With plenty of racers constantly being thrown at the consumer nowadays, you start to wonder if there really is that much point in shelling out another hundred bucks every time a new one comes along that catches your eye. With street racers, motorbike racers, racing simulations, rally racers and more, it can get a little bit overwhelming at times as you ask the question: which of them is really the one for me? Well, off-road racing has developed quite a following in the world of videogames with titles like Motorstorm offering fun gameplay and high-quality graphics to gamers who like to watch the dirt fly. The newest addition to the off-road family is BAJA (pronounced 'Baa-Haa'), and from what we've played so far, we can safely say that it's going to prove to be some fierce competition when it bursts onto the scene later this year.
In terms of how the game actually plays, BAJA is a smooth and fluid experience. It feels natural to play with the vehicles all handling realistically, and all the respective vehicles feel different from one another as they should. We only had a chance to play a couple of the aforementioned tracks, but they were well designed and had a lot of detail in them, spanning off-road areas and sometimes venturing onto an actual road where traffic becomes an obstacle. Crashes also have a lot of force behind them and a real feeling of impact when you smash into obstacles or other vehicles. While the collisions are obviously nowhere near as insane as that of say, Burnout, they are still satisfying and your vehicle will definitely take some damage along the way.
When it comes to features and options, BAJA is set to make sure it has you covered for any situation. To take a look at some numbers for a moment, there are 95 different courses which are broken into a variety of challenges including off-road, circuit and class. There are nine different types of races present, each with a different length and time period; this includes the epic BAJA 1000 which will take players a grand total of four hours to complete. Ouch. Luckily, you can leave it for the AI to take over if you need a toilet break, but obviously you'll be better served partaking in the massive experience from start to finish, even though the AI is pretty decent. There are 168 different vehicles to race as or against, and they all have up to 400 upgradable parts for those who wish to tweak their machine right down to every last detail. Multiplayer fans will be glad to know that the game supports offline split-screen for up to four players as well as online races for ten people.
The way you hassle other drivers in each race during the single player career mode will also affect how they respond to you in future events. Being generally pushy with them means they are likely to try and block your path in the future, while being polite and beeping your horn at them to let them know you're going to go past them, they will sometimes pull over slightly to give you enough room to get past them, which is rather impressive. See, it does pay to be nice sometimes. Also a nice addition to the career mode is the use of sponsors. There are more than 400 of them, and they'll give you a heap of cash if you place well in each race. Also important, if you keep their logos on your car panel in good condition, they're likely to give you a bonus, whilst if you've scraped the logo to the point of no return by rubbing up against the opposition too many times, your sponsor isn't likely to dish out any sort of cash as a thank-you.
BAJA seems to have found a nice balance between being arcade-like and accessible gameplay combined with fine-tuning aspects and other extra details that will make the simulation nuts happy. The main issue that BAJA will have when it's eventually released is that it may have a little bit of trouble standing out in the crowd for your everyday consumer. Off-road racing isn't exactly a new idea, and there are other alternatives on the market including some franchises that have already proven to be successful. That being said, one thing the title has in its corner is very solid foundations with its gameplay and options, as well as numerous other bells and whistles which aren't available elsewhere. It has some serious potential, and when racing fans are wondering which title they should purchase next to satisfy their off-road urges, BAJA is a serious consideration and is definitely a game to keep an eye on.