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SCORE International Baja 1000

Score: 50%
ESRB: Everyone 10+
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Left Field Interactive
Media: DVD/1
Players: 1 - 8
Genre: Racing/ Racing (Arcade)/ Online

Graphics & Sound:

Anyone that thinks $20 won't buy you much hasn't done a side-by-side with SCORE International Baja 1000 and Baja: Edge of Control. After we got some time recently with both games, it's clear that what was sacrificed to make SCORE International Baja 1000 a "budget" title at $40 simply isn't worth the trade-off in quality. This isn't clear immediately in the front office; the opening credits and video will have you pumped, with some jamming hard rock blasting and incredible views of the famous Baja landscape. Spills and thrills galore. The actual design of the game is pretty sharp, in terms of interface. This carries over to small touches during races, such as dirt flying back from vehicles in front of you and obscuring your vision, or the extreme slo-mo segments after you crash that show some nice rag doll physics at work. The problem is that these nice touches are embedded in a completely generic experience. It's the design equivalent of spreading Beluga caviar on a stale Ritz cracker... Pulling off the starting line, you'll entertain the notion that SCORE International Baja 1000 features great expanses of track, only to find that there aren't many tracks in the game, and that those included might as well be surrounded by high walls considering the tiny bit of latitude you have for off-track racing. In most cases, driving off the track results in a restart since most tracks are designed so there's no way to recover from an error. This holds true for obstacles in the track or next to it. A few large things can be driven through, but you'll end up crashing on small things like fences. Getting into a few endless loops where you just crash over and over on a fence while trying to drive back on the track will inspire controller-throwing rages.

There's a huge amount of excitement in listening to the wild whine or throaty roar of these vehicles, but none of this came through in the sound design for SCORE International Baja 1000. Instead, vehicles sound either like a large mosquito or a snoring hippopotamus; you'll be scrambling to turn the sound effects down in either case... The music is the best of all things under this category, with a host of really good hard-rock bands and just a little variety in tunes with more of a rap or hip-hop flavor. There isn't a huge amount of music, but what's here is perfectly matched to what you'd expect in a rip-roaring, dirt-track racing game. A feature in SCORE International Baja 1000 that seems well intentioned, but heavily flawed is the voice announcement for upcoming turns. It's great that you can change the vocal style and the volume, but the accuracy of the announcements seemed highly questionable. There are only so many variations possible (hard left vs. easy left, etc.), but many times it felt like what had been called as a hard left turned out to be... not so hard. In most racing games, this wouldn't seem like a big deal, but SCORE International Baja 1000 accurately reproduces the flying dirt and sand that can make racing the Baja like landing a plane on instruments only. Trusting the voice of your navigator is the whole point; when the calls made aren't on target all that often, it really undermines the feature.


The Baja 1000 race is a classic run through some rugged territory on the Baja peninsula, a little bit California and a little bit Mexico. It's an endurance run, really. Like the domestic equivalent of the Paris-Dakar rally, the Baja 1000 is so named because it is literally a race of 1,000 miles. Other defining characteristics of the event are that a mix of vehicles compete, including motorcycles, ATVs, dune buggies, and heavily modified truck frames with huge engines. It's a wild competition. SCORE has been the official organizer of the Baja 1000 event since the '70s, so it makes sense that their name is attached to the game. There are touches that only affiliation with SCORE could include, such as the Baja 1000 name, the SCORE Lite vehicle class, and teams composed of real-world Baja 1000 racing names like Corky McMillin and Vic Wilson. The game can claim eight unique locations and 91 different vehicle variations among seven classes, all true to locations and vehicles featured in the real Baja 1000 competition. What doesn't make sense, especially knowing all this, is how being "official" doesn't add up to a superior game. Instead of reflecting the amazingly cool and unique qualities of the race that provided its inspiration, SCORE International Baja 1000 comes over like 1,000 mediocre racing games you've played before, albeit with some graphic niceties that are possible on a next-gen console. Once the shiny exterior dulls a bit and you're rolling off the starting line, SCORE International Baja 1000 loses more than a little lustre.

The modes available for play don't include anything as epic as the real Baja 1000. Players that sampled Baja: Edge of Control will remember it allowed for extended play that simulated the real race, in addition to just letting you roll through a single track. SCORE International Baja 1000 allows you to enter a Career Mode that features five different race types. Pre-Run qualification lets you get a feel for the track while you attempt to achieve the lowest time. Head to Head is a race against one other vehicle, with the Challenge race being a field of competitors and some special condition attached. Single and Multi Class races are just like they sound, as you face off against competitors drawn from your class or across all seven classes. The Endurance Regional is intended to approximate the hugeness of the Baja 1000, and would be a nice race if the game itself weren't so flawed. Exhibition allows you to dial in the settings just as you like them, between course and vehicle and location. Again, lots of fun in theory, but not so much here. Finally, there is Multiplayer three ways, split-screen for two and System Link or Live competitions for you and seven buddies. Achievements are plentiful and there are lots of vehicle variations to unlock, sometimes for doing goofy things that don't involve placing first in races. As much as we love to earn those Achievements and open up all the secrets a game has to offer, we can't get past some of the bloopers embedded in this baby.


To be clear, Baja: Edge of Control was almost ludicrously difficult, and that wasn't always a good thing. Especially in the early stages where all you had was a dune buggy, life was hard. Perseverance in Edge of Control had its reward, as you unlocked better vehicles that hugged the corners, bit into soft tracks, and could be tuned to suit your style of racing. SCORE International Baja 1000 has a gallery of vehicles that open up much more quickly, leaving you with the revelation that out of 91 vehicle variations, you'll not find a thimbleful of difference between more than four or five. Sure, a cycle feels different than a trophy truck, but in this case, it's the difference between controlling a nimble calamity or a floaty landslide. These vehicles are either bouncing between opposite sides of the track, caroming off rocks and fences, or driving straight through one another due to poor edge detection. It doesn't take a genius to see that once you've played more than a couple classes without any luck, nothing in SCORE International Baja 1000 is going to get much better. There's a racing game under the muck, but beyond earning some Achievements, it's beyond us why anyone would bother slogging through the muck.

Game Mechanics:

Controls are fairly standard, with a strange option for boost that ends up being where you'll place most of your focus if you hope to win. The boost meter tops out if overused and will result in poor performance, plus a funny animation of your racer getting all pissed and pounding on the steering wheel. Used judiciously, boost will drive your top speed up and help you power through corners where you have traction. A deftly applied handbrake is the anti-traction device, used to break loose your wheels and get some spin to maintain speed through those hairpin corners. Normal braking is useless in SCORE International Baja 1000, compared to just letting off the gas or boost. Opponents are always within catch-up range it seems, and you can use boost or the limited cut-throughs to make up time yourself. Jumping would normally include some stabilizing controls, but nothing felt as it should to us. Everything about the control was loose, which combined with the loose physics of SCORE International Baja 1000, made for a perfect mess. Use of the handbrake sends you into an uncontrollable spin 60% of the time, and you'll also end up spinning off the track through just normal cornering a fair amount. Controls for the cycles and ATVs don't feel any different, but the vehicles are much more responsive for being smaller. You'll have a better time, and better results, by using the bikes early in the game. Many courses are virtually impossible in the bigger vehicles anyway, due to narrow passageways and obstacles in the track. On the plus side, trophy trucks can power over anything, including some rocks that will stop a cycle dead in its tracks.

Buying knock-offs and imitation products doesn't usually seem like an advisable course of action, but Baja: Edge of Control is the experience you'll want if you value strong gameplay, premiere graphics and music selection, or tight controls. Nothing positive can be said for SCORE International Baja 1000 to make up for its many failings. Putting a Baja 1000 wrapper around a poorly built racer doesn't do anything to build your brand, folks... As the box-art says, the Baja 1000 may be "the world's greatest desert race," but its official game managed to earn the dubious distinction of being one of the least enjoyable racers, on- or off-road, that we've played in some time.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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