If there’s one form of landscape that is noticeably absent from our British Isles, it’s desert. We have hills and mountains, and forests and beaches, but desert is entirely absent. Thrashing various types of vehicles across it at breakneck speeds is therefore not the first thing that pops into our minds when we think of motorsport – but THQ Nordic’s Baja: Edge of Control HD is hoping to expand our horizons a little.
Baja: Edge of Control HD is a remaster of an Xbox 360 game – the latest in the current batch of HD remasters which is rapidly becoming one of the defining traits of the eighth console generation. By all accounts, it wasn’t a standout game when it was new – which makes it a strange choice for a remaster!
Races in Baja: Edge of Control HD come in various forms, from circuit races to rallies (which can be raced in their entirety or in stages) and hill climbs, across a variety of environments from deserts to salt flats. If there’s one thing the environments have in common, it’s that they aren’t flat – the track will rise and fall with constant changes in altitude. There are a wealth of vehicles on offer as well, from medium and large trucks to modified VW beetles and dune buggies.
The standard Quick Race, Free Roam and Multiplayer modes are present – but it’s the Career mode which provides the most comprehensive experience. You begin limited to a particular vehicle class, with a handful of associated championships – each with six to eight races. Win these for credits and experience and you’ll be able to progress, as experience opens up additional vehicle classes and championships while the credits give the player the ability to purchase vehicles in which to race them. Vehicles can also be modified, with different settings applied to engine, exhausts, suspension and just about every other component.
Multiplayer allows you to choose between online play over Xbox Live, or split screen local multiplayer. Local play allows up to four players to compete together on the couch – and is a really nice feature to see in Xbox racing games as fewer and fewer titles seem to feature it. Multiplayer runs as smoothly as the main single player game, but does so by sacrificing some of the visual fidelity of the single player experience – textures were markedly less crisp, and set dressing such as bushes and trees appeared in smaller quantities. We didn’t mind this – a smooth experience is paramount when you’re racing your family!
From the perspective of graphics and sound, Baja: Edge of Control HD is a mixed bag. Some tracks look very good, with dust effects, impressive lighting and a gorgeous sky box filled with clouds illuminated by a setting sun. Others are noticeably less pretty, with flat textures and much less background detail – it seems that the remastering effort has not been spread evenly. Everything generally moves smoothly and quickly with only the very occasional framerate hiccup. The vehicles themselves also look good, with exposed engines and body panels that will often end up being torn off during the course of the race. Sound is also mixed, with lots of revving engines, creaking suspension and gravelly tyres. Music seemed to consist mostly of indie rock – which was barely audible beneath the game sounds on the default settings.
So, if it’s a mixed bag in terms of looks and sounds, how is it to play? Well, it’ll probably come as little surprise to hear that it’s a mixed bag there, too. The racing in itself is enjoyable – learning how to turn corners on sand at high speed is fun and feels good (hint: if you’re using the brakes, you’re probably doing it wrong – the hand brake is your best friend!), later on more advanced skills such as dumping the clutch on the starting line and preloading the suspension before jumps will help you to get ahead and stay there.
Your vehicle will inevitably take damage as you race. Hard landings will damage the radiator and the suspension. Impacts with other racers will cause flat tyres. If your vehicle becomes too badly damaged, your ability to maintain speed will drop away, potentially leaving you to watch helplessly as other racers overtake you. Fortunately, the game offers a way to resolve this in the form of hot pit stops – an area just off the track where you can pull over and come to a complete stop momentarily. During that momentary stop, all damage will miraculously disappear and you’ll be free to continue on your way – hopefully to victory.
Strangely, it’s in that almost inevitable victory that some of the problems lie. After winning race after race after race on the default difficulty setting, a couple of strange behaviours began to become apparent. The first of these relates to pit stops. Picture the scene, you’re on the third lap of a four lap race. You’re in the lead, but second place is riding your rear bumper. Three of your tires are blown, your radiator is steaming, you lost oil pressure halfway through the first lap. You have no choice but to head into the pits and hope you can catch up and overtake for the victory. You see them around the next bend and pull in, hoping to come to the perfect stop to prevent much time from being lost. And then you realise the car behind you has pulled in too. Your repairs complete, you scream away and glance at the map down on the bottom left of the screen only to realise that every other car in the race is doing the same thing. You storm on to victory and wonder if the same thing will happen next time.
The answer is that yes, it probably will. In the hours we spent in the game, we were overtaken in the pits precisely once. It got to the point that we were using the pits to deliberately build a lead even when we were in first place, simply to guarantee the win. Not only that though, a couple of times we decided to see how long we could carry on driving (and winning!) in a vehicle that was, according to the warning gauges, about to simultaneously explode and fall to pieces. It was a lot longer than the warning signs would have had us believe – and long enough for us to wonder whether stopping to pit actually really achieved anything at all.
Later on in the game, we began applying various modifications to our vehicles. There are numerous levels of modification available for each component – but even with several levels of modifications applied, the vehicles didn’t really feel much different to drive. The same can be said of vehicles across the roster of classes available. For examples, a big truck didn’t feel any different to a medium truck – with differences in acceleration and handling only really present at opposite extremes of the vehicle types available.
Overall, Baja: Edge of Control HD can be summarised as a broad experience that is lacking in depth. A large number of championships, race types, tracks and vehicles actually offer far less variety than their quantity would suggest. While the gameplay experience in itself is a lot of fun while it lasts (in spite of its flaws), the racing genre on the Xbox One is fairly crowded, and Baja: Edge of Control HD simply falls short of the standards set by many of its contemporaries.
Baja: Edge of Control HD is available now on the Xbox Store for £23.99.
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Baja: Edge of Control HD is an entertaining racing game that’s ultimately let down by a lack of depth and difficulty. It simply isn’t a standout entry in the racing genre on the Xbox One, but there is fun to be had here nonetheless.