Review / Baja: Edge of Control (Xbox 360)

With games like Dirt and Sega Rally Revolution cluttering the discount shelves at many retailers and the juggernaut that is MotorStorm Pacific Rift on the horizon, Baja: Edge of Control finds itself in a tough spot. On top of that, there are just so many highly anticipated titles on the horizon that any pre-release marketing has almost certainly been lost in the shuffle. Still, the landscape of the market is such that despite having flown mostly under the radar, Baja could still be a hit if it manages to gain some momentum. To do that though, the game has to be good. So is it? Read on to find out.

As I mentioned, Baja‘s biggest competitor is just over the horizon and the game that it will be most compared to, Dirt, has long since seen bargain prices and discounts across the board. The best part of this whole scenario is that Baja actually manages to take much of what was great about Dirt and mix it with what people are most looking forward to in Pacific Rift. Baja takes a cue from Dirt in that it offers an extremely in-depth technical side that you’ll surely need to master if you hope to succeed in the game’s career mode. You’re given free reign to upgrade and modify many aspects of your ride, from the tire class to suspension allowances, all the way down to what your engine blog is made of. You’re able to very clearly see the performance gains/losses for each chosen modification and the mod system is intuitive enough that even the most casual weekend racer will be able to beef up their ride in no time.

Once you’ve gotten your ride into race condition, it’s off to the dirt for you. There are several race types on which you’ll be tested. You’ll have your standard circuit races of course, but you’ll also be thrown into gruelling rally events where a single race can last 15 minutes or more, as well as the dreaded Hill Climb races that will surely cause you to ruin a number of your finely-tuned racing machines. The race types and environments are varied enough that you’ll never become bored and rarely will you feel a sense of deja vu.

One feature on which Baja really has to show it can stand up to Motorstorm Pacific Rift is graphics. Granted, we have not had a chance to sit down with Pacific Rift so it’s hard to say how much the video clips of the game are really telling us, but I will say that Baja exceeded my expectations. The vehicles are modeled beautifully, with realistic damage modeling and great dirt and mud effects, and the environments are exceedingly well designed and varied. One race you’ll be high-tailing it through a wooded, muddy circuit and the next you’ll be driving 150mph+ out on the salt flats. With events as mixed as that, it’s hard to get bored. Also, while Dirt‘s tracks are very linear and there’s very little in the way of off-trail environment design, the entirety of Baja‘s environments are drivable. This means that while competing in a race you’ll still be reset for getting TOO far from the track (to prevent cheating), in Free Ride mode you can go anywhere you want on the track. This is extremely helpful as it allows you to check out the tracks at your leisure and will benefit those two take the time to learn the tracks ahead of time.

Now we get to the biggest selling point that has followed this title since day one: the physics engine. Much has been made about how the new engine will revolutionize the genre, and while I will stop short of saying “this will change everything”, I will say that I was surprised at how naturally your vehicle seems to act while navigating the course. The finest example I can give is just how realistic your half-a-million-dollar trophy truck looks as it burns through the Painted Desert at 160mph. Exhilarating.

The online races work as well as you’d expect, with very little in the way of slowdown and it really does give the vehicle-to-vehicle crashes a deeper meaning knowing there’s someone on the other end of the controller. The interface and lobby work well and it’s a suitable alternative any other online racer out there. It’s also rather enjoyable to defeat a particularly cocky online opponent and his trophy truck with your lowly (but beefed up) VW bug.

Overall, Baja is an extremely solid title that those waiting for Motorstorm Pacific Rift should definitely be checking out. And as I mentioned on our latest podcast, it’s an off-road racer of a high enough quality to provide a suitable alternative to Pacific Rift, with one huge advantage: you can buy it today.

+

  • Environments are mighty impressive
  • Physics engine holds up after all the hype
  • Better-than-average online component

  • No in-race music, for real?
  • The AI can knock you out in one well-placed shot to your ride
  • You can’t hit the random wild boars that run across the track…come on!
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