I’m breaking away from my usual role as reporter on the free-indie-games-for-the-skint frontlines, to bring you… free demos for the skint. There’s been something of a rush recently on the 360 Marketplace. I say rush, you see, as a pun. For these are games containing fast vehicles and weapons. It’s a formula that’s gone oddly untouched in the wake of Mario Kart’s success. And then, like those proverbial buses armed with energy-weapons, three come at once.
We’re talking Blur‘s public beta, Split/Second and the catchily-titled
Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing. Including S&SAS Racing in that threesome is cheating, really, for two reasons. One, it came out a while back now. And, two, it essentially is Mario Kart. Nevertheless, if you’ve got a ‘Kart craving and no Nintendo, it is a still-available free fix, which puts it firmly within my remit.
It’s really nice to see a high-def version of Mario Kart: the colours are sharp, the sounds are spot on. And, apart from the odd addition of a (mildly annoying) commentator, it literally is a hi-res Mario Kart: the weapons are exactly the same, reskinned. Example? The three red homing shells in Mario become three red homing rockets. Green non-homing shells become green non-homing boxing gloves. The banana skins, oddly, become traffic cones.
Thing is, it serves mostly as a lesson for those who’ve forgotten on just how tight the Mario Kart games are. It’s an exact clone, but like any sci-fi fan will tell you: clones come with defects. Making it just that tinier bit easier to drift? The track feels like oiled rubber factory. Letting the cars continue in motion after getting hit by a weapon? Makes almost every single weapon in the game ineffective and not-fun to use. Reducing the inconvenient downtime after hitting an obstacle? Removes the entire challenge. As John Travolta once said, it’s the little differences.
From Bizarre, the Project-Gotham boys, Blur is basically Mario Kart rendered in Microsoft’s ‘gritty realism’ house style. The way S&SAS Racing just steals the weapons and the concept, Blur takes the ideas behind that, rubs its chin, and reinvents them as sci-fi tech for its shiny real-cars world. And it doesn’t look like it or function quite the same, but the same gameplay ideas are at work. So, say, the red shell becomes a huge glowing orb, that homes but can’t take corners, creating a sub-game of ‘dodge the orb’ or ‘save the orb for the long straight stretch’.
I can pinpoint the exact moment (or, aha, the split second) I fell in love with Blur. One of the abilities (Blur‘s three-green-shells equivalent) allows you to fire non-guided purple ‘bolts’ which resemble nothing more than the ammo for Halo‘s needler. I’m chasing a guy, trying to choose my moment to swerve round and overtake, and he fires three bolts, in quick succession, backwards at me. They whistle satisfyingly past me, just missing, and I realise my head is cocked a good few inches to the left, trying to dodge. Blur really fulfills that promise of a high-definition, next-generation Mario Kart. It’s karting for the Gears of War set, replacing joyful cartoon oddity with pulse-pounding authenticity. These weapons, you feel, would fuck you up.
And so they’re terrifying to dodge, and beautiful to unleash. There’s less of a feeling of precision to Split/Second, which replaces weapons with simply being able to explode the track. You press A, stuff goes BOOM. That’s satisfying, no doubt, but there’s less of the X-Wing-pilot c’mon c’mon c’mon BAM! feeling you get with some of Blur‘s weapons. Split/Second is very much an arcade racer, Burnout next to the Gran Turismo-isms of Blur. It’s faster and slippier and more colourful and that makes up for its shortcomings.
In free-demo world, the primary shortcoming being its span. Split/Second is a brief sampler course to whet your appetite before the full-priced main course, whereas the Blur beta is an all-you-can-eat buffet. Nevertheless, if you’ve got an urge for Mario Kartisms on your 360, it’s a two-horse race. And when both horses have rocket-propelled engines, and twin mini-guns strapped to their flanks, it really doesn’t matter which horse you back. You will be the winner.
Article from Gamersyndrome.com