There was a time not too long ago when my video game tastes were extremely casual. FIFA, WWE, Call of Duty, that sort of thing. While some of those series are clinging to my psyche to this day, they have slowly but surely been falling by the wayside. I still play FIFA every year, although whether that continues into the EA Sports FC era remains to be seen, and WWE 2K22 proved to me wrestling games are still worth my time.
One series that didn't manage to hold on for anywhere near as long is Need For Speed. I dipped back into a series of racing games I once loved when Heat launched but I was wholly unimpressed. It might be unfair, but I can't help but compare them to the early '00s Need For Speed games. The golden era that gave us Underground, its sequel, and Most Wanted. Heat leaving me unsatisfied was the leading reason why despite the rumors surrounding Unbound, I simply wasn't interested.
That all changed when EA finally officially revealed Unbound. As those rumors suggested, its animated elements and over-the-top style make it seem like it will be the breath of fresh air Need For Speed desperately needs. I'm now very much leaning toward picking up a copy of Unbound. Not because it reminds me of the Need For Speed games I sunk hours into 20 years ago, but for the first time in a while, it made me miss Blur.
If you're a fan of racing games and you've never played Blur, you really missed out. More than a decade old at this point, Blur launched in 2010 and was a spiritual successor to the Project Gotham series. Very much entrenched in my loyalty to a handful of series era at the time, I'm struggling to recall why I even gave Blur the time of day, especially since I had never played any of the Project Gotham games. It was one of my favourite games from that time in my life, a time when consoles didn't track how many hours we spent playing particular games, which is probably for the best.
I'll employ the same tactic I used to tempt people to the game here as I did back then by describing it as a cross between Mario Kart and real racing. While the cars were real, and your mentor in Blur's career mode was an actual F1 driver, some of the methods you would use to best other racers were not. Items, many of which were clearly inspired by the Mario Kart series. Missiles that came in threes which were Blur's green shells, a boost that was just a realistic Mario mushroom, and various other items.
Blur also included a simple yet effective online ranking system. Place higher in online races, earn more points and move on up the table. Yes, other games employ that system today, but there are so many people online that checking whether I have managed to break into the top ten million yet is more demoralizing than it is encouraging. There were far fewer people playing online games back then, especially a series debut like Blur, that although I can't remember exactly how high I flew, checking up on it every now and again made me feel good. Plus, a lack of adult responsibilities made sure I kept ascending those rankings, something I wouldn't have the time to replicate today.
Although I don't remember exactly how good I was compared to my fellow Blur players, I do remember when the game's popularity started to dwindle. Finding online races gradually became harder and harder, and filling one with 19 other cars was soon impossible. Eventually, its online elements were shut down and with it, my interest in the game disappeared. I hoped for a sequel, something Bizarre Creations once had plans to do, but the studio was shut down by Activision before it ever happened. A mobile spinoff made it out into the world, but it was a far cry from the game I had obsessed over a couple of years earlier.
All of this to say more than a decade later, as my quest to find something that will fill the Blur-shaped hole in my heart continues, I'm hopeful Unbound will be exactly that. It looks like it will mark a new beginning for Need For Speed, but right now I remain skeptical. Blur may need a sequel for that magic to ever be truly recaptured, and while we live in a time where it feels like almost any game can potentially get a follow-up or a remaster, it doesn't feel as if Blur is currently on anyone's radar. If you're reading this Phil Spencer, make it a top priority if and when Xbox ever manages to push through the Activision Blizzard deal.
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