I tried a little bit of Blur last night and had a good time racing around and firing off Mario Kart style attacks at opponents.
The Blur Beta is multiplayer only and is only available on the Xbox 360, but a host of unlockables, cars, tracks, and modes is available. The trick, obviously borrowed from that other Activision-published-multiplayer-focused title, is that nearly all of the modes, cars, and bonus powers need to be unlocked. When I first booted up the game, only multiplayer was available. Two different modes were unlocked, with more modes available after leveling up. I jumped into the first mode and completed a handful of races, leveling up to Level 4, unlocking 3 different cars across four different classes. Cars are rated across 3 different attributes, including grip and speed.
Obviously, the "thing" Blur does to differentiate itself from other racers, and maintain a level of balance in multiplayer races, is an item system a la Mario Kart. There are three shot pick ups that fire straight, one shot seekers, mines to drop behind you, boosters, essentially everything you might find in the form of shells, bananas and mushrooms. These work rather well, and everyone gets three pick up spots they can switch through to use strategically throughout the race. I was kind of hoping for some slightly different power ups, but imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Blur's weapon system is one big pat on the back to Mario's kart racer.
Obviously, Blur is not a Forza or Gran Turismo, and it controls that way to match. There's some light drifting to do, and that'll score you more "fans" as well as winning the race, stringing together weapon combos, and overall achievements throughout the race. "Fans" act as Blur's XP and the more you earn the more you'll level.
I guess I kind of feel like Blur is a study in the kind of carrot on a stick gamers are being treated to a lot these days. Take a racing game, add a neat visual design and aesthetic, a leveling system, some perks, and weapons to balance against more experienced racers and you have the kind of cookie cutter gameplay that has gamers on a leash anymore. I don't mean to imply that I didn't have any fun.
I won my first three races and placed second in my fourth, got an easy grip on the genealogy racing controls and switched weapons on the fly to create some deveststing combos. Blur is fun, don't get me wrong, but I hate that this is the kind of gameplay Activision really wants to shove down our throats in every title they publish. I've been playing a lot of XBLA games and you don't need this teasing, leveling, multiplayer focused gameplay to really sell a game. You might need the corporate money and marketing, but Darwinia+ and Greed Corp are great games that don't go down this path of turning gamers into suckling pigs.
I guess this has turned into a slightly uglier post than it originally started as, but playing Blur really pits my gaming heart against what I consider corporate pyschological greed. There's this burgeoning aspect of games that are specifically tailored to keep gamers hooked in and Blur seems like a study in that design. Forgive the Activison hate, it's so cliche anymore....