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Sean Pettibone


Baja: Edge of Control (Xbox 360) 

Baja: Edge of Control is an excellent driving title for Xbox 360 that delivers a fine off-road racing simulation. Players can choose from multiple vehicles including buggies and trophy trucks. These cross a varied path through unpredictable desert terrain that isn't all sand and dust. Baja's expansive driving environments are impressive for their realism and challenge which gives players plenty of challenges. Baja's wide- ranging race modes allows for plenty of versatility. An impressive graphics engine displays a remarkable level of detail, and impressive physics makes this even better. Look inside and discover how Baja: Edge of Control delivers a thrilling seat of your pants experience with a surprising amount of depth.

Set in the Mexican deserts and other outdoor locations, Baja: Edge of Control delivers a fairly extensive and deep off-road racing experience that should keep players challenged for many hours. Initially, there's a strong resemblance to THQ's successful MX vs. ATV series, which should be no surprise. As you'd expect, Baja delivers an arcade racing style game with loads of thrills. The game features more than 160 officially licensed vehicles in several different classes ranging from 4X4 trucks, to buggies and Trophy vehicles. It's set in the Baja desert, and includes several racing modes such as circuit races, which are laps around a track, Rally Races which are freeform races across wide desert courses, Hill Climbs where you have to go straight up and more. Players can also choose to race in the famous Baja competition, an endurance match across hundreds of miles of track. These require plenty of time and space, and each match can take up to several hours to complete. Baja allows you to race solo in individual tracks, compete against other players head to head via split screen or internet play. These modes are enjoyable and challenging, but those looking to go a bit deeper into the action will probably want to check out the career mode, where you can race multiple events, earn points and use them to unlock additional vehicles and customize your ride with different parts. Baja also lets you adjust a number of options including race length, opponent AI, lighting conditions and music volume, so you have plenty of different ways to customize each race.

Baja is definitely an action-oriented racer at its core, and this approach is definitely evident throughout. The physics are realistic, but there are loads of jumps where you can attain massive air. Instant resets and fast speed make for some intense racing, but there's also a surprising amount of depth in the game when you look deeper. This shows itself in Baja's realistic environments that present players with multiple types of terrain, expansive courses with large open-ended paths that give you a great deal of freedom and aggressive opponent AI that makes each race a relentless battle between hard-core off-road vehicles. Their handling and performance feel accurate and realistic, and there are certain modes where different vehicle types compete head to head. This offers the best way to see the difference between these vehicles. In addition, Baja offers a wide variety of courses, each of which has been tweaked and designed for each type of race mode. There are literally dozens of tracks to race, and these offer quite a bit of challenge. Far from an endless trek through dust and sand, you'll find a great deal of variety in the game with mountains, forests, lakes and rivers to see along the way. This of course means that there are different types of surfaces ranging from dusty paths, to muddy sections, dirt and water to traverse. Each type of terrain affects your vehicles control and handling in a different way, which means you have to adjust your driving style on the fly. The courses are a bit unpredictable, with some fairly sharp turns and diverging detours that are hard to anticipate. Fortunately, you can use the on-screen GPS to help guide you on your way, which helps a lot. The courses are absolutely huge and your endurance and concentration will definitely be put to the test on each track.

While the track designs are impressive, the game's vehicles look and feel quite realistic as well. Players will immediately be able to tell the difference between a buggy and a trophy truck in terms of handling, acceleration and cornering. In addition, each vehicle's stability and gravity is different as well. There are significant differences between the vehicle classes in terms of top speed and handling as well, which can also play a key strategy as well. In addition to racing against the other vehicles, you'll also need to keep an eye out for vehicle damage, which will significantly detract from your performance during the longer races. Most of the vehicles carry a spare tire or two which you can use if you've lost a wheel in a crash, and this is simply done by coming to a complete stop and pressing the Y button. Likewise, when you've accumulated significant damage, you can call in a back-up helicopter that will fly onto the course and repair your damage. However, this isn't always immediate so you might have to race for some distance before reaching your repair rendezvous point, which can significantly affect your racing time as well. Players will also have to watch out for other drivers on the course when they've come to a complete stop. Obviously, having a pit stop in these outlying areas wouldn't be realistic so the helicopter rescues add to Baja's authentic off-road feel. Baja's collision detection is quite strong, and you won't be able to get away with straying from the track for very long, since the automatic reset feature penalizes you for trying to cut corners in the race. The controls are very easy to use with responsive vehicles that react perfectly to your movements, and in a nice concession to players on both sides of the fence, you can use either the analog or digital pad to steer, which is a nice touch.

As you can tell from the screenshots, this is a robust game that delivers some very impressive visuals. You race through lush environments filled with organic trees and grass. Baja's environmental effects such as water and mud are superbly rendered as well. Each vehicle looks fantastic as well, with excellent modeling used to recreate them authentically, with gleaming paint jobs and attention paid to the smallest details. It doesn't hurt that the action moves along at a smooth frame rate throughout which creates a believable sense of speed and momentum. The game's visuals look fantastic from any viewpoint and you can switch the camera angles from outside the car to first person mode depending on your preference. Overall, the game's slick production values make for a highly-polished racer that brings the excitement and visceral thrills in off-road racing to life vividly.

While there are loads of racing titles on the market these days, Baja separates itself from the pack by delivering an uncompromising sense of realism and racing depth along with speedy thrills. It's range of environments is surprisingly diverse, given the desert setting and the varied terrain makes controlling and steering a surprisingly challenging task. Baja's vehicles themselves are impressive in terms of their control, physics and versatility. The tracks themselves are impressive from both an aesthetic and structural standpoint, with different surfaces, multiple branching paths and unexpectedly tight corners making for consistently engrossing gameplay. Baja's immersion is enhanced when you switch to its endurance mode, where these longer races add strategic elements such as wear and damage that you have to keep an eye on. From a pure gaming standpoint, the game's consistent and smooth frame rate creates an intense sense of speed and its sophisticated AI means that various vehicles perform and race realistically throughout. Balancing slower vehicles with better handling with faster vehicles isn't the easiest task, but Baja: Edge of Control succeeds in this as well. With its solid production values adding a visual punch to the game, its definitely one of the better looking and playing off-road racers we've seen on the current generation consoles.

- Michael Palisano

Grade: B

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