The Blur beta hits today (you did get your code, right?) but the folks at Activision graciously gave us early codes to check out the game, and I’m here to tell you that it’s the most fun I’ve had with a racing game in years. The best way to describe it is if Burnout had a baby with Mario Kart. A sexy baby, that liked to drive real fast.

It really is a more mature Mario Kart. Rather than bananas and shells you’ve got mines and rockets, and it’s as much about taking out your opponents as it is getting to the finish line. This is fast, frantic racing, where you’re always trying to take out the guy right in front of you or warily checking your rear view mirror for anyone coming up behind you. The races are all fairly short and sweet, and take place on very varied maps even here in the beta. Each one is assigned a different kind of car- street races are for the fast racers, dirt tracks give you the opportunity to use jeeps and muscle cars, and so on. Before each race you can choose from any car that you’ve unlocked through the game’s awesome experience system.  

Ah, the experience system. You gotta love Call of Duty for making it popular for multiplayer games, because it gives it so much more replay value. Everything you do in Blur gives you experience points (hitting cars with powerups, drifting, etc.), and by leveling up and getting more fans you will get new cars, new modifications, and even unlock new game modes. There are also specific challenges that are familiar to anyone who’s played a COD game recently, where you have to hit a certain amount of opponents with a powerup for a chunk of experience, for instance.
The beta lets you level up to level 10, giving you an opportunity to play with 14 of the vehicles in the game to play on six of the tracks. There are also four different game modes- like a destruction derby-type mode where you simply try to destroy your opponents in a circular arena. Other modes allow you to play massive 20-player races, which are absolutely insane.

Another big bonus in the game is the lobby system. Find a good group and you won’t have to leave it for hours. The matches are quick and fun, and with the flick of a trigger everyone votes on the next map between races. After that you can choose the car for the next race and your modifications. Mods allow you to play the game any way you like. I personally chose an aggressive group of mods, ones that make my car do more damage when smashing into opponents and making the shunt power-up (basically a shockwave that throws off anyone driving to you) more powerful. New mods are unlocked at specific levels.

One thing that will get car fantatics excited is that you’re dealing with real cars here. BMWs and Camaros and over 40 licensed cars are yours to earn, and yes, they all take amazing amounts of damage. You’d never expect the companies to be ok with seeing their vehicles become burning, smoking wrecks, and yet that’s exactly what we have here. Each car has a life bar of various sizes, and making sure your car doesn’t take too much damage becomes a big part of the gameplay. Getting wrecked is an easy way to lose a race. Fortunately Repair powerups are available to heal your car, but of course they take the place of other powerups which might keep you from advancing in the race.

The cool thing about the powerups is that you can hold three of them at once, allowing you to strategically hold onto specific ones to unleash them at the right time- a shield, for instance, for when you’re about to barge right into someone’s mine or lightning storm. You can really muck with someone’s game if you want to, as Blur was seemingly made for people to form rivals and scream at each other over headsets. There’s nothing better than going after and wrecking someone who was foolish enough to try and put a mine in your way.

The one thing this demo doesn’t showcase that I’m most excited about is the four-player splitscreen gameplay. That’s right- it’s been far too long since we had a good game that let you play with the person sitting next to you on the couch, and I can already see that this game will be pulled out at the next party. It’s just that much fun.

The graphics and great sense of speed only add to the experience. Get on this hefty (1.44 gigs!) beta and find out for yourself, and get ready for the full experience come Spring.

Still need a code? Shoot me an email at – I might be able to hook you up.