IGN Review of Scores International: BAJA 1000
A few months ago, THQ released Baja: Edge of Control, an ambitious off-road racing simulation game for PS3 and Xbox 360 featuring realistic physics and an array of infinitely tunable desert vehicles. Not to be left out, Activision has answered with an off-road racer of its own on multiple platforms, including Wii -- Score International Baja 1000. Both games are based on the famous series of endurance races held annually on the Baja Peninsula, but that's about where the similarity ends.
Published under the Activision Value label and developed by Left Field Productions, Baja 1000 is a completely different experience than THQ's entry in nearly every way. Yes there are trophy trucks, buggies and Class 1 vehicles to be driven, and the location is the same in principle, but almost nothing else about Baja 1000 is grounded in reality.
For starters, each vehicle in the game has a turbo boost function that allows it to reach ridiculous speeds for extended periods of time. It's a curious addition, considering that Baja 1000 is the "official" Baja game licensed by the Score International organization. The boost does manage to give you a true sense of speed as you whip through the collection of bland desert environments, but it turns the entire game into a turbo fest rather than a test of cornering, handling and outmaneuvering your foes.
Although entirely unrealistic, a zany turbo boost function in an off-road racing game wouldn't kill its fun factor entirely, but Baja 1000 doesn't stop there. In general, the vehicles in this game handle poorly and feel like they have little relationship with the ground. They seem to skim across the surface of the landscape rather than dig in their tires and move as they should. And the dirt bikes are a particulary poorly.
Driving an off-road motorcycle in Baja 1000 is like riding a spooked pony on an ice rink. The back end sways to and fro wildly, and you just never know what it's going to do next. Once you understand what's happening and manage to get the beast under some semblance of control, all you can do is laugh and hang on for the ride.
The other vehicles in the game aren't nearly as bad as the motorcycles, but that's not saying much. The ATVs, tom cars, class 1s and trophy trucks all handle a bit differently, according to their classes, but none feel quite right or are particularly fun to drive.
However, I did find that the Wii version of Baja 1000 handled better than its dual-analog counterparts. The game uses the Wiimote tilt controls to steer, a control mechanism I normally find poorly implemented in Wii games. But somehow many of the vehicles in Baja 1000 respond better to this scheme than to those in the PS3, PS2 and 360 versions.
The meat of Baja 1000 is in its Career Mode, which consists of eight circuits of increasing difficulty and size. Scoring well in early events will open up new circuits and regional endurance events for you to participate in, and garnering points in these circuits unlocks new vehicles in the various classes. Within each circuit, you'll find events like pre-runs, multi-class circuit races, eliminations and head-to-heads. Place well in these, and you are awarded points toward unlocking new circuits.
But there's no real reward for doing well in these races. You can't upgrade your vehicles in any way. You haven't chosen a character or given her a name. There's no reputation or monetary system to track your racing career. And the vehicles you're unlocking along the way handle just as badly as the ones that came before, although their stats appear to rise. Even opening up new tracks isn't rewarding, as they all have the same basic drab desert look. That may be unavoidable in a single-location off-road racing game like Baja 1000, but that doesn't change the fact that looking at a bunch of rocks and sand race after race begins to get pretty boring after a while.
The repetitive landscape of Baja 1000 would be more palatable if each track looked amazing, but that's not the case here. Everything from the cars to the crowds to the rocky cliffs is low-res and poorly rendered, even for a Wii game. Textures often mysteriously disappear or morph into flickering surfaces that make you feel like you're driving into the Matrix. And not in a good way.
The third-person camera that follows your vehicle is buggy at best, and I found that on some tracks with certain vehicles it would whip to the right or left unexpectedly, causing me to crash into large boulders due to my sudden lack of forward vision. And wiping out in Baja 1000 is a treat, too. As you crash, everything goes into slow motion as you fall out of your vehicle and crumple to the Earth with ragdoll physics. Unfortunately, the race continues on in real-time as this scene unfolds, so you can watch your opponents whip past you as the clock keeps on ticking. Nice.
Baja 1000 has its problems, but there is a fully functional racing game beneath all the bugs and bad decisions. The Career mode is lengthy; there is a reasonable variety of tracks and events; and once you get used to the controls, it's definitely possible to make it through the game. Baja 1000 also features local multiplayer, which does mix things up a bit once you get bored with what's on offer in the Career and Exhibition modes.
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