more recent Split/Second, Blur is both understated and a little sedate. Now, this is no bad thing, it offers much more of a considered experience than these other games - and can create evenings of knife edge multiplayer sessions not found elsewhere.
Blur has plenty of the Project Gotham spirit in it, as well as a slew of impressive new ideas.
Blur has plenty of the Project Gotham spirit in it, as well as a slew of impressive new ideas. But it all feels quite understated next to the competition. In Gotham Racing's hay day, they could rest on Microsoft's backing to get them in front of the right players - now though they will need to work a lot harder.
Provided they do, and people experience Blur first hand, this has every chance of being a really successful game. There is much more here than it appears, for those who are willing to scratch beneath the surface. But this is a message that Activision need to really get across to both family and hardcore players.
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