Mario Kart Meets Call of Duty: Hands-On with Blur

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The racing genre in video games tends to operate around two poles. On one end, you’ve got incredibly realistic driving simulations games like the Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport series. On the other end, explosive, arcade-style titles like FlatOut and Burnout defy reality with crash-intensive competitions.

The gameplay in Blur looks to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. The game’s being developed by Bizarre Creations–who are no strangers to the racing genre with their Project Gotham Racing series. The Activision-published game focuses on what they’re calling powered-up racing. Blur blends all the pseudo-realistic looks and physics of PGR with the kinds of power-ups you’d seen in a game like Mario Kart. Bizarre Creations makes no bones abut drawing their inspiration from the Nintendo classic that spawned the whole kart-racing genre. The power-ups will be road mines, force fields and homing energy blasts, which will all have an alternative fire that can be used to toggle between offense and defense. So a front-firing attack can be switched to take out other cars trailing behind you.

But, they’re grounding all of that in a world that features about 50 real-world cars from Audi, Volkswagen and Ford. In the game’s imaginary street racing circuit, players race against nine other cars to gain fans and lights. You earn those assets based on how well you race and where you finish; accruing lights opens up more events for you to compete in and growing your fan base unlocks more cars to race with.

You’ll be tooling around in famous cities like Barcelona, New York and Los Angeles during the races and one of Blur’s innovative features will let you create mementos of your high-speed tourism. The game’s Photo Mode lets you pause and snap pics with free 360º camera control at any time in the game. Once you get your shot, you can export it to Twitter or the official Blur site. That’s just one way that Bizarre Creations wants to take cues from social gaming to create a community around Blur. One other way will be the Friend Challenges players can issue to each other. Friend Challenges export your car–which retains whatever souped-up stats you’ve earned– along with any particular track you’ve pulled off an awesome feat on and dares your friend to do better. This gives players a chance to sample cars and locales that they may not have unlocked yet. Whoever sends the challenge can add another element or objective to the challenge (like using less nitro) to make it even tougher. You can issue a Friend Challenge to three friends and they can take them one whenever they feel up to them.

The focus on community will also extend into the multiplayer aspects of Blur. Bizarre Creations will be implementing a persistent online ranking system modeled on the one Infinity Ward built for Modern Warfare 2. You’ll get access to Mods, the Blur version of MW2’s Perks, the more you achieve. Some of the mods I saw were devilishly clever, like the one that turns energy attacks that hit your car into a force field. Online play will feature multiple modes, like the demolition derby-style Motor Mash or the Hardcore Racing mode, which eliminates power-ups altogether.. Gamers will enjoy a high level of customization so you can create conditions like one-hit kills or banning certain power-ups from the game entirely. For offline competition, you’ll be able to play in a splitscreen mode as well.

Blur’s in an open multiplayer beta right now and the full game hits stores on May 25th.