Version tested: Xbox 360
Project Gotham Racing may have long since disappeared into Bizarre Creations' rear-view mirror, but from Blur's first brooding, synth-infused stabs of keyboard - played out as an ice-cool, predatory Audi R8 sits motionless among pulsing light beams - it's clear that while it's gone, it's far from forgotten. Good.
It's a feeling that grows as you learn how Blur works. Event victories earn "lights", with bonus lights handed out for special accomplishments. You earn "fans" for doing cool stuff on the track. Lights unlock new events; fans unlock new cars. You are Bizarre Creations and I claim my five pounds!
Handling is rich and dramatic. Acceleration and drifting are sympathetic enough to correct the rear if you're showing your inexperience, but the relationship between gas, brake, traction and apex remains complex. And it's fast.
Blur is not as supple in some areas as Forza Motorsport 3, mind you - a game where the only way to feel closer to the track surface is to get out of the car and rub your face on the ground - but terrain variation impacts performance and vehicle choice, and there's added novelty as you consider what might work best dancing through waves beneath the legs of the Golden Gate bridge.
Sometimes the world tour is like visiting old friends. Brighton Promenade echoes Project Gotham Racing's love of long, high-speed straights punctuated by awkward shimmies, and San Francisco's Russian Hill is a magnetic assortment of intersections stacked like shelves and tight, right-angle turns - a joy to bounce around in a Ford GT, assuming you can handle it.
Elsewhere, nobody's saying "racification" any more (perhaps because it sounds like something that happens to fruit left in salt water), but the lines on the ground and scenery still guide your eyes to every apex, except this time it's just as likely to be in a cave or skirting a storm drain.
Some tracks are good for old reasons but enhanced by new ideas. The LA Docks level, for instance, punishes you if you line up your jumps incorrectly, a classic Gotham beat, but also needs you to judge speed and traction carefully or you end up in the water.
And sometimes, tracks are just good. Navigating some of the corner sequences in Barcelona Gracia at speed is heavenly.
At least, it's heavenly until you spot the red warning light at the foot of the screen and hear the matching sound effect, and then the fireball growing wide in your mirror arrives and sends you into an unwanted forward somersault.
Blur has power-ups, then, and there are eight - nitro, mine, shunt, bolt, shield, repair, shock and barge. Of the ones you might struggle to identify, barge emits a pulse that repels other racers, shunt is a red homing attack, and shock deploys a series of electrical vortexes near the race leaders, which sap speed if driven through but can also be avoided.
Each power-up does exactly what it should do. They can all be fired forwards and backwards (using nitro as an airbrake is particularly cunning), and there is no lottery to what you get: each has a specific, colour-coded icon that is distinct and eye-catching, so you choose what you want by driving towards that.
They are balanced, too. Shunt, for example, can be blocked with five out of the eight power-ups if you have one to hand and see it coming, and the forward flip it sends you into leaves the motor running and your car facing the right way.
The AI rubber-banding means that the 20-car races are chaotic from beginning to end, especially online, where going defensive and concentrating on your driving is a good early shout. As you progress through the game you can apply modifications, increasing your resilience, allowing you to steal intercepted power-ups, or giving you an extra nitro for every 500 fans you gain during a race, for example.
Of course, power-ups are traditionally divisive, which is hardly surprising given that by definition they should introduce imbalance, and in Blur's case you will often resent being shot out on the last corner when you hadn't put a wheel wrong.
If it could speak for itself rather than just looking sultry and cool on menus, the game might protest that you had put a wheel wrong - by not accumulating suitable defences to withstand whatever left you dead.
But while the game may be right, it's a semantic argument. The reality is that you still get fed up losing, and you don't feel the connection to the events five miles ago that may have contributed to your loss; you just know you got shot and couldn't defend.
Those moments of intense upheaval - especially getting pounded by shunts in the early running - are inescapably brutal and frustrating, and being conscious that minuscule diversions to stockpile shields or barges might have prevented them means nothing in context. Mario Kart gets away with this, but Blur isn't sure how.
There are other events as well though, which use elements of the toolbox rather than scattering the whole thing across the track, and the narrowed focus in these is responsible for Blur's best moments.
In Destruction, the only way to add seconds to the clock is to collect bolt power-ups - each containing three dart-like, minimal-damage missiles - and take out AI traffic, which deposits mines, shunts and other nasty surprises in its wake once destroyed.
One-on-ones, meanwhile, are characterful showdowns unlocked at the end of each of the campaign's nine chapters: you, one other car, and whatever you find on the track. You're able to concentrate more on both driving and battle tactics.
Checkpoint races, the other variation, are my favourite: ostensibly all you need to do is reach the next checkpoint as quickly as possible to add more time to the clock, but in practice you need to chain nitro power-ups together and snake through sequences of stopwatch icons, alternately mastering precision at high and low speeds in the same way you did in cone challenges once upon a time (or 500 times upon a time).
Every type of event is enhanced by fan challenges, activated by cheery orange stick-men icons. You may need to navigate a sequence of gates, reach a certain speed under nitro, or barge during a drift, and while some may hold you back and others speed you up, you learn to love them all, and you want to complete them all because they reward you with extra fans and lights.
Gotham games were also famous for their leaderboards. Being 750th in the country was never compelling, and watching the best guy in the world be better than you was only worth one or two novelty ghost-car downloads, but they were definitely onto something - and then Geometry Wars 2 was a different genre, but a step in the same direction. Blur represents another advance. If you feel good about what you've just done, you can challenge certain friends to do better, and track how many attempts it takes them to do so.
You can also choose a rival from among your friends, whose scores you see every time you finish an event, and this works too: just as on-screen friend scores were a natural evolution for Geometry Wars 2 in 2008, specific comparisons make more sense in 2010 when everyone's friends list is full to the brim. Players who might have shut out the world and caned it through the campaign on launch weekend will now find themselves frequently and happily distracted.
Multiplayer shares some of these elements but is generally distinct from solo events and challenges, with a separate, longer-term ranking system that reflects the different ways people play in both contexts.
Lag hasn't been an issue on the weekend before launch, host migration is fast and the beta test rebalancing has saved us much nonsense. Left 4 Dead-style post-race awards are cute, too. (Although "punching bag" for the guy who takes the most hits is a little insult-to-injury.)
Between single-player and multiplayer modes, longevity won't be an issue - completing the campaign on Hard takes twice as long as many full-price action games, with less repetition - and Blur has a number of ways to keep you interested.
Each chapter of the campaign issues specific demands for unlocking the one-on-ones - like executing four clean, triple nitros or barging someone off a container ship into the sea. You can progress without completing these - you always have loads of events open - but the added incentives beckon you back to races for which you only have four of seven lights, while the constant accumulation of fans, and breakdown of achievement progress, means you're always on the verge of an unlockable you want.
A new car, for instance. There are some grippy vehicles in Blur, like the Scirocco 24 and Lotus Exige, along with funky custom jobs like the Rat Rod - a crusty brown roadster with a shiny exposed engine - although the selection feels stronger among the drifters, from the Nissan 350Z and Ford GTs to the Camaros and Supras.
Key considerations are familiar - acceleration, speed, grip, difficulty, health - but mods and stature are sometimes useful, as you soon learn when you're bogged down by a flood on the LA storm-drain level while a 4x4 Bowler Nemesis with its three-foot clearance glides past like a pimped-out shark fin rocking bling.
Speaking of which, Blur is a bit visually impaired next to last week's Split/Second. At times the environments look unfinished, as though lighting effects have still to be added, and the game's appearance isn't always helped by its dusk-to-dawn obsession with neon, which means tracks take a bit longer to stand out from one another. But it is still attractive.
And you can't really fault any of the implementation across the game: handling, progress and rewards are as mature as you would anticipate from a developer that now has six similar arcade racers under its belt.
After a few hours, the comparison between Blur and Split/Second loses its meaning, too - the former is a pure racing game with power-ups in it, the latter is more of an action-adventure on wheels - and Bizarre's decision to sacrifice fidelity for intensity is hard to question.
Sired by Gotham, Blur is not quite the same as its indirect predecessor, and not quite unique, but it is at its best when it pays most attention to Bizarre's history, isolating particular ideas and turning them into addictive chunks of racing.
As a hint of what may be to come - as the developer continues to absorb ideas from the studio's other games, like The Club and Geometry Wars, and trailblazers like Call of Duty - it's tantalising, and as a game competing for your money today it's almost brilliant. But it never quite reconciles the fantastic driving with the antagonism of its power-ups in the way Mario Kart does, and it could have made more of its best ideas, which often lie beyond the bounds of its chaotic races.
8 / 10
Blur is due out for PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 on 28th May.