There is nothing like pure off road racing especially when racing across an open desert, winding through dirt trails and climbing over tower rock formations. Thus we are introduced to BAJA: Edge of Control from 2XL Games and THQ. This is the first time someone actually took on the challenge of recreating the BAJA racing league in the next gen consoles. BAJA Racing has been gaining more popularity over the past few years and has garnered some network attention from the likes of SPEED and ESPN. Many are still unaware of what BAJA Racing actually is all about, but this game should shed a lot of light on the sport.
Thus far the game has taken a lot of flack for less than stellar graphics, which I personally cannot disagree with at all. The game does seem to regress in the graphics category when it come to what is expected on a next gen console. Not all the graphics are terrible, but wrapped as a whole, don't expect a whole lot of eye popping beauty because frankly there is none. But a game should be more about the fun factor and how well its plays in my opinion. And well, while there are shining moments in the game and some great concepts, it does tend to fall short of the fun factor after a while and more along the lines of frustrating when it comes to an unforgiving AI.
First off lets talk about what you get for options when it comes to the game. You'll be treated to over 160 sponsored vehicles which are spread across eight vehicle classes. Over 100 tracks are shipped that are encased within 9 vast open worlds with more than 1000 miles of drive-to-horizon landscapes. Each open world can be driven in a free ride mode that allows you to traverse the terrain and explore every trail and mountain as far as you can see. There is quite a bit of detail in the environments despite the lackluster graphics such as desert wildlife, cracked hard clay terrain, and plenty of desert plant life. I guess the best comparison to some of the terrain is that it probably would be better suited in a flight game where you do not see it up close. When up close, you'll tend to see the flaws and lack of detail in the actual textures.
So as stated, you have a free ride option in the game modes along with a career mode, tutorials, and multiplayer for up to 10 drivers online and across a LAN, and up to 4 drivers on splitscreen locally. So lets discuss the career mode first. When starting career mode, you will be required to buy your first vehicle from the Baja Buggy division. This is your lowest and slowest class of racing vehicles in the game and probably one of the most frustrating. I literally was swearing at the game and ready to put it down due to an extremely frustrating and impossible AI that I ran across in the first few events. We'll discuss the AI a little more in depth a little later as this really is a huge problem in the game and a main reason the game does not score real high in my book.
So, once you have purchased your first vehicle, you will then join a league. A league consists of multiple races across a circuit, rally races, hill climbs and open class races. You'll earn XP and money for your finishing position in each race which is used to advance further into your career and unlock more vehicles. You'll also have the opportunity to sign with sponsors to earn extra cash but its called a contingency sponsorship which means that you must cross the finish line at the end of the race with the sponsor logo still in place. You ask why wouldn't the logo be in place? Well, contact, wrecks and just plain abusive driving can knock panels off of your vehicle and those panels are where the logo's are placed.
As I stated, when you wins races you'll unlock new races and events along with sponsored vehicles which can be used online or locally in free ride. The sponsored vehicles that you unlock cannot be used in the career mode. You are limited to using only generic vehicles which you upgrade with parts and sponsors. You'll get a wide variety of parts with different levels of upgrade value and you'll be best suited to mix and match parts that are specific to your driving style. In other words while it may seem best to fully upgrade all your parts to the top performance level, you may in fact make your vehicle unstable or even uncontrollable with much skidding, spinning out and instability. For those that love to tweak and tune every aspect of their virtual vehicles then you'll find yourself in a virtual heaven. Once your parts are installed, you'll be able to go in and tune those parts to your liking whether it be working out your own gear ratios, or adding some camber to your wheels to allow for better handling. Once you've got your machine to your liking or think you do, then you can take it out for a test drive to test out the newly installed parts and tune up.
The first few races of each league usually do not require much in the way of upgrades to be competitive. You'll actually be able to run away from the competition with a stock vehicle in the later classes as the bigger vehicles seem so much easier to control. A standard race league consists of multiple circuit races where you obtain XP, money and league points in an effort to earn the most league points once the league is complete. Rally races pit you against the clock and you basically will run a few legs of a track in order to end with the best time overall. There will be other vehicles on the track that you will come across along with higher class vehicles that will run you off the road if you do not get out of their way as they approach. The Open Class races pits you up against vehicles outside your class and cars are started on a circuit track spaced according to class. When running the rally races you'll have a repair helicopter at your disposal, which mimics real life. With the press of the Y button, you can call in the helicopter which will land ahead of you along the track to repair you. All you need to do is keep and eye out for the chopper and stop, and you are good to keep racing with a fully repaired vehicle. A damage meter will come up, or can be called up with the press of the D-pad to see what damage your vehicle has sustained.
Finally, Hill Climb events are a bit different than what you have grown accustomed to with other rally racing games. Instead of racing against a clock up or down a track, you'll now be racing against 7 other drivers in a 2 lap shootout up and down trails meandering over towering rock formations. Your goal is to finish first in the race, and you'll find multiple routes up and down the hill.
There is a lot of depth in the tuning of vehicles and quite a few races across all 8 classes to keep you busy for quite sometime. But one thing that you'll have to really overlook or at least be patient with is the AI in this game. At times it's ridiculous what the AI drivers do and the lines they take and you'll find yourself scratching your head or even more you'll be screaming at the television. I found myself literally locked with other vehicles while they end up taking me out and driving off as if I was a fly on their windshield. Other times, you'll see the AI follow a race line as if you were not even there and they'll practically drive right through you knocking you off the track or locking up with you wheel to wheel where you basically cannot get free without stopping and allowing them to just drive away. Its almost as if the AI is designed to follow a specific line around each track without regard to where you are at. So basically if you are in their line, you are pretty much toast as they will take you out. Brakes or steering wheel? I guess they have neither in the AI vehicles because they sure don't use either one when it comes to giving you some room or backing down. This AI really makes the game frustrating and truly kills what really could be a great and fun game.
Moving onto the online play, you can race in either ranked or player matches. You'll be able to select basically every type of race you can compete within your career but you'll also have a few longer race options to choose from. These races are called the BAJA 250, BAJA 500, BAJA 750, and BAJA 1000. What interesting about these races other than their length is the ability to actually allow the AI to take over driving for you in case of a potty break or a quick snack. The 1000 race takes in upwards of 3 to 4 hours to complete, so the AI substitute driver option is a welcome option for sure. This is a first in any game as far as I know and its truly quite innovative. Dependant upon the race your are running, the number of racers can vary. Lag seemed very minimal from the races are took part, and the online play tends to be a lot more fun than the actual career mode as long as you are not running with AI drivers. There are plenty of leaderboards for you to browse and its fairly easy to search for a specific leaderboard for a specific race type a track.
When it comes to sound, this game shines brightly. This is one of the highlights of the game that has to be complimented. All sounds sound very authentic, and the different classes have distinct engine sounds that set them apart from each other. You'll definitely know when you have a higher horsepower engine breathing down your neck on a track. One of the small things that really doesn't matter much, but should be mentioned is the passing public traffic. It literally sounds as though they went out to a highway and recorded the actual sound of a car or truck passing. Sure, a small thing but definitely shows the quality that can be found in this game.
As was discussed earlier in this review, the graphics do really fall short of the bar that is set today. After what we have seen lately in games like Dirt and now Pure, there really is no reason why the graphics shouldn't have some shine to them. I understand that the draw rates of the horizon and the complexity of the game allowing you to drive anywhere into the horizon limits the detail somewhat, but honestly this game really could have released just like this on the original Xbox. One thing that really bothered me was the local public traffic and the lack of detail that went into these vehicles. They are pretty much just square boxes driving down the road. The racing vehicles have the most details, but have plenty of jaggies in the decals and smaller detail points. Again, pretty much unacceptable when it comes to a next gen game.
Controls can be quite frustrating at first in the game, especially with those Baja buggies which handle about as well as a tricycle on the beach. With some practice and time invested in the game you'll learn to use the E-brake and clutch to get the most out of turns and keep your speeds up. As you play the game you'll also learn how vehicles respond to different terrains. You'll also notice that tire and suspension upgrades will help quite a bit. The higher class vehicles handle so much better as well, even at top speeds.
The game has several high points, but unfortunately the lower points seems to erase those high points in most gamer opinions. Online play can be quite fun, and as you unlock higher class vehicles, the game does get a little more enjoyable, but its that darn AI that really puts the final nail in the coffin for this game. Would I recommend this game to folks? Sure, especially if I know they primarily play online. The problem is that many of the vehicles to be used in multiplayer have to be unlocked in the career mode and that may be just a little to frustrating for some folks. This game really could have been a must have with some more attention to the AI and some polished graphics to appeal to the general mass of gamers that feel graphics are more important than gameplay.
Suggestions: Please put out a patch and fix that ruthless and unforgiving AI. Allowing folks to pass and giving up a line goes both ways, and the AI should show the same courtesy that I try to give them.