Baja: The Edge of Control is one part arcade thrill ride and nine parts punch-you-in-the-gut hard. Developed by 2XL Games, whose members have contributed to such popular racers as ATV Offroad Fury and Splashdown, has created one of the most demanding racers on the market. Through natural and unseen forces, supped-up vehicles will find themselves flinging about isolated dunes and rugged mountainsides, while metal chunks litter the track. Through all of its courses, options, and features, one thing is strikingly clear: this one isnít for everybody.
On the outside looking in, The Edge of Control doesnít stand out much. The pedigree behind the titles certainly hints at a great experience, or at least an enjoyable one, but with its unassuming title and box art, you wouldnít be out of step to go in expect too much. Jumping straight into the circuit wonít do much to give you pause, either, especially when you consider that your starter vehicle doesnít even have stats attributed to it. Then, selecting easy, just to practice some, you load up your ride and hit the trail. And like a brick wall, you come face to face with the gameís difficulty. This is a tooth-and-nails experience, one that is, for me, too demanding for the payoff. Now youíll certainly win a race or two out of luck, but you will also lose just as many due to being bumped off the track by some unseen force, as if that strip of road cleared of debris and deep pits is too easy to navigate, so the game toss in an invisible linebacker to body check your ride into a ditch. Itís rough going.
I, like millions of other gamers, have no desire to watch or follow baja racing. However, like so many others, I do enjoy grinding down a racecourse in an upgraded buggy or 4x4 and mastering my way to sweet, sweet victory. But if thereís a learning curve here, itís not such much a curve as a 90 degree angle. No matter your vehicle, be it a trophy truck or buggie, you will find that the game expects you to race flawlessly. The AI? Not so much. Your opponents will make mistakes, often at opportune times, and arenít shy about the rubber band effect (waiting for you to get close them whipping past, to keep up the challenge) but they are far and away your superior. After all of my time with the game, I got up to being able to almost handle my own: forget about solid gold. Unlike Sega Rally or Colin McRae: DiRT, some of the accidents donít feel like your fault, but the computer wanting to put you in your place. I did, however, find the controls in the PlayStation 3 version to be tighter and more responsive, though that didnít help too much. You know you are in for some pain when you canít keep your ride on a cleared straightaway.
In a very real sense, this is a game for serious racers. While a lot of the mechanics are glossed over for us mechanically-challenged individuals, gear heads will find a lot to like. There are over 40 vehicles available, and all can be tinkered with to your heartís content with some serious customization options - over 200 parts can be tweaked. I canít say itís on par with Gran Turismo, but itís certainly impressive, and much more than I was expecting. Thereís also the ability to allow for damage to be cosmetic or actual, which is a great concession to us more arcade-oriented players, that makes the game even more challenging.
You would think that with a difficulty level that puts me on the outs that I wouldnít be a fan, but thatís actually not true. For as exhausting as it is, Edge of Control has a lot of outstanding qualities. The courses are fantastic, despite it being tough to make out the track in some spots. I would actually like to see these courses brought over into other titles. Then there are the options. 2XL really went all out: there is the bajacareer, circuit races, rally racing, hill climbing and open class challenge, along with 4-player split screen and 8-player online multiplayer. The best two, though, involve one that is just flat-out awesome and shows the enthusiasm the developers have for it, and the other is just pure enthusiasm. Regarding the latter, for those of you out there with three copies of the game, three televisions, and three Xbox 360s, there is a panorama mode that displays each of angle of the front of the car Ė left, right, and center Ė with each angle having a dedicated television. The other mode, the one that I played in longer than the rest, is open world: imagine 100 square miles of landscape to drive in, and no constraints. The ability to honk and harass random travelers along a desert rode fulfilled the inner 1970s horror buff in me, while doing donuts off of the side of a cliff and rolling for half a minute to a stop near a long, jumpable bridge satisfied my desire to do anything I want in a game. Free ride is a true sandbox mode, and it is great fun.
If there is one thing that is surprising, outside of the difficulty, itís the graphics. The audio is fine, with the appropriate whining and grinding of engines that accompany a truck redlining it up the side of a hill, but the visuals are something else altogether. Some times looking like a PlayStation 2 games and at other times a budget title, if it wasnít for the sweeping vistas and damageable vehicles, I would be surprised I was playing a 360 game Ė much less one developed so late in the consoleís life. Surprisingly, the PlayStation 3 version actually has performance difficulties on top of the low-end visuals. But they are serviceable, in either case, and the racing tends to be so nerve-racking and intense that they will blur past without much notice. I guess they all canít be DiRT.
Overall: 6.5/10However much I enjoy the modes, features, and courses of Baja: The Edge of Control, I cannot overlook how off-putting the difficulty can be. Serious fans of the sport, or of bare-knuckle racers in general, will get far more out of it than I will, but there isnít enough longevity for me. Bearing in mind that Iím already a fan of racers, on and off asphalt, and still found it too much of a bear. I did get a good bit of enjoyment out of it, but once I hit the wall, I wasn't driven to continue on. Gamers dying for a punishing racer with lots to offer should definitely check The Edge of Control out. Everyone else, youíll just miss out on a lot of frustration.