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August 2018

Baja: Edge of Control HD

Platform(s): PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Genre: Racing
Publisher: THQ Nordic
Release Date: Sept. 14, 2017


PS4 Review - 'Baja: Edge of Control HD'

by Cody Medellin on Nov. 8, 2017 @ 1:00 a.m. PST

Conquer the toughest terrain Mother Nature has to offer and build the ultimate off-road vehicle in the most realistic, edge-of-control racing game ever created.

Buy Baja: Edge of Control HD

The usual reason to remaster a title is that it is either a classic or cult hit that could use a fresh coat of paint or be more accessible to a modern audience. While many genres have titles that are considered timeless, sports games and racing games don't usually fall under that category unless it's a character-driven kart racer. It is very strange, then, to see a game like Baja: Edge of Control get the remaster treatment. It's a nine-year-old licensed title that didn't make much of a mark when it first arrived, and people haven't been clamoring for it over the years.

As the title Baja: Edge of Control HD would suggest, the focus is on the Baja rally, which is an off-road race in the Mexican desert that features rough-and-tumble off-road machines. Vehicles include off-road 4x4s, modified Volkswagens, dune buggies and so forth spread across several different track sections that come together to represent the entire Baja race. While there are standard courses over a few laps, other events include hill climbs and checkpoint races.

Considering the nature of the game and the environments, car destruction is a major selling point. With plenty of big jumps to take and lots of unpaved road to travel on, you'll worry about a lot more than usual. Parts of the auto body fly off if you keep bumping into rocks and other racers. Take too many hard jumps, and the wheels start to wobble and your suspension sways more often. Fluid levels start to drop, and the car suffers because of it, making pit stops a godsend when your car is about to fall apart and needs some quick repairs.

Then again, the damage is never enough to completely take you out of a race, and you can forgo the realism and make the damage purely cosmetic. It helps that the racing encourages a more casual play style. The nature of the tracks allows you to take unintentional shortcuts without any penalties, such as your car slowing down or time being added to the clock. Braking is nice, but you can take on all of the tracks with the gas held down and be fine. There's no perfect line to follow while racing, and it feels like a typical arcade racer.

This is perhaps why the game is making a reappearance now. If you think back to 2008, there were a number of racing titles that covered a wide racing spectrum. As a result, Baja: Edge of Control wasn't going to make a big splash when the competing Score International Baja 1000 was released at the same time and both titles came after Motorsport: Pacific Rim. Nowadays, the arcade racing genre is rarely represented. Every major racing title on the PS4 is a simulator, and the scant few that aren't are either go-kart racers or racing titles featuring futuristic machines. You have the likes of The Crew and the Need for Speed series, but with those more focused on an open-world racing experience or a cinematic one, run-of-the-mill arcade racing titles are few and far between, Hence, those looking for a throwback racer will find some appeal in this title.

With that in mind, Baja HD comes with a decent amount of modes that cast the solid racing mechanics in a good light. Aside from Free Race, the campaign comprises the bulk of the game's content. All of the races are presented in ladder-style cups, with several of those cups occupying different vehicle types. You can take on all of the cups racing as a truck, but the experience changes when you use a buggy instead. No matter which vehicle you take, you'll earn cash and sponsorships for winning races; the latter is a good source of bonus cash if you're careful to not lose the parts of your ride emblazoned with your sponsor's emblems.

The racing structure is fine and the mechanics are solid, but the campaign can feel monotonous after a while. A big part of that is due to the tracks, which can feel too similar. There's only so much you can do with the desert environment, and while some vegetation spruces up things, it fails to excite the player. The same goes for the track design and its wide-open nature. Since you can essentially cut through a number of the turns with no speed penalty, every race lacks variation beyond the vehicles. The inclusion of the actual long Baja race is a big deal, but considering how much you go through before reaching that point, some players may feel it isn't worth it.

Beyond the solo modes, there's multiplayer. The game's online performance is pretty good, but the community is practically nonexistent. We were lucky to find at least one player willing to race, but it took long bouts of searching. The game supports four-player split-screen, which is becoming a rarity nowadays since racing games are focusing on online play. In that regard, this feature is a big plus for the title.

The HD designation usually implies that more attention was paid to the overall presentation to make it comparable to more modern releases. As far as audio goes, the game only scores a few victories. The music is nice and loud, and the instrumental rock and techno tracks are quite decent. There aren't any artists that'd be considered huge, but the vibe of each song is good. However, some of the sound effects can feel muted. The starting signal is barely audible, and the engine sounds don't have much variation. For a remaster, the audio could've been much better.

Graphically, the presentation is both good and bad. The game runs at a crisp 60 fps at all times. It seems like it should hit that quite easily given how the game doesn't improve much on the vegetation or the sand in the environment. Some of the tire tracks have an odd discoloration, and the textures for some of the vehicles aren't as sharp, so it's difficult to discern some of the sponsor names. Interestingly, the whole game seems to have washed-out colors, so it doesn't look much different than the 2008 original.

Baja: Edge of Control HD is a decent, if uninspiring, racing title. The mechanics hearken back to a time when racing was simpler but the tracks can be boring with those mechanics in play. The modes are sparse, but they function well, and the presentation is decent, although it falls in the lower end of the spectrum for the current console generation. With the lack of competition in this field, Baja HD can look enticing, but don't expect it to compete with the bigger names in the genre.

Score: 6.5/10

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