Baja: Edge of Control was a title that released last generation back in 2008. Nine years later, publisher THQ Nordic and developer 2XL Games have decided to remaster this title and dub it “HD” (because, you know, last generation games weren’t HD already). That being said, lets see how this off-road racer fares for the next-generation upgrade.
Baja: Edge of Control HD has you racing in a variety of off-road vehicles across various open locales. The career mode has you tackling numerous tournaments that vary based on vehicle classes. These can range between buggies, 4x4s, trophy trucks, etc. Each vehicle class has tournaments that vary in race types, whether it be standard circuit races, hill climb events, or racing across open-land. You earn credits winning each race to either buy more vehicles or acquire upgrades to better your ride. This is essential to ensuring victory, and not just for speed sake, but rather the amount of damage your vehicle can take (more on this later). You will also net XP which is mainly just for progression to unlock other vehicle classes and tournaments to partake in. It’s a fairly lengthy career that will keep you busy for a bit. Completing the career will unlock a bonus class of vehicles as well.
When it comes to the actual gameplay, Baja feels really tight and easy to pickup-and-play. Controls are easily accessible (aside from the odd Reverse mechanic that requires pressing both L2 and R2 at the same time), and you’ll be whipping around turns with ease. Handling vehicles is very satisfying, as the camera even follows the vehicle along turns to the edge of the screen. It’s a bit reminiscent of how the PS2 Spy Hunter handled camera work when turning.
One mechanic that is found in other off-road racers (such as the PS2 ATV Offroad Fury series for example) is the Clutch mechanic. Holding down the clutch while accelerating at a turn can really give your vehicle a nice boost in horsepower, and mastering this really comes in handy when pulling past opponents. The AI seems to hold its own quite well, but when races start getting tougher, it’s best advised to start upgrading your vehicles to the max. Also, damage plays a big factor. Smashing your vehicle into opponents or objects will have panels flying off or dangling out. However, while the cosmetic appearance won’t affect your performance, there are internal components to worry about. Oil, H2O, tires, shocks – they certainly get wear and tear and can affect the outcome of a race. There are pit stops to repair vehicles during races should this raise an issue.
As mentioned earlier, there are several race types. Circuit races are your standard fare lap races. Hill climb has you trekking upward terrain and looking for the best route on track. Open cross has you racing on a track but in a more open land feel. There’s a free ride mode as well, letting you roam the ginormous terrains across several locations and trying to discover locations. Speaking of tracks and terrains, Baja has some really great track designs that are simply entertaining to race on. While races are on open terrain, the game is very forgiving when driving off the main track. It will reset you back on track should you veer far off or try to cut an entire corner.
Now, the most impressive race type is the Baja race. There is the Baja 250, Baja 500, and Baja 1000 race to tackle. Anyone remember the awe of SSX 3 letting you board down the entire mountain from top-to-bottom in 30 minutes with zero loading times? This has you racing in massive environments with no loading times and can last between 3-4 hours should you tackle the Baja 1000 race. Think about how much terrain you are racing through without loading. Pretty impressive, right? You will even be able to radio in repair support from a helicopter following the race the entire time.
When you’re not playing solo, you can head online for some multiplayer races. You simply join a race, pick a vehicle, and race against others. There is no progression system of any kind to find here, so take it as you will. The interface and functionality itself is pretty barebones honestly. Unfortunately, we were only able to test out one online match since the servers are barren (thank goodness there are no online Trophies either). Thankfully, the developer implemented four-player split-screen multiplayer, so there’s always the option of racing against friends like the good ol’ days.
The developer has gone the extra mile and tweaked some of the gameplay mechanics from the original instalment nine years ago. Physics and AI have been improved, as well as the textures and lighting. It's also improved the controls and provided an easier starting progression for the career mode. It’s nice to know it not only touched up the visuals, but tweaked some gameplay mechanics as well.
Now visually, Baja is a fairly decent looking game. There’s some nice environmental design, with dust effects, track tire marks, and some nice lighting. Most impressively, the game runs at a rock solid 60 frames-per-second without a single drop. Vehicles have a solid amount of detail for the most part. However, some of the textures on vehicles, such as the manufacturing brand, look really low-res. Worse yet, the NPC vehicles that are parked on the side of tracks as an “audience” look absolutely abysmal detail-wise. On another note, draw distance is good for the most part, although some trees and bushes may pop up in the distance. Outside of those pop ups, though, you can see the land for miles.
In terms of audio, Baja has a very good soundtrack. Comprised of rock and techno tunes, mostly every tune had us more immersed in the game’s races. There’s also a nice feature that shows the song title, and you can also pause the game and change the song you want to listen to. Little touches like this go a long way for audiophiles. Sound effects for vehicles are also captured quite well and provide an authentic experience.
Baja: Edge of Control HD is a remaster that may be head-scratching at first, but once you get your hands on it, there’s plenty to enjoy. Outside of some mixed texture work, the game runs and plays silky smooth. Given the game’s accessible price tag, off-road racing fans certainly have a lot to enjoy. There’s just something blissful about racing out in the open terrain, overlooking the land.