With over 100 different sponsors and racing teams involved with Baja the Edge of Control THQ probably made money just buy putting it on store shelves. Which is a good thing too since off road racing video games are a very niche market. So does Baja Edge of Control live up to the expectations of off road racing fans? That depends on how low their expectations are. With games like Dirt being on the market though something tells me this isn’t exactly the game that race fans were looking for.
Baja is somewhere in that zone between arcade racer and sim racer. The physics give a lot of leeway as far as acceleration, grip, turning and collisions not to mention the insane ability to climb up steep cliff faces at high speeds. There are some more realistic aspects added to the gameplay. Vehicles suffer in performance and take damage from abuse of the gas pedal and running into things. All cars carry at least one spare tire with them which can replace a flat one if the vehicle is brought to a complete stop. However most of the races in career mode are quick arcade like sprints around a track and all sense of the game being a real off road rally race is lost when your vehicle travels too far from the boundaries of the track and gets reset back on the course by some mystical racing god in the sky (ok the game does it but you get the point) and any game where cacti are indestructible is definitely not a straight up simulation.
Baja includes two main game modes; race, which lets you jump directly into a race and a career mode which makes you jump through hoops in order to unlock the cars and earn the money to upgrade your vehicle. I admit it, I’m not a big fan of career modes in racing titles. Most of the time they end up feeling more like work than actual fun and that’s the case with Baja. Both race and career modes allow you to participate in straight up races, hill climb races, open class races where multiple classes participate and have different starting positions based on their vehicle type, Baja races which are long races broken up into sections that take more than 15 minutes each, and finally free ride which allows you to just hop in any car and explore the virtual world (this is only accessible through the race option).
There is split screen and online multiplayer races using the various settings and race types. Split screen had the option of racing with the screen split vertically or horizontally which is nice because based on the size of the screen one option might be more desirable than the other. Online can either be through a friends list or a public session and the player can either jump into a race that is being hosted by another player or create their own. Online opens with your selected car and the environment loaded but the race doesn’t start right off the bat. Players can mill about as in free ride mode until the host starts the race which is nice since it allows players to mess around and become familiar with the terrain while waiting for that one friend to get back from the fridge before racing.
Baja looks good but only at higher levels. I didn’t notice any popping, blurring, or bad textures but while standing still there wasn’t much detail for the eye to take in. The free ride mode really shows off not only the detail but the solid work that was put into each environment. The environments are very big for a racing title and with nine different environments to choose from exploring the vast maps are more fun than straight out racing. Sometimes the odd bit of wild life like a rabbit or a bird makes an appearance which seems a little out of place. The buildings and vehicles that decorate the landscape are both indestructible and disproportioned which completely interrupts any sense of immersion. So while the environments are pretty, the lack of detail and especially the invisible wall that surrounds the area will remind you that you’re stuck in a video game.
The artificial intelligence in Baja isn’t particularly aggressive or smart. Computer controlled cars just follow the track to the best of their ability and don’t go out of their way to push you off the road. This is fine because the battle with the terrain is more than enough of a challenge without cars trying to push you off the track. There are no short cuts in the game, as that invisible hand just picks you up and puts you right back on the track, which stinks because the opportunity to cut across the track comes up again and again. Not only that but the ground just off the track sometimes offers a smoother ride and can be more manageable. The sections of races where the track diverges with a busy road trafficked by generic not off-road vehicles is particularly frustrating. Why do I have to drive on this busy road with indestructible cars that completely ignore the fact that I’m barreling towards them when just 50 feet away there’s an open stretch of desert?There are many different vehicle classes in Baja including the buggy, 4x4, truck, full sized truck, unlimited 1, and trophy truck classes. Each vehicle type has its own quirks and advantages on the road but I preferred the unlimited 1 for the sheer power and decent handling. While it may sound like trophy trucks are the best vehicles to use their turning and traction leave much to be desired. In career modes you buy additional vehicles in the garage and upgrade them with new parts. The only upgrades that have a significant effect to the car’s performance are the cooling upgrades and other upgrades that increase the stability and endurance of the guts of the machine because in the end it doesn’t matter how many time you upgrades your vehicle it is going to be severely beat up and probably half working by the time you cross the finish line. This type of vehicle damage would fit in well with a sim racer but because of the way the in-game physics work vehicles take a lot of abuse from jumps and climbing up hills. Of course any game that allows you to drive up sheer cliff faces probably has something wrong with its physics.
The sound in game consists of four things, the opening music, the title music, engine sounds, and some voice work for the tutorials and communication with the repair chopper. None of these items are particularly appealing or flawed but a lack of a sound track definitely made the races a little less exciting. Of course with the Xbox 360’s ability to store and play music during games I guess there really isn’t a need for one unless the person who buys it doesn’t have any music files in which case they probably don’t listen to music anyway.
The achievements in the game are pretty standard and some are really easy like the “Use Clutch” one for 5pts. There is one achievement though that most will probably need a game guide to get and that’s the explorer achievement that requires the player to find all the special locations and sites in free ride mode. Not an easy task, especially since there isn’t a map in free mode or any obvious markers as to where the car has to be in order to unlock the location as found.
Baja is an off road racing game in a time where there is an unusual glut of off road racing games on the market. Many either function better or offer a more interesting experience than Baja. Baja Edge of Control is a game somewhere between simulation and arcade game that tries to balance between the two and falls off the trapeze towards the floor bellow. Thankfully a safety net in the form of free ride saves this title from being a complete waste of time by offering a unique and fun time waster. I would recommend this to anyone who thinks tricks in off-road racing titles are stupid but doesn’t want to buy a sim racer.