Edge of Uncontrollable
Baja is a name that most off-road racing enthusiasts will immediately recognize. The Baja 1000 is a yearly event that pits a variety of off-road vehicles against some of the toughest conditions on the planet. Admittedly, this sounds like the perfect setting for THQ’s Baja: Edge of Control, a racing title that attempts to let players experience Baja racing virtually. Unfortunately, Edge of Control is not only the game’s name, it also an accurate representation of what you can expect from its gameplay.
Edge of Control starts you off in the Baja Buggy class, consisting of the game’s cheapest and slowest vehicles. As players place in various races and events, they will earn experience points that open the doors to more events and classes of vehicles as well as cash that can be used to purchase new vehicles and upgrade existing ones. There are plenty of upgradeable parts on every vehicle ranging from better exhausts that ramp up horsepower to improved suspensions that help keep your ride from bottoming out when landing from large jumps. These upgrades are rather simplistic, most boiling down to having three options with the cheapest being the worst and the most expensive giving the biggest boost in performance. The game makes up for this slightly by allowing players to tweak just about every aspect of their vehicle. While this is great for people who know what they are doing and are willing to spend hours moving countless sliders, the majority of players will likely never give it a second glance.
The game’s initial races are incredibly brutal, due mostly to the game’s steep learning curve, poor collision detection, and awkward physics. Getting the hang of when to accelerate, brake, and use the clutch while bouncing around the game’s tracks can be a painstaking endeavor. However, even after you’ve mastered the basics of racing, Edge of Control doesn’t get much easier. Most tracks are covered with tire ruts, which serve to throw your vehicle in random directions. Combine that with narrow tracks, large cliffs, and the other random bumps on the road and you almost feel as though you are trying to skip your vehicle like a stone through most races rather than actually driving it.
While your vehicle randomly flails around the game’s many tracks, you will also need to avoid opponents at all costs. Running into foes will not only damage your vehicle but, nine times out of ten, you will also magically get stuck together. Every time your vehicle becomes entangled with an opponent’s you get the short end of the stick. Your rival seems to always perfectly compensate for these hang ups, speeding off like nothing has happened after successfully slowing your vehicle to a crawl and changing your direction entirely. In a game with claustrophobic tracks, tons of bumps and jumps, and a focus on off-road racing it is confusing that colliding with other vehicles is so painful and penalizing.
Making matters worse, damage plays a very large role in Edge of Control’s races. Smashing into other cars, rocks, and trees will not only demolish your vehicle of choice but will also greatly reduce its performance over the course of a race. If you land a jump or two poorly, expect to see smoke spewing from your engine and a significantly decreased top speed. Your vehicle’s tires will also occasionally blow out; making controlled steering all the more impossible. To combat these issues, most vehicles come with a spare tire, and players will find pit stops and repair helicopters on almost every track. The only problem with this is that if you need to repair, you are forced to come to a complete stop, which can often be the difference between placing in the top three or finishing last. To make matters worse, it seemed as though the placement of the pit stops were poorly chosen. On most of the game’s tracks, the pit stop is located near the end of the race, making it virtually worthless during the last lap.