It’s surprising how closed-circuit racing games are still a thing.
Not that I’m complaining, as I certainly prefer it, but when you look at open world racing games like Forza Horizon, The Crew and most of the Need For Speed series, it’s weird how stuff like Project CARS, DiRT Rally and Assetto Corsa can still come out and compete with the newest kings. Here’s another one that can fight amongst the scraps, Baja: Edge on Control HD, a remaster of the 2008 racing, err… classic?
This remastered hair-raiser comes to us from the resurrected THQ Nordic, who looked at previous properties under old THQ’s name, and decided this was better than stuff like de Blob… somehow. The original from 2008 was met with a cascade of “meh” and this one decided to touch up on a little bit of everything, from graphics to the wonky physics. I only played a bit of the original and if memory serves this is a warts n’ all remaster.
There’s no story, only the objective of being the very best, like no one ever was… at Baja Buggy Racing. You’ll go across different classes, different sand, and all the desolated deserts across North America. It’s like Red Dead Redemption but with asphalt. Over time, the races get progressively longer and rougher, until you eventually get a chance to compete in the legendary Baja 1000.
Upon research of the original (due to my muted remembrance of the original), I was led to believe it was one of the worst racing games ever made. However, that memory was mostly hazy and the actual evidence wasn’t as harsh as expected, as the game mainly had average reviews. Upon playing the remastered edition, I can only assume the reviewers of yesteryear were completely and utterly right, as this is a harrowing harmony of humbug. Not completely, mind you.
As an implied warts-and-all remaster, some things had to have been cleared up before it’s exposure to the public, but it’s also predictable that previous issues haven’t been ironed out in order to make this as painless a procedure as possible for release. An example of this would be the physics, or rather lack thereof. They really should have called this Baja: Edge of Gravity, haw haw.
Since I value my life (somewhat), I’ve never tried Baja Buggy Racing myself, but if the cars are this slippery in real life, then everyone who races in these sports need to be put on a Suicide Awareness List. These cars handle like soap in a shower, it’s nuts. And it’s one of many things that sort of bring the overall quality down.
I’m not expecting something along the lines of Forza Motorsport, obviously, but my god, these cars are floaty. It’s like the vehicle is consistently levitating and it makes predicting turns that much more of a challenge. The only time where it doesn’t feel like you’re flying is when you’re smacking into the ground, and this is where the game shines: where you have to expect the unexpected from the terrain.
Blitworks, and by extension, the original developers 2XL Games, seems to give you a fair rule book and sticks with it. You cut corners? That’s a penalty, mister, get back here. You land like a goon? Enjoy your broken suspension, looks like you’re going to have to go to the hot pit. It’s nice to see the game wag it’s finger at you for playing like a toxic tit. It’s a shame that it doesn’t hand the same rule book to the AI.
Yes, it seems that the AI has got some black market parts, as their cars are laced with adamantium, and thus, never have to be repaired at all, even after plummeting off of a cliff at terminal velocity. They also don’t get penalized for cutting the track at all, with their only be a rare instance of them having to restart the lap if they were thrown from one side of the road, to the start of the lap right next to them.
Despite the AI’s opportunity to cheat at every waking moment, they almost never take it. It’s some rather well-balanced AI when it comes to the fight to the finish line, as they’ll be sure you’re breathing their exhaust fumes by the end of it. It’s unintentional cinematic tension, unlike the way DiRT 3 used to do it, by putting an entire RAF squad through the motions in the sky above you, and fireworks going off every second to provide a seizure-inducing quality to races.
The soundtrack is crap. There’s a total of 16 tracks, and they offer the most generic hard rock and nu-metal to ever grace your eardrums. Props for them getting The Hives “Tick Tick Boom” however, as you can’t really have a racing game without it. Everything else, though? Just stick Metallica or Soundgarden on, and you have the mood set perfectly.
The racing element is a mixed bag. And that is lethal, really. Between the floaty cars, the broken AI and the penalties put onto the player, it makes Baja a frustrating trek through some of the most boring sand-blasted deserts America has to offer. That’s a pity, because the rest of the game is actually perfectly tuned.
Despite the ghost cars that are unable to trek the areas with realism, there’s an overwhelming sense of progression throughout. When you first start off, you’ll be in a small Volkswagen Beetle, tuned for off-road use, until eventually, you’re driving beasts of nature, getting 140MPH and it really feels like you’re barrelling through these store-brand Sahara’s. If anything in real life needs a VR version of it, it’s definitely something like Baja.
The tracks are also incredibly varied in terms of challenge and what you’d expect. Highlights go to the Uyani Salt Flats for having the most unique out of all the content here, with there being some genuinely well thought-out design throughout. It’d be a lot better if the cars didn’t handle like they were competing in a curling competition, but that’s the price you pay.
In all reality, the actual driving mechanics aren’t as bad as I’ve telegraphed here. In fact, one might call racing in this game “somewhat fun”. But when they’re screwing you over, more often than not, then that causes me to rebel and shout from the top of a Burger King, “HEY! This is kind of poorly designed!”. Baja: Edge of Control isn’t a bad game by any means, but it can’t escape feeling average, and I am ultimately baffled as to why they remastered this, instead of plenty of other pristine THQ titles.
I could pull volumes of possibilities from THQ’s archives for you, right here! Why not the classic Red Faction: Guerilla? The first two Saints Row could do with a bit of a touch-up? Hell, I’d take a remaster of Warhammer 40k: Space Marine any day of the week! But I know of what happened to most THQ properties and it saddens me that we may never see the likes of them again.
But here’s hoping against hope.
A solid remaster of an above-average racing game.