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Baja: Edge of Control

 

Baja: Edge of Control

ESRB: Everyone - E
Platform: Xbox 360
Category: Racing
 
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Author:

Developer: 2XL Games
Publisher: THQ

Features

1-4 players
System link 2-10
Online multiplayer 2-10
HD Supported Output: 720p/1080i/1080p
3MB game saves
Force Feedback wheel
Custom soundtracks
Spectator Mode

From the core founding members of the MX vs. ATV franchise comes the next off-road racing experience, Baja: Edge of Control. You will have to conquer the toughest terrain Mother Nature has to offer and build the ultimate off-road vehicle. Combining the best elements of the real-world sport with the right balance of arcade fun, Baja: Edge of Control manages to transport players to the epic open worlds and unforgiving terrain found at the pinnacle of off-road racing. I had the chance to review the Xbox 360 version, and while the title is not totally my cup of tea, I was curious to see how it stacked up against other racing titles I’ve played and enjoyed.

Graphics

Graphically specking Baja does a great job. It really looks good for the most part, but it does stumble in some areas. The cars and trucks are very well detailed. Players will be able to notice such things as the various components of each vehicle all the way the little decals that are plastered on each buggy/truck. Vehicles also show the physical abuse they take from running on the off-road tracks. Trucks tend to get torn to shreds as some pieces will completely fly off and stay on the track until the race is over while other pieces will hang on the truck’s frame for dear life. Although this detail is spot-on for the most part, sometimes it misses. Dust or dirt, for example, can be seen on the tires, but not on the car itself even though it may have just completed a long drive through the desert and mud.

While you would expect all of the surroundings to look the same thanks to the desert setting, the development team has put in enough variety to make each environment feel a bit different. The time progression from sunrise to sunset, for example, is a nice subtle touch that players will appreciate when they see it for the first time. However, the water effects in some areas are just bad. This is especially noticeable in muddy areas, where deep tire tracks that still hold water look like streaks in the ground that lack color and texture. To be honest I’m not going to gripe about the textures too much as the game moves a great pace and most won’t even notice its shortcomings. That being said, Baja’s frame rate can be a bit temperamental at times. I found it did slow down with a lot of vehicles on screen, and the screen did tear in some places. The slowdown is short-lived though and it doesn’t seem to be any worse, or better for that matter of fact, when taking the game online.

Sound

I really liked the menu music throughout the game. The beautiful acoustical riffs is a pleasant change from the grunge hip–hop beat that so many other games are using. The music definitely gives you the feeling of being in the Mexican desert, but it mostly comes off as a bit mellow. I personally don’t mind mellow but I think most gamers will find it too mellow. When trying to prep yourself for a big race, mellow isn't exactly the feeling that you want.

During the races the sound effects come through clean and clear. Since Baja utilizes in game Dolby Digital, everything from crashing into objects and other cars to whatever else you would want to hit sounds good. You can hear the crunch of metal as cars collide into each other or solid objects. The roar of the various engines is deep, and the sound differs between a trophy truck and a VW buggy. The engine noises especially stand out when you get into a group of cars all huddled together and the overall intensity of the engine noises is fantastic. Anyone with a good home surround setup should love this game as it will most certainly push your system.

Oddly by default, the music in game is always turned off, so unless you tweak your audio settings you have no music to race with. It’s a good thing the game also has customizable soundtracks, so you can play selected tracks from your own hard drive while you race. This is by far my favorite way to utilize any game’s soundtrack. I usually look to see if I can slide in my own music to match up with the game’s visuals. I think this option adds a little bit extra enjoyment for anyone wishing to do so.

Gameplay

While traversing through Baja: Edge of Control you’ll find the game is split up into two single-player components and one multiplayer component. Your every day standard mode is under the Race heading. This is where you choose one track to race on against the computer AI. Within this Race setting are six different modes. Circuit Racing is pretty much like most other racing titles out there where you run a pre-set number of laps on any given course. Rally Races have you racing from checkpoint to checkpoint against other cars in your class. Hill Climb has you trying to climb up and down set track hills in the fastest time possible. I found this mode to be one of my favorites. Open Class challenge is much like the Rally Race mode except that all car/truck classes now get to compete against each other. Baja racing simulates the real event, so you get to do an endurance race. There are selectable travel distances of 250, 500 or 1000 miles. This mode also keeps track of your vehicle’s damage along the way. Finally, Free Ride lets you fully explore any track or area without any opponents or penalties of any kind. This mode is also a good place to practice or test out your vehicle without having to worry about damage. The majority of these modes can also be raced in multiplayer as well.

The meat of Baja: Edge of Control is the Baja Career mode. Here you begin climbing up the ranks, but to do so you must win championships in different racing classes before moving upward. You begin your trek in the VW leagues and eventually end up racing specialty trucks, taking on different race types along the way. Right off the hop you will notice that Baja follows a simulation oriented approach to the game. Your vehicle’s overall performance depends on how well or poorly you drive, so no car bashing here as it will get you nowhere. I also found that if you consistently push your vehicles past its limits that over time damage your suspension and other facets of your car will take damage, which in turn is costly. To that end not only can you buy different vehicle parts but you can also tweak them. The customization engine in Baja is somewhere between the Need for Speed series and Forza Motorsport 2, the latter being one of my favorites. You can tweak just about every part here, but the game simplifies it for you in case it becomes overwhelming. To be honest, it’s nice to see the customizable element in this genre of off-road racing and car junkies will love this aspect of the title.

Gameplay can be a very mixed affair in Baja: Edge of Control. The controls are pretty easy to figure out and Xbox 360 owners will be already familiar with the trigger system for acceleration and braking. However, racing with these off-road vehicles feels quite a bit different than some of the other car racing titles out there. The trucks tend too be way more quirky and somewhat slippery to control. More often than not you'll find steering can be tough because of the terrain, and of course this causes you to over steer in the heat of racing. Your natural reaction will be to steer in the direction of the slide but the short wheelbases of the trucks will make you fishtail and all hell breaks loose. It takes some getting used to and beginners with little to no patience could essentially give up playing. However with a bit practice most gamers should adapt. Baja’s computer AI is good enough at keeping you engaged for a short time. While brushing up on your own driving skills the AI always seems to be right on your butt reminding you that they are there.

Other than the control issue I thought there was one other area strangely absent or perhaps completely omitted? For the life of me, I could not check out a vehicle’s stats before buying it. You would think like most other racers that you would have some kind of base model with it’s given characteristics to view. Unfortunately you have to pretty much guess at what vehicle to choose to race or purchase. You're given a car name, color selection and model of the car, and that is pretty much it. You have no idea how fast the car can go, how durable it is, or anything else for that matter. If some of the vehicles weren't so expensive to get buying blindly wouldn't be so bad. Of course seeing the price difference does count for something, but to not be able to see a statistical difference is downright annoying. Add to this that it is also quite tough to gain the capital required to purchase such trucks.

After much tinkering and playing around in the menus I found Baja has a very robust multiplayer component. Split-screen supports up to four players, something you don't see too often in racing titles that don't feature mascots racing in go-karts. System Link is also available for multiplayer. Of course there is Xbox LIVE support. You can race online with up to 10-players in any mode of racing you choose. The experience only has a minimal amount of lag at worst, making races more enjoyable. The frustration factor comes only as you lose based on lack of skill as opposed to bad connections. My time online was enyoyable, but as with almost all multiplayer online racing games the amount of bumping and crashing that public players do on purpose really gets tiring and frustrating. Ongoing bumping tends to take some of the fun out of the racing, but if you’ve got friends that have Baja, then make every effort to play against them.

Baja: Edge of Control also includes a Panorama mode that is probably the most expensive and coolest way to play the game. By hooking up three monitors and three Xbox 360 consoles together, and using three copies of the game, Baja will come to life. With this mode selected, you have a dedicated left and right screen as well as a middle screen. For racing enthusiasts, this is a dream set-up. It reminded me of playing F1 on a couple of TV’s back to back in a fellow gamers (who just happens to be my Editor’s) basement. We had separate sound hook– ups as well, making us pretty diehard. It's rare to see this mode outside of hardcore simulation racers like Gran Turismo or Forza Motorsport 2. It must mean the development team at 2XL Games are hardcore racing guys and gals too. Kudos!


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