SCORE International: Baja 1000 Review
The off-road racing genre has really come into the limelight in this new generation, as the two MotorStorm titles have proven to be wonderfully entertaining and technically solid, and other competing games like Baja: Edge of Control and Pure have also tossed their hats into the ring. Now, coming out of Left Field (forgive the obvious pun) is SCORE International: Baja 1000, which attempts to stand up to the big boys this holiday season with a fun, accessible racing mechanic. Instead, it flips and wrecks itself long before even the first lap is complete, and there’s no reason whatsoever to compare this mediocre mess to the likes of MotorStorm: Pacific Rift. Unfortunately, Baja 1000 does very little right and a whole lot wrong, but fortunately, we finally get to talk about a game you don’t have to buy. There are so many must-have titles on stores shelves in the latter part of 2008, it’s almost comforting to know you can ignore a new game that fails on a number of a different levels.
Visually, the game is a definite disappointment from top to bottom. The textures are terrible, the background settings are bland and repetitive, and everything is so muddled and washed-out, the entire graphical presentation is a bore. The detail involved in the vehicle and racer designs is generic and uninteresting, and the track arrangement is neither inspired or dynamic. To be fair, it’s true that developers have to fight the “muddy’ label when trying to produce an accomplished off-road racer – for obvious reasons – but it’s like Left Field didn’t even bother to try. Where’s the next step? Where’s the polish? This is similar to looking at a very early build of a promising title that clearly needs more time behind closed doors; you don’t release the project and say it’s done! That’s just absurd. We did like some of the visual contrasts found in later, more challenging courses, but that’s a very thin thread to grasp, and we really can’t find other significant pluses. Essentially, Baja 1000 looks more like a PS2 game trying – and failing – to be a PS3 game.
The sound is a little better, but only due to a soundtrack that we happen to prefer. The rock/alternative focus fits our personal palette, but beyond that, everything is just as unrefined as the graphics. The effects are terrible – we’ve ridden on both ATVs and dirt bikes; neither sound like this – and the balance between the music and gameplay effects is abysmal. Most of the time, all you hear is the weird, echoing, monotonous hum of the vehicle you’re driving, and despite being able to select the song of your choosing, it all but disappears during the race. Really, the effects are truly bizarre as they’re neither realistic or involving; even smacking an obstacle at top speed is anti-climactic due to the same ol’ unexciting thud that accompanies your mistake. Can’t the crashes even sound cool? There’s very little redeeming value here, although we do appreciate the diversity of the appropriate track list and the engines for each of the vehicles are distinct. The only problem is, even though they’re distinct, the engine sounds are all really screwy. Unfortunately, listening to this game swung from comical to irritating and back again, and that’s no good.
With 8 different vehicles (each with specific sets of statistics), plenty of tracks and events, and a Career mode to fiddle around with, one would think that SCORE International: Baja 1000 has plenty of longevity. Sadly, longevity only matters if the player wishes to keep playing. In this instance, most anyone would toss away the controller after only a few races, primarily due to the laughable and annoying physics, which completely ruins the experience. The controls are simple enough: R2 to accelerate, L2 to brake, the left analog steers and the X button boosts. Those of you familiar with MotorStorm would take to this setup like a fish to water…if it actually worked, that is. Hitting the brakes slows you down, but turning while braking is a virtual impossibility, and controlling the larger four-wheel vehicles in the game is a losing battle. All the vehicles feel floaty and ridiculously loose; incapable of even making the simplest turns. You will have very little confidence in whatever you’re driving, and that’s a seriously crippling issue.
Just moving the left analog stick back and forth proves the inconsistency and driving-on-glass feeling with any vehicle, but it’s especially visible with the motorcycle. However, at least you might win a few races with the motorcycle; the Lite class or Trophy Trucks will leave you spun around in circles for no apparent reason at every turn. Now, we are well aware of the driving physics in off-road racing; we know the vehicles are sideways a lot of the time, and we understand the concept of feathering the accelerator to pull out of a power slide. This just doesn’t work, though, because everything is so loose and out-of-control that stability goes flying right out the window. But even if you could fight your way past the erratic and completely unrealistic driving physics, you’ll still fall well short of the best possible lap times that would score you the most points. It may depend on the vehicle and the course, but for the most part, it’s like trying to land Gold on the Gran Turismo License Tests, only without the fun and authenticity.
The only silver lining is that if you simply pass the event, you can continue to unlock new events and new vehicles without much of a problem. At the very least, you can continue to progress through the races, and you can sample new types of events, too. Some have you racing a lone opponent in a 1-lap sprint, others have you trying to catch 5 other opponents in a span of 2 laps, and still others have you simply racing the clock. The track design really isn’t very good, but you won’t repeat the same tracks too many times during the event chain, and each offer a few different challenges. And sometimes the jumps and crashes are relatively entertaining (despite the lackluster sound effects), so it’s not like our experience was a total disaster. We ended up unlocking more than a few new vehicles and moved along, sampling the different Events and desperately trying to find some reason to keep playing. But try as we might, we just couldn’t come up with a reason; all we found were reasons to stop playing, and that’s never a good sign. Oh, and the rag-doll physics of a driver flopping around after a crash were only semi-humorous.
There are all kinds of problems that continue to rear their ugly heads. Opposing racers apparently never run out of Boost, they’re typically perfect in the lines they take along a track, and the rubber-band AI is crazy annoying. The result of an awkward collision – for example, landing at an angle on an ATV or brushing the side of a rock in mid-jump – results in a hilarious default “pop-up” effect. It’s as if the game doesn’t understand how to process what just happened, so your vehicle just hops straight up in the air, landing with agonizing slowness and essentially taking you right out of the race. Turning any vehicle is a chore and a half, nothing about the physics feels real, the draw distance isn’t good, the hints from your spotter are basically worthless, and load times are too lengthy. Lastly, because you so rarely race with other opponents on the same track, you find yourself growing tired of the beat-the-clock events and the intensity suffers badly. Everything about this racer screams laziness on the part of the developers.
SCORE International: Baja 1000 is, quite simply, a waste of anyone’s time, and that includes fans of the niche off-road racing genre. It doesn’t help that we’ve already had several excellent titles in 2008, and to have this thing show up as a would-be competitor unfortunately strengthens the contrast. There’s no reason at all to pick this one over Pacific Rift or Pure, so there isn’t much more to say. Some games just aren’t meant to be rewarded with consumer interest.
12/4/2008 Ben Dutka