BAJA

Review

posted 11/14/2008 by Nathan Murray
other articles by Nathan Murray
One Page Platforms: 360
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).

baja

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?
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