"But it's the Baja race that makes this game unique; this is where the game does its best to shine. In this mode, you take on the Baja 1000, a real-life test of racing endurance that takes place annually in Baja (Peninsula of Mexico) and can go on for a full three hours."
Alright, I’ll come clean. When I first got this game, I thought, oh God no, it’s another off-road borefest replete with the misleadingly exciting-looking cover art. I’ve played and reviewed a few of those already, I’ll have you know (bless my heart). And they were decidedly arcadey, with mostly bland graphics, touchy controls and seriously aggressive and advanced opposition AI. Baja: Edge of Control differs from those games (MX vs ATV anyone?) in one crucial way.
It’s decidedly un-arcadey. It plays like a simulation racing game, targeted at diehard off-road gamers (I know you’re out there!) who love nothing more than to kick up dust in their 4X4 for hours at a time, paying special attention to how they handle their vehicle, lest it end up with wonky suspension or missing body panels from one reckless landing too many.
The thing is, even if that’s you, Baja still won’t blow you away, due to some seriously underwhelming presentation. Vehicle models are infected with a noticeable case of the jaggies and backdrops are lacking in detail and richness. That being said, off-road hard-ons will eat this stuff up anyway, because it’s deep in options and steeped in unlockables. You can pick up and play by simply selecting a race type, whether your selection is of the circuit, rally, hill climb, open class, Baja race or free ride variety – and thereafter selecting your class of vehicle.
From unassuming and underpowered buggies all the way up to full-sized ‘dream trucks’; Baja has ‘em all, and they’re all available for the picking right from the onset in Race mode. While circuit, rally and hill climb type races are all self-explanatory, the open class allows racers using any class of vehicle to be on the same track – some with appropriate head starts to level the playing field. The ‘free ride’ is where you ostensibly enjoy yourself simply seeing the sights.
But it's the Baja race that makes this game unique; this is where the game does its best to shine. In this mode, you take on the Baja 1000, a real-life test of racing endurance that takes place annually in Baja (Peninsula of Mexico) and can go on for a full three hours. The game offers the Bajas 250 and 500 as fictional stepping stones to the real thing. This is the heart of Baja: Edge of Control: your vehicle sustains damage from both wear-and-tear and your reckless driving alike, and you’ll need to call in the support chopper to make the necessary repairs and adjustments in order to continue running smoothly.
Of course, I mean that only in a figurative sense – in Baja, your vehicle runs anything but smoothly. The courses are extremely punishing. You’ll find it difficult simply to stay on the tracks, ridiculously quick and adept AI competitors notwithstanding. Even when your competition is set to ‘easy’, there’s a good chance you’ll be left in the dust by most of them. You may even find your focus shifting from trying to win, to keeping up, to just trying to finish.
Beyond the Race menu, there is the Baja Career mode, which may be even more ‘hardcore’ than the Baja 1000 in that you must compete in leagues and earn prize money and experience points in order to upgrade your vehicle and enter tougher leagues in its class. You won’t have access to all the vehicle classes here – only the basic, diminutive buggy, until such time as you’ve conquered all the leagues in that class and can graduate to the more powerful vehicles.
This should sound like a dream for fanatics – all that racing, all that unlocking; there’s a grandiose sense of achievement just waiting to be attained… for the right gamer. The rest of us are probably casual racing fans (especially as enthusiasm pertains to off-road racing in particular) and will consider the unlocking structure of Career mode an exercise in tedium and frustration to no particular or rewarding end.
We casual racing fans will be more drawn to, say, the circuit races in Race mode, since you can select any class of vehicle and get down to business with a friend – which is probably the only chance you have at actually competing until you put in the countless hours which are probably necessary before you’re anywhere close to hanging with the AI set. Incidentally, multiplayer works remarkably well – I was especially pleased with the option to do split-screen vertically or horizontally.
And my taking so much pleasure in such a basic display option on offer – that’s… sad, isn’t it?
It is. Because hooking up with an unsuspecting buddy or two and taking to the dirt roads winding up, around and through the mountains and canyons was my way of coaxing some modicum of enjoyment from a game that is all business and all simulation, and light on looks and on, well… being light. If you’re looking for simple thrills juking and jumping about an off-road track, whether solo or with friends in tow, Baja: Edge of Control isn’t for you. But if you were salivating when you saw the screenshots and heard tell of the option to adjust your truck’s gear ratio – you’ve found your deeply involving if unspectacular niche driving game.
Staff review by Marc Golding (October 30, 2008)
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