by Marko Susimetsä
reviewed on PC
Shared Fun with Cars
These days, split-screen multiplayer games are few and far between. But to those of us who began our gaming in the heydays of 1980’s, they form some of our best memories: a bunch of us gathered around a small TV set, taking turns with the joysticks and having fun playing all sorts of games together. In the area of racing, I still fondly remember Pitstop II. And, even though it was a single player game, I also recall Stunt Car Racer on my trusty old Amiga.
The reason I mention those games is that Baja: Edge of Control HD reminds me of both of them: On one hand, you have the split screen and easy, fun gameplay and, on the other, wonderful, bumpy tracks that can send you, as a result of a mistake or on purpose, in some magnificent arcs over the landscape.
Making all the right choices
Baja: Edge of Control HD is a remake, or an update, of a 2008 title for consoles, but the age doesn’t really show in the PC release. Certainly the graphics are not the most magnificent you have in rally/racing titles, but what you may lose in graphics, you gain in the variety of cars (160 to choose from) and tracks that are located in various sections of big maps that are all fully explorable in the Free Ride mode.
The cars come in various categories, such as Baja Bugs, 4X4, Open Wheel, Mini Truck, and the Career mode includes leagues for each of them. Beginning with only 30k dollars, your only option is to start in the Baja Bug category, but as you gain money and experience, you can upgrade your car and buy new cars in the other categories – and thereby join leagues aimed for those car classes as well. In short, there are a lot of races to join, many cars to try and invitation challenges to accept.
When you race, the cars suffer damage to various sections (that are all upgradable and tunable for better durability and performance) and you can visit a pitstop to get the car fixed when needed. Playing in arcade mode, with damage turned on, I never needed to do that in the short tracks – although I sometimes finished a race with thick smoke coming out of my car. But if you join one of the 1-4 hour Baja races, you will probably want to get your car fixed every now and then.
You can also play through some of the races and tracks in multiplayer, either online or local. For a local game, you can include as many as four players if you have enough controllers and the screen will be split either two way or four. For two-player games you can even choose between horizontal and vertical split.
Making all the right choices
But where Baja: Edge of Control HD takes the cake is the open world. Other split-screen titles, such as WRC 6, force you to stay on tracks and teleport you back to them almost immediately if you run off by mistake – and don’t even offer a Free Ride mode or tracks at all. Baja: Edge of Control HD, however, not only caters to Free Ride fans, it also lets you slip off the tracks in official races quite freely and only teleports you back if you try to cut corners too much or fly off completely without a chance of recovery. You can thus have fun looking at your car fly off the track in a tremendously awesome arc, which really increases the joy of driving.
The Free Ride mode is, to me and my 9-year-old daughter, the best part of the game. You get to explore the big maps, find hidden locations, play with your friends (games such as tag and hide and seek), outrun trains and just find the best jump-off points on the map and fly in as grand an arc as you can manage. It serves to turn off the damage for such games, though, or your first big jump will be your last.
For those looking for greater challenge, the game also offers a simulation mode which makes the car handling a bit more realistic. Personally, I don’t see the point in this for as long as I don’t have a proper simulator chair and steering wheel set-up to go with it, but I’m sure there are some who will enjoy this mode even with a controller. Keyboard and mouse are not really to be used with any gaming mode.
In the end, Baja: Edge of Control HD leaves very little to be desired: there are pretty enough graphics, great variety of cars and great controls and – to top it all off – the Free Ride mode. The areas where WRC 6 challenges Baja are the graphics, physics model, weather conditions and authentic real-world tracks. Neither game allows you to set the difficulty separately for each player, which would make a great form of equaliser between players of different ages. Which game you enjoy more really depends on the areas of gameplay you value the most.
Baja: Edge of Control HD is great fun as a casual split-screen racing title and will certainly give you hours of entertainment if you have friends or family to enjoy it with. For a more serious racer, there are other games out there, but even to them this should be a great casual title to try out.
Great controls and excellent open maps for stunt driving in Free Ride mode
Always sunny, lacking physics especially when driving in water