Pause menus that have a ‘retry’ option listed within. Is there anything more intimidating in all of gaming? While we’re quick to berate any game that omits such an option where it might have been useful, its inclusion is often a foreboding sign of the hours of repetition to come. Through The Fire And Flames on Expert. One false move in any number of puzzle games. Spinning out on the last corner of the Niirburgring and watching the rest of the pack zip past. The fury builds each time the dreaded option is called into play until the red mist is almost preventing you from starting over, thumbs hurriedly
pounding buttons and often merely prolonging the agony. And it’s just this situation that Bizarre Creations is looking to address with new IP Blur, a weapon-based racer designed with a view to ending, or at Least easing the frustration that has plagued the racing genre for years.
“We’ve been aware that we’ve been pretty nasty to the player for quite some time now,” confesses Bizarre’s web and community lead, Ben Ward. -But with Blur being a reboot of what we’ve done before, it was an opportunity to really go overboard, congratulating the player and making the game fun to play at every turn.” He’s totally right about the first part of that statement – fishing for Platinum medals in PGR4 sent us crying to the restart option more times than we care to remember. “Looking back to PGR2, it was very clinical ­you just picked your race and that was it. Your reward was just this little spinning medal and nothing more. Then with 3 and 4, there were slightly more ‘congratulations’ screens and the like to pat players on the back,” Ward continues, promising far more incentive for players to haul themselves through whatever challenges Blur might throw at them.
The introduction of weapons might sound to be at cross-purposes with what Ward is saying at this point, nightmarish memories of Blue Shells constantly reminding us that the concept of being good at Mario Kart while they’re around is quite the oxymoron. But considering how radical a departure equipment is for a Bizarre racer, Ward is keen to play down their inclusion. “The game is all about driving – it’s still centered firmly on the realistic physics model,” he reassures us. “A lot of kart-based racing games just zip along because there’s not much to them. Here, you’ll still need to use the handbrake, still need to know the ins and outs of how to drive a car.” Feeling somewhat more comfortable with the concept, we decide to see exactly what special abilities the real-world cars will be able to collect. But Ward has one last reminder before we do. “Blur isn’t about the power-ups, it’s about your ability to drive with power-ups augmenting that.”
And right enough, we’ve yet to see any kind of game-breaking weapons in Blur. There’s no Blue Shell, no Quake Disruptor and no super-cheap blast that zaps every car in the world – every tool included can be game-changing or useless depending on how they are used. Shunt and Barge are the most basic, sending short-ranged blasts from the front and rear or sides of your vehicle respectively to knock others off course. Using these on a straight is a foolish endeavor as you might expect, the shunt will actually help the guy in front), but when timed well they can be devastating. Punting a car sideways into a building will slam them to a halt, while blasting a rival mid-drift can spin them out with ease. There’s almost an air of F-Zero to these slams, by any reasoning a favorable comparison. More traditional goodies make up much of the rest of the line­up, the usual array of speed boosts, mines and repair kits all handy in their own way. To counter these toys, you’ll be able to trigger shield bursts by hitting a button at the correct time in response to an incoming attack. Use of this defensive mechanism is limited per race, so countering well will be crucial if you don’t want to get zapped on the last lap.
So how did Bizarre Creations get the go-ahead to smash up and blast away at some of the most famous and desirable car brands on the planet? According to the associate producer, Peter McCane, it really wasn’t as much of a hardship as you might think. “We’ve said that we’re going to put fire in the engine bay, dent your cars right in, knock your bumpers off and smash all the windows on your car,” he tells us. “And if the manufacturer wasn’t happy with that, then we just didn’t go with that manufacturer. Out of all the companies that we approached, only two weren’t happy with that base line of damage that we wanted.” Gone, it seems, are the days where Gran Turismo could cite manufacturer rulings as a reason for ignoring cries for realistic damage – today, the likes of Ford, BMW and Koenigsegg all seem perfectly happy for their high-end motors to be put through helt in the name of entertainment. Then again, it’s not exactly miles away from what those Top Gear mentalists do.
WHERE EXACTLY did Blur spring from, then? “It’s like a combination of all things together. We were thinking about PGR5, thinking ‘shit, what are we going to do?’ There were ideas out there, things that were being thrown around for that, but really, when you’re working within the confines of such a tightly defined franchise that’s all about realism, there are only so many things you can do,” states Ward. “We’ve done bikes, we’ve done dynamic weather, but where do you go from there?” So, with new material for Gotham running low, Ward reminisces about how a timely takeover opened new doors for the studio. ‘Joining Activision was a great opportunity to do something new, to take all these ideas and use them in a way that’s really relevant to the games industry at the minute,” he tells us.
So it seems getting the green light to mess up licensed vehicles was the least of Bizarre’s worries, especially considering its ingenious – if risky – concept of melding Blur with some kind of social network. -We’ve taken quite a realistic approach with the website. We know that it’s not going to be the next Facebook – they’ve got hundreds of people working on it and a population of a small country,” Ward explains. “Realistically, we can’t go down that route – some of the marketing people even questioned why we were doing this if we couldn’t beat Facebook.” Rather than go head-to-head with the social networking giants, Bizarre is planning to make Blur the star of att existing sites as well as its own.
‘We’re building all our data on top of an open API so everything will be accessible to everyone, so it’s more a case of encouraging people to do what they want with this data,” clarifies Ward. “We’ll take it into Facebook and MySpace, adding Twitter integration eventually. The idea is that once you complete a multiplayer race, int post to your Twitter feed that you’ve done just that.”
This concept comes from the fundamental structure of Blur, a community-based arrangement similar to the kind of groups you might join on any of the aforementioned websites. Even in single-player, opponents are given persistent personalities, rating and commenting on your performance in each race with rivals changing as you move from place to place. “In the original concept, there was going to be no split between single- and multiplayer,” says Ward. “It was all going to be completely integrated, but as we play tested it more, it just seemed like that didn’t work for some reason.” Still, while the two might not be so tightly woven any more, the fact that both are styled up identically should make it easier for people to enjoy all aspects of the game. “The barrier for entry for the multiplayer is just so much lower, because you already know how to play the single-player modes,” Ward explains. “Plus I think it’s a good metaphor for the way the game progresses.”
Like the Gotham games before it, Blur takes you on a round-the-world trip from the comfort of an armchair, even following in PGRS footsteps to return to some of the more popular locations. “We’re doing all these new cities,- Ward laughs. “We’ve got London and Tokyo. And Barcelona. And er… New York. Shit.,.” But where Gotham showed you the tourist traps and glamour of every location it visited, Blur’s more explosive approach leads it into far less glitzy territory. “We’re doing totally different areas. So instead of doing Westminster, we’re doing Hackney – it’s dirty, it’s gritty and it just fits the game better,” McCane interjects. “The pace and feel of the game is indeed better suited to more run­down areas,” says Ward. “But don’t assume that means that brown and grey will be the only colors on the menu. We’ve got the best of both worlds now because we’ve got all the big landmarks still visible, but the areas themselves are completely different and more interesting to race around.”
But with first-person shooters and licensed games still dominating the market, two questions spring to mind: could it finally be time for a resurgence in the racing game, and is Bizarre Creations most accessible title to date capable of changing the fate of a genre? “I don’t really know enough about what all the other studios are up to, to speak for the entire genre, but certainly we really believe in the concept of Blur and pushing things in a new direction,” Ward summarizes. “So if it’s not the year the genre makes its comeback, it’s certainly the ,c;-. year it does something different .