Baja - hands-on

Our favorite mode was hill climb. It's what we all do in games anyway - find a mountain and see how far up it we can get. In this case, we're supposed to do just that, and some of the inclines are near 90 degrees.

The terrain isn't a big flat plane with textures that just look bumpy - the team has carved out grooves and hills to create some very realistic dirt. We did notice the occasional flat-looking rock face texture, but for the most part, you'll be moving too fast to care.

The free ride mode gives you a chance to explore the massive areas at your own pace, and we've been assured that there will be "something" to find or do throughout the environments.

While realism is great, developer 2XL understands that too much of it will hinder the experience. The cars take damage but don't explode, and they will always "go." The side panels will break off, however, and too much damage can slow you down (good thing you have a helicopter tailing you for repairs!).

Damage, while not debilitating, can be a particularly bad thing in career mode. A lost side panel means a lost sponsor logo, and that makes sponsors mad. With grand prizes in the range of $5000 (remember that these cars can cost one million dollars, and it costs about $500K to run a race), sponsors are your only real source of income.

The trophy cars, buggies, and 4X4s are all customizable and upgradeable. They handle, well, like off-road vehicles. While the team is trying to strike a balance between realism and fun, you aren't going to be careening around every turn at full speed, unless you want to fall off a cliff.

The game, of course, will feature all of the standard online options (races, time trials, leaderboards) with up to ten players, as well as four player split screen racing.

In short, should you be excited about Baja? Yes.

Apr 4, 2008