It's hard to know what to make of the current generation of arcade racing titles on offer.
Gone are the days where the crowning example of such titles would include over-the-top cartoon representations of characters dubiously connected with the plumbing trade. Gone too, I suspect, are simplistic FlatOut-inspired romps around circuit tracks with little to show for your winnings but the adoration and perspiration of your foes. These days, it's all social networking. It's about communicating to your friends just how awesome you are, no matter what continent they live on, what time zone they occupy, and whether or not they care.
Blur is the latest attempt by Bizarre Creations to harness the power of Xbox Live, PSN, Facebook and Twitter, and somehow release a racing game somewhere in there too. Basic arcade racing expectations will go fulfilled for most - there's multiple tracks, outlandish vehicles, challenges, and even characters to battle against, almost all of which naturally require unlocking. The Career Mode will have you starting at the bottom, with the comparatively shopping-car spec Ford Focus, and progress through the ranks provided you can satisfy the winning conditions for each race.
Success in Blur is measured by your ability to accumulate "lights" - awarded for placing in the top three of any race, or showing skill in other various challenges - as well as "fans", which appear to be arbitrarily awarded based on your general racing performance. Performance, as you've probably guessed by now, that can be loudly proclaimed to the world through TwitFace with the press of a button.
Handling is relatively precise, with the cars on offer sporting a range of different statistics, leaving the player to equip the most appropriate vehicle for the challenge. Sadly however, there's no customization, so it's necessary to race each model and try to remember the handling differences before choosing.
More important than your racing talent however is the combat system. From the outset, it's pretty clear that you're unlikely to win many races on pure racing skill alone - you'll need a solid understanding of not only the track layouts, but also the power-ups and various track flotsam designed to either help or hinder your progress around the circuit. With up to twenty players in total on the circuit, chances are unless you have a decent grasp of which power-up icons perform which tasks, you're going to get destroyed swiftly.
Each power-up token is generated in a predetermined location on the track, and regenerates rapidly. Some locations provide random power-ups, and some will always offer the same token each lap. The tokens vary from the hugely beneficial (such as a nitro boost that can easily mean the difference between passing a track or failing miserably) to the more militaristic, designed to destroy your competitor rather than assist you to outpace them (mines that can be dropped behind the car, and predator-like laser attacks aimed at vehicles in front of you).
Each racer can equip up to three power-ups at once, and the most adept at chaining these together will benefit the most. For example, using the barge option combined with a nitro boost can see you outpace half the field in a matter of seconds, leaving a satisfying trail of carnage in your wake.
It's not just racing for pole position that will occupy your time in the Blur universe either. There are destruction challenges, the purpose of which is to amass as many points as possible by using your attacks on other vehicles before the time limit is reached, as well as a self-explanatory checkpoint mode. By completing races and challenges, amassing lights, and accumulating fans, you'll progress through to unlocking new competitors who will place increasingly higher demands on your driving ability at each level.
The single-player component isn't where Blur excels however. To really make the most of what Bizarre have created, you'll need to jump online and face off against similarly like-minded individuals. By bypassing the sometimes brutally difficult AI and challenging real players, the enjoyment factor increases substantially. You can read more about our thoughts from the online multiplayer beta, as it appears virtually nothing has changed from the testing phase a couple of months ago. If you're not enamoured with online play, there's split-screen play for up to four people too.
Blur makes no attempt to reinvent the wheel. It's a fairly predictable racing title scattered with unlockables, incentives, tutorials and challenges that will keep punters happy for hours. It's not without problems - the aforementioned AI can be brutal at times, and despite managing a solid 30fps the quality of the graphics isn't perhaps to a level you'd expect. Although to be fair, this could be due to the sheer amount of action on-screen at any given time. Those who enjoy a good soundtrack to compliment their angry, angry driving will be pleased to discover that Blur's isn't half bad, even if it is bafflingly disabled by default.
There's certainly no shortage of racing titles vying for your attention this year, arcade or otherwise. Blur however combines the thrill of high-speed racing with well considered combat, and can easily be regarded as one of the better examples of the arcade racing genre.