Car combat games seem few and far between these days so when Bizarre Creations announced Blur last year at E3 I didn’t know what to think - the angel on my shoulder was confused whilst the devil on the other was rubbing his hands in excitement.

The brains behind the very successful Project Gotham Racing series on Xbox are branching out this time, with their next game being released on multi platform. So when I was offered an opportunity to try out the new multiplayer beta released earlier last week, I jumped at the chance.

The game promises support for up to 20 players at a time, all battling it out over a variety of tracks. There's plenty of jostling, swerving and ramming each other as you try to pick up weapons and shields in order to give you that edge over the other players. The most important feature in these sorts of games is balance, and Bizarre Creations seems to have nailed that - even if some of the ideas do mimic the classic Mario Kart game.

Power ups litter the track frequently, and reappear within seconds of someone ahead of you picking them up - meaning there are many opportunities to collect them unless you are tailgating the car in front, which isn’t a wise thing to do given the nature of the game. Here is a little run down of the power ups available that we’ve seen, bearing in mind that this is subject to change:

  • Shunt: A homing orb that will randomly lock on to someone when shot forwards or will shoot directly behind.
  • Bolt: Fires three quick fire rounds in front or behind.
  • Mine: Drops a mine immediately behind you or a short distance in front of you.
  • Barge: Sends a shockwave around you causing cars to veer off.
  • Shock: Drops three large charges of EMP in front of the leader.
  • Nitro: Obvious this one, gives you a speed boost but also stops you in your tracks if you pull back while firing.
  • Shield: Protects you from being slammed and blocks a certain amount of weapons per use.
  • Repair: Instantly gives you full health.

While the beta is limited to only four tracks and four modes, what is available is a lot of fun from what I’ve played. Well, apart from one mode that is reminiscent of a Destruction Derby arena, and personally I think the less said about that mode the better. The other modes available in the beta are purely racing in either 10- or 20-player races.

The cars are categorised into classes A through to D with A being the high performance cars, and D class being more suited to shopping trolley duty (though at least they don't seem to have a mind of their own and wobble all over the aisle uncontrollably). Every class appears to be fun, balanced, and most importantly, everyone has a chance to win. It could be argued that the levelling up system could do with a tweak, but there is still time. Basically, as you race you get fans, and the better you do, the more fans you get. The more fans you get, the higher you progress through the levels.

Aside from cars being unlocked you can also unlock perks, which allow you to choose preset load outs, or you can edit them to suit your style of play. Yes, I’m still talking about Blur and not Modern Warfare.

The most important reason for this beta though is to monitor online performance. Sure, the game might not be the best looker, but it still looks the part. And although the scenery isn’t as detailed as most racers, it’s what’s going on on the track that is the most important. With up to 20 cars on the track simultaneously driven by people from all over the world, the game's performance so far seems rock solid and the actual engine behind the game is very impressive.

Blur is blisteringly fast, and you would be forgiven for not realising it is running at 30fps, but with the amount of carnage appearing on screen at one time the game never dropped a frame. With over 100 races online under my belt, I've personally seen less than half a dozen instances of people warping across the track.

Bizarre Creations have built up a good fan base in the past with their dedication to quality racing games, and coupled with a successful online implementation it looks like they could have another winner under their belt. All that remains to be seen is the single player aspect of the game, but when online is this enjoyable, then that's just an added bonus.

Blur is due out late May on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC.