February the 18th, 2011 shall from now on be remembered as the day when Bizarre Creations, developers of the acclaimed Project Gotham Racing series, closed their doors, less than three years since their acquisition by publishing giant Activision. It's a sad, sad day. If you owned an Xbox or Xbox 360, it's likely you sampled at least one of the Project Gotham games. And who didn't love Geometry Wars, the visually orgasmic top-down shooter that spawned a dozen or so imitators on LIVE and PSN?
So, in honor of the Liverpudlian developers, let's cast our gaze back at Bizarre's long and illustrious history and what we've enjoyed along the way...
Hell Of A Time
Bizarre's original name was in fact Raising Hell Productions, although a partnership with Sega, who disliked the name, resulted in the change. Racing was in their blood from the very beginning, with their first game, Formula 1 on the Playstation, topping the charts in Europe. They went on to have a lucrative career supplying the likes of Sony and Sega with great titles, from Formula 1 sequels to cult-classic Metropolis Street Racer. In a slight change of pace, they also developed Fur Fighters, a cartoon-violence title with anthropomorphic critters running amok with guns.
But it wasn't until 2001, and the launch of the Xbox, that Bizarre really hit the mainstream. Project Gotham Racing released alongside Microsoft's debut console, and won fans over with its slick presentation, original design and rewarding progression. It went on to spawn three sequels, two of which featured on the Xbox's next-gen successor, the 360. Project Gotham Racing 4 was, and still is, the last game in the series, with Bizarre seceding the rights to Microsoft.
On September 26th, 2007, Activision announced they'd acquired Bizarre and would be putting them to work on new games. It was an unlikely turn of events, with PGR fans up in arms at the loss of their favorite developer. Then Bizarre announced their new game, The Club. And it wasn't a racer; it was a third-person shooter, where you controlled a variety of characters and guided them through bullet-ridden gauntlets of death. Bizarre's penchant for accumulating points and showing off your skills remained intact, but it wasn't quite what fans had expected.
And as if in response, Bizarre then announced Blur, an arcade racer along the lines of Project Gotham with a little Mario Kart thrown in for good measure. It seemed like a perfect fit, for the studio and the fans. And you know what, it wasn't bad. In fact, it was very good. It handled well, it was as slick and polished as you'd expect from Bizarre, and the wonderful roster of power-ups were perfectly balanced. What could go wrong?
A Bizarre Turn Of Events
Well, a lot in fact. Blur sold only 31,000 copies in its first week of release in the US, a poor showing from Bizarre, who had become accustomed to million-strong launches with PGR. Activision, being a publisher concerned only with profits, not quality, was not too pleased. Bizarre blamed the congested release, with rivals ModNation Racers and Split/Second launching in the same window.
And instead of supporting Bizarre, a capable developer who had been around for over fifteen years, Activision began to ponder their closure. At first, they spoke in ambiguous terms, of "considering future options" or a "potential sale of the business". Fans were distraught, but then rumors began to circle of Microsoft, who had been none too pleased at losing Bizarre, being interested in buying back Bizarre.
But it wasn't to be. Activision received no offers for Bizarre, and announced they'd be closing within a few months. And now that day has come. Personally, I feel it's a shambolic turn of events. Activision should have shown more faith in the company. The Club wasn't great, but Blur had tremendous promise and room for a sequel or two. We shall sorely miss them, and their wonderful, talented development team who - for me personally - delivered some seminal experiences in the shape of PGR 2 and Geometry Wars, which I rank as their best efforts until now.
Sad to see Bizarre go? Have an opinion on the matter? Well, as always sign off in the comments below!