Baja: Edge of Control from 2XL Games is an ambitious off-road racer that, while not necessarily better than games that have come before it, does enough things well and introduces enough new features to make it a good addition to the genre. Loosely based on the annual Baja 1000 race that takes place in Mexico, Edge of Control not only features rally courses that are much longer than those in other games, but also courses that are so rugged and treacherous that even driving in a straight line can be challenging. Many of the races are endurance tests for both you and your car, and the damage and repair management system adds a unique strategic element to longer events. The quality of the visuals varies according to which console you're playing on. The Xbox 360 version looks good and runs smoothly, the PlayStation 3 game does not.
Hill climb events are even more challenging on the way down.
From the outset, you can choose to take part in races, rallies, and hill-climb events in a few of Baja's nine barren environments. These are great if you're anxious to sample trophy trucks and other top-end vehicles early on, but Edge of Control's main course is its Career mode, which you'll have to spend a good amount of time with if you want to unlock the remaining locales, as well as additional vehicles. What's unfortunate about the bare-bones Career mode is that it forces you to start in the lowest of the game's eight vehicle classes, which would be fine, except that Baja Bugs not only lack the horsepower of larger classes, but also the suspension, the grip, the brakes, the cooling systems, and everything else that you might expect from a vehicle purpose-built for racing through the desert. The result is that the game's slower vehicles are often the most difficult to handle and to get across the finish line without sustaining significant damage. Unfortunately, you have to slog through these events before you're permitted (or can afford) to race in more powerful classes.
If you don't opt to turn it off, which you shouldn't, vehicle damage is almost inevitable in the majority of Edge of Control's events. This is especially true of hill-climb events, which not only challenge you to scale some spectacularly steep inclines but also to come back down again. The cosmetic damage to vehicles tends to be over-the-top rather than realistic, so you can expect body panels to fall off before they have a chance to get misshapen. Losing panels won't affect your vehicle's performance, but if you're playing in Career mode and have managed to attract a sponsor, it will only pay you for the logos that make it across the finish line.
Collisions with other cars or obstacles will cause parts to fall off of your vehicle, but this damage is purely cosmetic. Interestingly, the kind of damage that will adversely affect your vehicle's performance is generally a result of your driving style rather than of any kind of error or incident. For example, when racing toward a huge ramp, it's conceivable that by preloading your suspension and getting some major airtime, you might be able to leapfrog vehicles in front of you to gain a place or two. Landing a jump like that is unlikely to do your suspension any good, though, and even if you don't end up with a wobbly wheel, there's a chance that you'll damage your oil pan. Another avoidable though very common problem with the vehicles in Baja is overheating, which causes a significant loss of power as your radiator packs up and starts throwing a trail of smoke in your wake. If you ease off the gas when the onscreen temperature gauge moves toward the red, you can prevent or at least postpone this problem, though in a race situation deliberately slowing down often feels counterintuitive. Figuring out exactly how hard you can push your vehicle without breaking it can be a lot of fun. It's frustrating to lose a race on the last corner because you pushed too hard, but it's very rewarding to win a race when your opponents' vehicles are falling apart.
The vehicle you cross the finish line in isn't always recognizable as the same one you had at the start.
One of the tips that appears during Edge of Control's occasionally lengthy load times would have you believe that letting up on the gas is something that you'll want to do almost every time you approach a corner. You're supposed to use the hand brake to turn and then, as you slide around the corner, hold in the clutch to get your revs up so that when you release it upon exiting the corner, you get a welcome boost of speed. It works, and it's really satisfying when you get it right, but it's rarely necessary because most of the sharp corners are set into huge banks that do a lot of the turning for you. This makes the nuanced controls entertaining for expert racers, even though the courses are still accessible to novices.
When your vehicle is in need of some mechanic love, your options will vary according to the type of event in which you're competing. Circuit races incorporate repair stops into their designs where, by stopping for just a few seconds, you can get repairs carried out without losing too much time. During rally events, repairs come courtesy of a helicopter that can be seen flying overhead at all times. When you need to stop, you simply hit a button to radio the helicopter and, provided its crew isn't already busy assisting someone else or eating ice cream (it happens), it will land somewhere ahead of you so that you can stop alongside it to get the same service you'd get at a regular repair stop. Furthermore, if your vehicle gets a flat tire and is carrying a spare (most start a race with one or two, but they fall off), you can stop at any point during a race to change it by hitting the repair button.