Let's take a moment to spare a thought for the audio guys of the games industry. They sit in a dimly lit studio, ruining their hearing by listening to hundreds of different explosions and then, when the game is finally released, the sound barely gets a mention - it's all about the whizzbang graphics and the number of guns that have been crowbarred in.
Well this time it's audio's turn to be front and centre. Blur has fantastic audio - probably the best we've heard in any racing game.
Whether it's the Brian-Blessed's-hungry-stomach rumble of a V8 engine, the thumping shockwave as a Shunt power-up is launched or the strangled burble of an exhaust pipe that's been submerged in water, the aural experience is never anything less than scintillating.
This is a game that deserves to be played on the sort of speakers that U2 use to blow their fans' toupees off. Take a bow, audio guys, you deserve it.
So now that the waveform wranglers have had their props, it's worth reassuring you that Blur is an excellent game. We've had our doubts about whether even the mighty Bizarre Creations could successfully splice PGR and Mario Kart, and while the multiplayer beta revealed that Blur would be good, it wasn't until we threw ourselves into the single player that we realised just how brilliant it is.
After originally planning a heavily social networking-themed campaign, Bizarre's actually plumped for quite a pared-down structure. It's all about rapid delivery of information, which is good because there's plenty to chew over.
It's a little slow to get going, but different event types, face-offs with individual racers that unlock car-mods and later fan-pleasing special challenges all build the momentum of your career beautifully. In parallel, you're being dealt even quicker, more exciting vehicles and Blur does a great job of drip-feeding you new locations over the course of your climb to the top.
It's a game designed for people with ADD - even if you've blasted through the chapters, you'll be hopping back and forth across the events to unlock extras, returning to completed events to squeeze a higher score out of them.
As the cars get faster and your skills develop, Blur becomes even more satisfying. At the top level it reveals itself to have more in common with the old Wipeout games than PGR, and you'll find yourself driving cars at speeds that would peel your face from your skull. That's not to say driving skill doesn't help, and while you'll begin by bouncing off every crash barrier, identifying and mastering the subtleties of the handling model is yet another layer to the title's impressive challenge. As you'd expect, the game is crammed full of beautiful vehicles and barring one or two exceptions - mainly the early, lumbersome 4x4s and muscle cars - they all handle beautifully.
Most of all, though, the whole thing's just extremely exciting. The split-second strategy that's required to make the most of the power-ups results in plenty of button juggling, and if you had a spare moment to punch the air when you successfully clatter an opponent with a well-timed shunt, that's exactly what you would be doing.
The only real balancing issue is the Nitro boost - it's by far the easiest way to pass several cars in a hurry, so if you're not aiming for every single one of the green icons, you've gone mad.
Somehow, against all odds, Bizarre has managed to fuse power-up-based racing with real cars, and it's wrapped the whole lot in a glossy neon-infused package. The game's brilliance is distilled in those heroic moments where you shunt the person in first, whip past and then execute a perfect drift between two mines on the final corner of the final lap. This is the Xbox 360's slick, stylish answer to Mario Kart and we absolutely love it.
Bizarre's return was worth the wait
- Extremely quick
- Beautiful visual style
- Thunderous audio
- Varied and interesting locations
- A touch slow off the line