Thanks to THQ's Gamers Day event this past week, we've been able to acquire plenty of new information and details concerning their scheduled next-gen titles, and Baja is one of them. April may be the month of Gran Turismo 5: Prologue, but there are plenty more racers on the way, and we're seeing a definite resurgence of the off-road racing sub-genre. Sega Rally Revo and DiRT are already big titles, MotorStorm 2 should hit this year, and even the Rally events in GT are getting more and more attention as time goes on. Remember the arcade smash hit, Off-Road? Yeah, well, we've come a long way since then, and with Baja, you'll guide some of the most diverse and capable vehicles on earth through some of the most challenging events. We guarantee there's something here for just about every racing fan, from massive monster trucks to speedy little buggies. Can THQ and 2XL Games step into the spotlight and deliver a winner amidst the extraordinarily competitive world of video game racing?
Well, they'll certainly have variety on their side. Not only will 400 different sponsors make an appearance in Baja - racing is all about the sponsors, after all - but the developers are going to include an absolutely ridiculous number of courses for our sampling pleasure. This game will boast 95 different courses, which you will attempt to conquer through circuit, special class and individual off-road challenges. It seems there will be a mix of real-life and fictional courses; for example, you'll find yourself racing all around the world, from Nevada to Mexico, on tracks like Canyon de Chelly in Arizona. Getting back to those various modes, Circuit is fairly self-explanatory as it's similar to any other tournament you've encountered in a racing game, and the Class events means you'll always be racing against vehicles in your class. There are 9 different classes, too, so if you wanna race around all day with the standard 4x4 trucks, more power to you. But eventually, you'll want to advance through the Circuit to unlock the Trophy Truck class, which includes seriously bad-ass vehicles that can include up to 800 or 900 horsepower. The whole world becomes your playground when controlling one of those things!
We've already mentioned those 400 sponsors, but we now have to clarify: don't think they're featured in the game just for kicks. No, they'll supply you with plenty of additional funds (in addition to the money you earn for winning events), and here's the real interesting part of this earning scenario- because you can equip your ride with logo panels, the sponsors will want you to keep those things debris-free. In other words, finishing a race with a mangled sponsor logo means that sponsor won't hand over a big chunk of cash. You might get plenty of money for winning, but in order to maximize your earning potential, you'll have to keep the bumping and grinding to a minimum as you tear through the course. 400 sponsors, 95 tracks...how about 168 different licensed vehicles? In addition, let's toss in a Gran Turismo-like mechanical upgrade and moderation system that includes hundreds of parts and enhancements, and that'll give us an extraordinarily in-depth package. This latter aspect of Baja will certainly be the most appealing to all you race enthusiasts out there, simply because of all that fiddling you'll be able to do.
The game won't let you down when it comes to your mechanical upgrades, either. You'll even be able to monitor important factors like oil pressure, water level, tire pressure, clutch wear and shocks. And you're going to have to keep a close eye on all of those gauges, because when in single-player mode, you'll be facing 10 opponents in each race. Best of all, THQ has said that each of those opponents will have "learnable" AI, which means they'll remember how you race them and adjust accordingly for future races. So if you're smacking them around early on, they won't be so polite in later events, perhaps even going out of their way to block you into a barrier. You deserve it, you dirty racer, you. Speaking of AI, Baja will let you trigger an autopilot of sorts when driving; this game has a lot to it, so you might need a break every now and then, right? This reminds us of the beta racing mode in Gran Turismo 4, although it seems the AI in Baja will race at a slightly slower speed, perhaps just to maintain steadiness.
As you can see, we've already tossed a lot of big numbers at you, but we've got just a few more- first of all, in another similarity to GT, this game is going to feature a major endurance race, known as the Baja 1000. It's a massive 300-mile race, although it has been condensed down to about four hours in terms of real-time, and that's only one example of the races available. There's also the Baja 250 and 500 to toy around with, and if you factor in everything else, it seems you could spend the better part of your life digging through this promising off-road racer. Just to recap- 95 courses, 168 vehicles, 400 sponsors, 9 different race classes, and close to 400 mechanical/cosmetic upgrades for your favorite rides. If that's not enough to pique your interest, you're certainly not a racing fan. Of course, the game is going to require tight control and a super-high fun factor - just like all games - but it has a fantastic foundation, so we're encouraged. Baja should arrive some time later this year for the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.
4/5/2008 Ben Dutka