In real life, the Baja 1000 race, which generally runs for about 1000 miles, takes 27 hours to finish. And that's if you're the world-record holder. It's a serious business, but it's a pretty rubbish business, by the sound of it. According to our giddy THQ and 2XL guides during the game's first playable showing, racers spend up to a million dollars on their vehicles and then have to spend another half-mil on race support from a watching helicopter - all for a prize purse of just five grand.
Mind you, if you're used to that kind of return on your investment, Baja is the game for you: not only can you live out your Baja fantasy of being Steve Hengeveld or "Scoop" Vessels, but you can connect three PS3s or 360s, three screens and three copies of the game together and play in panoramic mode. Forza Motorsport 2 supports something similar, so it's not like you'll have to convince the wife or anything - she'll probably buy it for you, and then sit on your lap yelping as the children take the bus to work at the mine.
Obviously you can't expect people to sit in front of their TVs for 27 hours in a row, though, so Baja isn't all about the 1000 race. Instead - like the MX vs. ATV series, from whose developer's ranks 2XL is partly populated - the game is broken down into a large number of smaller events taking in parts of the elaborately modelled 100 square miles of terrain, and only one of those is a cut-down Baja 1000 itself. It's still an endurance effort, taking up to three or four hours to finish, but you can at least pause for a rest at intervals between the nine 20-to-30-minute stages. You can even put the game on autopilot for a bit if you need to go to the loo, with an AI stand-in taking a conservative approach that might cost you a bit of time - but nothing you can't make up by powering through with a freshly squeezed bladder.
The terrain you race across is meant to be the toughest in the world - a pretty ferocious stretch of the American continent between Ensenada or Tijuana and La Paz, populated with mountains, mud and canyons. The in-game version doesn't disappoint, with massive amount of incidental detail, cacti and shrubs wherever you look, for miles without any pop-in, and the sort of perilous terrain fans of the genre demand.
However, although you leave pronounced tyre marks, which visually are actual indentations rather than a different texture, the surface itself doesn't deform, as it would in SEGA Rally or MotorStorm. This is because 2XL believes that deformation is fairly inconsequential anyway, and that you get better returns by specifically tailoring the surface to test the limits of each vehicle.
This it does, as your vehicle - taken from one of eight classes - thunders across the tremulous terrain, pad vibrations rocking your hands and the accurately modelled suspension visually buffeting your car and taking a chunk out of your handling. (Check out how the real-life version compares to the in-game version in EGTV's comparison trailer.)
On a straight, you're constantly adjusting your trajectory, all the while keeping an eye on the mini-map and the vanishing point to measure your way into difficult turns, not least because flying off the outside doesn't send you into a wall; it sends you into the brush, where you'll take some damage and probably have to manually reset yourself to the track.
Baja doesn't penalise you too much for this, and will actually let you explore off-course, providing you're only running parallel to the track and not cutting corners; and while damage is a problem, at least you've got that helicopter. By holding a button (Y on 360, which was the only version demoed) you can order it to land somewhere up ahead and fix you up; all you have to do is work out where it is on the mini-map or by keeping your eyes to the sky, and then pull up alongside it. Cars can't be terminally damaged anyway, but the inefficiency of taking longer to recover from a deep landing makes the repair delay worthwhile.
You also have to be mindful of taking damage because at least part of your winnings comes from sponsors, who pay you to cover your car in fancy stickers and logos, which will not survive being ground against a muddy bank or barrel-rolled into cactus. They will not pay you if you can't see what's being advertised by the time you cross the finish line, obviously. On the plus side, you can spend some of their money reducing the likelihood of problems, by upgrading suspension, roof kits, aerodynamics and so on between races.
Those races include Hill Climbs, Rally races, Open Class and Circuit races. Circuit is pretty obvious, and Rally is point-to-point, with 2XL explaining delightedly that the Baja never closes off the regular roads that cross its path, so you need to watch out for civilian traffic.
Hill Climb is as it is in other rally games - epic climbs where you need to maximise your RPM and manage gears to ascend the summit and then descend again without spilling violently - and Open Class races mix the field up completely, pitting trophy trucks and 4x4s against bikes and buggies, where the greater the horsepower the further back you begin, with the idea being that everyone achieves parity only at the very end, intensifying the pressure as you close in on the finish line.
Beyond that, four players will be able to take part in split-screen races, and there is online and network play for up to 12 drivers. One option that might appeal here is the Free Ride, which simply lets you explore the vast game world with your friends, and 2XL promises that there will be hidden treats to help you make your own fun - one example being a giant golf course concealed in the dunes and canyons, with a giant ball to knock around. And if that doesn't appeal, you could always go out and buy some more plasma screens and consoles, obviously. It's what your family wants for you. Discover that for yourself when Baja comes out on PS3 and 360 in August.