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Baja: Edge of Control (Xbox 360) artwork

Baja: Edge of Control (Xbox 360) review

"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.


Masters's avatar
Staff review by Marc Golding (October 30, 2008)

There was a bio here once. It's gone now.

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EmP posted October 30, 2008:

Solid stuff, me old chum; well disected and cleanly explained, leaving no doubt in the reader's mind what to expect. You can't ask any more than tha from a review.

BUT! Here is an obligitory niggle:

Career mode an exercise in tedium and frustration to no particular or rewarding end (since you can sample all the classes right off the bat in Race mode anyway).

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

I would do away with the bolded bit. You repeat it again in the next sentence.

EmP out!
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Masters posted October 30, 2008:

Fixed. This is the only time I've taken your advice!

And I didn't know your niggles were obligatory -- niggles and advice from you come few and far between!
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honestgamer posted October 30, 2008:

This review nicely addresses the points I most cared about as a potential consumer and, from the sound of things, nicely sums up the experience. The bits about struggling to stay on the road or even finish races told me all that I need to know. I'm a fan of arcade-style racing myself. Simulation titles seem to make it harder to drive in a straight line than it is to navigate a series of cones at high speeds in the rain-soaked streets of real life. I just don't get it. Really I don't. But whatever. Great review and the game sounds interesting, but I have enough info now to know that it's best if I give it a pass (I'm not big on modifying gearboxes, either).
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EmP posted October 30, 2008:

Perhaps my advice would be more free-flowing if you were not so quick to readily admit how little notice you take of my wisdom-filled words of guidance.
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Masters posted October 30, 2008:

Believe me, I'm good with not getting much in the way of unsolicited 'assistance' in the first place.
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asherdeus posted July 17, 2010:

I had to pick a third game for a buy 2, get 1 free sale this weekend and almost picked this up. I'm a big fan of arcade racing games and thought this one might be right up my alley, but it was sitting awfully close to MotorStorm and I decided to wait, since they looked pretty similar. This review told me everything I needed to know - avoid this one. Definitely not what I'm looking for, though I have to say, the multiplayer does sound a bit intriguing. Excellent review; you really know how to find a hook, even on chore games like this.

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