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Described as the 'Gran Turismo of Off-Road' by its Lead Game Designer, TVG checks out the game that may give Motorstorm 2 a run for its money this Autumn...
In development at 2XL Studios (made up of former Rainbow Studios personnel) for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, Baja is being pitched as a serious contender to Motorstorm 2 this Autumn. Described in the original presentation to its parent company three years ago as the "Gran Turismo of Off-Road", Baja certainly has a lot of pressure to bear on its shoulders, but from our first impressions with the game, it certainly seems to have the legs to carry the weight.
Something of a slight departure from the likes of the MX vs ATV series, Baja is currently being moulded as a simulation of off-road racing...and in big way too. For starters, over 160 different models of vehicle, ranging across a number of off-road classes including 800 horse power 'Trophy Trucks' right through to JEEPs and lowly Volkswagen Beetles, will feature in the end release. In addition, over four hundred different vehicle parts have the option of being tuned by players, including the springs, the steering wheel, and suspension. Baja certainly sounds like a game with enough grunt for the racing tuning hardcore then...
Named after the real world Baja 1000 race, Baja will feature a mix of short point-to-point and circuit tracks right through to the four-hour long endurance competition which covers up to three hundred miles of terrain that never gets repeated during the course of the race. In fact, over sixty circuit races spread over between one and three miles are being bundled into the game, with additional Rally modes, and the Baja endurance mode itself. Taking in nine different environments to from Southern Nevada through Lake Powell, Arizona (and several other locations throughout the US State), and Mexico, Baja's settings are described as being visually accurate from a photographic point of view, though not (thanks to the official US government data on the areas not being detailed enough) topographically.
The racing tracks themselves are largely off-road, as you'd expect, 2XL is spending a lot of time ensuring that there's rarely a patch of 'smooth track', implementing unforgiving tirades of bumps, twists, ridges, cambers and off-cambers, in bid to create a racing experience that they describe as 'reactive', not 'proactive' like other racers. So what does this mean in actuality? It means that besides pointing the car or truck in the right direction, gamers will have to constantly re-adjust and compensate against the terrain's attempts to throw them off-course; there will not be many chances for even a split-second respite. It also means that blasting down straight tracks with the accelerator flat out, only slowing down for corners, is a virtual impossibility.
Whilst tyre tracks will feature, actual physical track deformation (as seen in 2007's SEGA Rally) will not, although that's not something that Lead Game Designer Robb Rinard is particularly worried about. In an interview with TVG, which will be available in the near future, Rinard explained that the development team did look into it during the prototyping phase, but that they found it ultimately degraded the experience: "I know that terrain deformation is a buzz word that people get excited about, but in my humble opinion, it makes for a worse game, not a better game, in actuality."
Making the game's hands on debut all the more impressive at Gamers Day was a hand-built rig that stood right in the middle of the Baja booth. A rather grand way of confirming Baja's "Panoramic View" functionality, the rig (which took several months to construct) featured three Xbox 360s networked together to give a 210 degree viewpoint of the rugged and foreboding terrain, together with 5.1 Surround Sound, and the Xbox 360 steering wheel. Certainly one way to show that Baja is far from the more arcade-like off-road franchises of the past, the rig allowed us to get a taster of what Rinard has hoped to see in an off-road title for years. Sampling a few short minutes of one of Baja's Time Trial tracks in the rig, one thing was obvious right from the off: this is not the sort of racer that gamers will be putting the pedal to the metal too often. At least, not to begin with. Not to be left out, PS3 owners will be able to use the Logitech G25 wheel, with full control over a trio of gear set ups: automatic, triptronic, or fully manual.
Of course, it remains to be seen how many gamers will actually utilise the panoramic functionalities of Baja on release, but when asked by TVG why the mode is there in first place, Rinard quickly made his case: "Because I can; because I want to!"
Besides what is sounding like an exceptionally comprehensive single-player mode, Baja is also being developed with strong multiplayer options too, as up to 10 players will able to scurry and scream across various parts of Arizona in any one race. Of course, as off-roaders by their very nature have the capabilities to tackle even the harshest terrains, the team at 2XL have had to dial back some of the freedom for gamers to deviate from path too much. Not doing that obviously opens the multiplayer to misuse...and let's face it, there are more than a few who would exploit such an open playing field. That doesn't mean that players won't be able to make brief shortcuts - it just means that running down the side of an environment in a bid to avoid a twisting 'road' for the sake of cutting tens of seconds won't be tolerated.
In addition to all that, the four-hour Baja endurance races also feature in multiplayer, although with no pause option available. 2XL has built in an AI-driven co-driver, that'll take over if gamers are distracted by the needs of the real world, like visits to the bathroom or the next episode of Lost. Not that gamers can expect to win by setting the AI to complete the entire; Rinard confirmed that the AI has been set to drive fairly poorly just to avoid those sorts of exploits.
With Baja's expected Autumn release for Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 already in place, there's little doubt as to what its competition will be. Also due for launch on PS3 in time for the hectic Holiday season is Evolution Studios' MotorStorm 2, though going up against one of the biggest first-party titles for 2008 isn't something that Rinard is worried about, quite the opposite. Throwing down the gauntlet, he revealed in no uncertain terms that "those MotorStorm guys definitely have something to worry about."
Stay tuned for the full interview between TVG and Baja Lead Game Designer, Robb Rinard, coming soon.
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