Baja: Edge of Control
- Publisher: THQ
- Developer: 2XL Games
There's an elephant in the room where Baja is concerned, and the elephant is called MotorStorm. Baja may be more faithfully based on the real-world desert race of the title, but in doing so it ends up being more simulation than fun. Trucks and buggies tear up the sand and mud, but whereas MotorStorm was free to take the concept to all kinds of audaciously outrageous extremes, Baja feels tethered to reality - a decent rattle around some less than inspiring tracks.
The subtitle certainly proves prophetic, since the game is an absolute bitch to control. A certain amount of difficulty can be passed off under the simulation banner, but with simulation comes a greater demand for physical accuracy, and Baja goes off course badly in this area. Handling is heavy, but it never feels particularly realistic. I've never driven in the Baja 1000 race, obviously, but I have driven buggies and off-road vehicles and I've never experienced anything that handles quite like this.
Vehicles will suddenly veer to one side, even though there's no clue in the terrain to explain why. In fact the environments are almost entirely featureless, the tracks looking like brown margarine with tyre lines scraped through. It never looks or feels like you're driving on a tactile surface though, something which is crucial in an off-road game, and something that MotorStorm got deliciously right. Here, you simply get a series of nearly identical courses or rally sections, punctuated by an occasional cactus or tumbleweed. This may be how it looks in reality, but reality can be a dull place when it's rendered on-screen.
You need to have the confidence that mud will act like mud, that bumps and cambers will nudge your vehicle in a certain direction. You need visual feedback to create the connection between what you see and what the vehicle is reacting to, and that element is sorely missing here. The vehicles often seem to have a life of their own, which isn't what simulation should be about.
For those who can battle through the sludgy control, however, there's a lot on offer. The career mode is hefty, with plenty of vehicles to unlock, even if they all look much the same. There are plenty of opportunities to tinker and upgrade, and the sponsorship system is rather clever. Your sponsors only pay up if their adverts are still visible after a race. A cute idea, but rather annoying when you can't do anything to stop your bodywork getting knocked off.
Baja is a fussy racer, held back by twitchy control and incredibly dull design. Truly dedicated fans of the real race, or hardcore racing nuts with vast reserves of patience, may well get something out of it. Most people looking for a grimy, gnarly rock-hopping racer will be quite happy with something like Pure.