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Hands-On: The best things come to those who...

What a difference a year makes. Last May when we travelled to Bizarre Creations' Liverpool HQ for the first ever hands-on with Blur, we experienced a Frankenstein racer that wasn't nearly as fun to play as it should have been. And now 12 months later... well, it's sorted.

Last year's Blur was a game clearly torn between its goal of reaching a new audience and keeping the studio's hardcore driving fans happy.

In 2009 Bizarre said it would reach new faces by making Blur easy and fun to play with the addition of power-ups, and yet your powers would never single-handedly win you the race (a la Mario Kart). Instead, tight racing lines and Project Gotham cunning would bring along the 1st place medal.

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In short, Bizarre Creations didn't really know what it wanted the game to be - PGR or Mario Kart - and in trying to appease everyone, it satisfied no-one.

What a relief it was to hear co-lead designer Gareth Wilson say last week then, that in the new Blur 'power-ups win you the race' - it's finally made its mind up.

I'VE GOT THE POWER
The biggest problem we had with last year's build is that the power-ups weren't satisfying to use.

Firing Shunt - a sort of electric red shell - at an opponent sent them disappointingly spinning out as if driving over a particularly large stretch of horse poo, while your opponent could even avoid the attack entirely using a baffling QTE dodge system (which has thankfully been axed).

Now - just as we'd hoped - firing a Shunt feels powerful and satisfying, sending your target exploding into a violent, sparking barrel roll of death - and like a real red shell you can also send it firing backwards, right into your opponent's face.

Mines - unlike the rubbish WipEout tin cans in last year's build - now come in the form of a big, angry black hole which erupts in a burst of flames upon impact.

Another addition, Bolt, is a direct answer to our concerns. Last year we said that what Blur sorely needed was the satisfaction of nailing your fellow racers on the tailside with a slow and steady green shell. That's exactly what Bolt is; three slow and smooth projectiles for bull's-eyeing opponents on the arse.

In fact, you can pretty much translate every ability in Blur to one of Mario's toys; Shunt works like a red shell, Mine is a banana, Shock is a blue shell and Nitro is of course a mushroom - there's even the ability to drop a fake power-up.

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It's great to see that Bizarre Creations has finally picked its side of the fence. Blur is a battle game and all of those moments it said it didn't want last year - getting taken out inches from the finish line by a first place-homing Shock - are now part and parcel of the experience. In fact, we had our fair share of swear word-laden outbursts when this exact scenario happened to us.

Thankfully though, Bizarre's clearly done a great job of balancing - and this isn't a game purely for mum and grandma. Players can hold up to three powers at once - and you can cycle through them at will - so the race quickly becomes about strategically holding on to the right power-ups at the right time.

If you're in front, you'll want to get yourself a Shield to deflect incoming fire from the rear, and perhaps a Repair in case you do get bashed to bits (when your health depletes to zero, you'll explode and respawn).

Even Shock - Blur's answer to the blue shell - involves some strategy. Instead of blasting down on the leader's head, the move shoots three bolts of light ahead of first place, meaning that if you're good enough you can try to weave in and out of them, thus avoiding a nasty EMP.

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