Off-roading is an expensive hobby. As someone who has spent the best part of 2017 throwing money into my own off-road truck in preparation for the monthly events that roll round in the UK, I have often been left stunned at the price I’m made to pay for misjudging what looks like a simple hill, only to suffer a broken differential or a snapped axle at the hands of an unseen drop on the other side. And that’s just at the casual entry level.
Professional and competitive off-roading on the other hand is something way more extreme, and one of the highest pinnacles of professional off-roading comes in the form of the yearly Baja 1000 endurance race that takes place in Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. Fortunately for me, and other gaming, off-road enthusiasts, the folks over at THQ Nordic have decided to bring the exciting prospect of Baja racing to the Xbox once more, with a remaster of the 2008 title, Baja: Edge of Control. But can it live up to the excitement of the true off-roading experience?
If you’re one of the few who decided to take a punt at Baja: Edge of Control back on Xbox 360, you’re probably someone like me who wasn’t all too sure what to think when the game was announced for a remastered edition on Xbox One. With so little in the way of off-road racers available on the console at the time, it was rather shocking to see just how much realism was missing from the game first time round. But considering the off-road genre hasn’t gathered much love on the Xbox One, with even less in the way of available titles in the genre now, I headed back in with optimism, and the hope that necessary changes had been made to allow us to experience the thrills of the Baja 1000 – without the professional standing required for the real-life counterpart.
There are three main ways to play Baja: Edge of Control; Race mode, Baja Career and Multiplayer. All of these are rather simple to navigate with the menus rather simplistic and basic in design.
Baja Career is where players are likely to spend the majority of their time with the game, mainly due to the vast number of races available to compete in. In the career mode players compete across eight different racing leagues, each bringing a new vehicle class into play.
First up is the Baja Bug league with other available leagues including the Unlimited VW, 4×4 Class, Open Wheel, Mini Truck, Fullsize Truck, Class 1 Unlimited and finally, Trophy Truck. To race in these classes and leagues players must progress through each of the championships within each league, earning enough XP along the way to unlock the higher classes – the higher the league, the more XP required and the more championships you’ll find available. Of course, the quickest way to do this is by winning races, something which requires a well-rounded vehicle if you hope to survive the tremendous hill climbs, huge jumps and sharp turns that come into play throughout the rough terrain and different tracks.
This is where vehicle upgrades become your best friend. Whilst it is entirely possible to win championships early on in the game without any upgrades, it doesn’t take long before tracks become more demanding on the vehicles, and begin to cause race-impacting damage whilst racing.
That damage can come in several different forms in Baja: Edge of Control HD, unfortunately though, it was one of the things I found highly disappointing. There are several different things that can go wrong with your vehicle, but none of the issues felt realistic. You see, throughout any given race players can find themselves suffering from smaller issues such as a flat tire or simple body damage with various body panels flapping and falling off the vehicle, or it can be possible to sustain a much more serious level of damage with oil and air pressure issues, tires and brakes failing or a complete breakdown in performance from the shocks or clutch. I have to admit that these are all very real issues in the world off-road racing, but unfortunately Baja: Edge of Control HD doesn’t provide a realistic experience in which the player receives the damage, with the same resulting damage seemingly inevitable no matter whether you are more reserved and careful or overly aggressive with your racing style.
Of course, damage can be repaired during a race by either stopping off at the pits during a circuit race, or by calling in a repair from the repair helicopter, which will then fly over to a safe route on the track for players to stop and receive repairs. The helicopter is by far the quickest and best choice however, as stopping in the pits to repair your vehicle will usually result in opponents overtaking with little time left to retake back your previous position, making a restart the best option if your vehicle becomes too damaged.
This is where the upgrades come in handy, as fully upgrading the different parts on your vehicles will not only improve performance, but also make them stronger out on the track. This results in less restarts and noticeably less damage, although it’s worth noting that even fully upgraded cars still suffer heavily from what feels like “cheap damage” more often than they probably should.
When you’ve earned enough points to unlock the next class of racing, it’s time to purchase a new vehicle. There are 160 different sponsored vehicles within Baja: Edge of Control HD, many of which offer different shapes and designs to give a great selection for each of the different race categories. Vehicles and their upgrades can be rather expensive though, and the credits used to buy them are usually fairly easy to earn. That in turn ensures that it doesn’t take long to save up the required amount for your preferred choice.
Throughout the Baja Career, successful drivers will earn the opportunity to race at different Invitational events; these are usually one off events that result in a high reward for a decent finish.
Outside of Baja Career is the aforementioned Race and Multiplayer Modes. Race mode is nothing more than the simple exhibition type mode found in most competitive games, letting players choose to take part in the different race types within the game. These include the respectable hill climb events, as well as the Baja 250 or even the Baja 1000 event for those looking to fully dive into the realistic nature of the competition.
As for the multiplayer side of things, my time with the game only saw the opportunity to race in a few races, and this is due to the severely empty online player Base – a problem which affected the game terribly on its original release back in 2008.
As for new features, there are some notable differences that make for an improved experience with the HD release. First up are the upgraded visuals, and it could all still do with a complete makeover. Baja: Edge of Control HD does now come in full HD – as the title suggests – and brings super smooth framerates and the option for 4K support that will be fully utilised by the Xbox One X upon its release this November.
Other than the usual remaster 1080p, 60fps mumbo jumbo, there are a few other notable changes that I was a lot more appreciative of. The first of which is the new-found inclusion of tire tracks behind the vehicles. Given that the racing found within the game is 99% off-road based, it seems only expected that you’d see an imprint of the vehicles ploughing through the Mexican countryside and fortunately this is a welcome addition with the remaster. The other impressive addition comes from the improved colour added to the game with a lot more fauna and flora found within the environment. Although it wasn’t the most impressive sight to see an oversized bunny outrunning my trophy truck, the added bushes and trees this time round really help to make the environment feel more alive which was a problem the original suffered with terribly.
Overall, and whilst Baja: Edge of Control HD isn’t anywhere near close to the “Forza-for-off-road fans” experience that many gamers have been clamouring for, there are still plenty of improvements to be found with a title that was overly disappointing on its initial release back in 2008. Is it a realistic Baja experience? Not really, but it is worth picking up if you’re a fan of all things racing and are looking for something to tide you over till the upcoming release of Forza Motorsport 7.