Developed by Bigmoon Entertainment
Published by Bigmoon Entertainment and Deep Silver
Available on PC, Xbox One and PS4
The Dakar rally is probably the most difficult, gruelling race in the world so it’s fitting that the game follows suit by translating the challenge into one for videogamers like myself.
Based on the route of the 2018 rally, DAKAR 18 sees you race in Peru, Bolivia and Argentina with a choice of car, truck, motorbike and quad bike to pilot.
Unlike other racing games which are on a track, DAKAR 18 is offroad and the only way you know where you’re going is by a list of navigational directions, a tripometer and compass bearings. When driving in a car or truck, you can have a passenger in with you to give you the directions and tell you when you’re going wrong. Unfortunately, motorcyclists and quad bikers don’t have this privilege and have to navigate themselves as well as controlling the vehicle. Whether you have guidance or not, the game is still a challenge with so many obstacles in the way that can hinder your progress other than getting lost which I did more times than I can count. You’ve things like rocks to watch out for, sand dunes that can send you tumbling, sand that you can sink in and more. There will often be times in the game when your vehicle takes damage from rough tumbles and collisions. Fortunately you can repair your vehicle providing you have enough points accumulated to do so – points which are awarded by hitting waypoints and winning stages.
Unlike a traditional racing game in which you race against other vehicles on-screen, DAKAR 18 is very much a solitary affair. As vehicle starts are staggered, all that matters is the time it takes you to hit each waypoint and complete the race. That’s not to say you won’t bump into the other racers; I’ve occasionally come across others when racing, mainly when I’ve got myself lost. With almost no-one around, it can get pretty lonely out there especially when you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, lost and haven’t a clue where to go. I’d hate to race it for real because the feeling of isolation is terrible enough in-game, never mind in reality. The lack of distractions and impulse to keep up does allow you to concentrate on the directions though which is an important part of the game. With no guide other than the navigational notes, it’s so important to concentrate in this game as being slightly off-bearing can result in you lost in the middle of the desert. It wouldn’t be the first time for me and it’s times like that in which I pray to spot a competitor so that I at least know I’m going in the right direction or at least some tracks in the sand. In the event you cannot for your life find your way back on route, you can respawn at the last waypoint. However, loading from the last waypoint will see you penalised by a hefty period of time added to the clock. In a game which relies on speed and is essentially a time trial race as well as a navigational one, it’s important to keep any penalties down to a minimum.
What’s nice about this game is that you can actually disembark from the vehicle and wander around. You can even take your helmet off to show the world just exactly who’s underneath the helmet. Whilst that may be more novelty than practical there are upsides and that’s being able to disembark and attach a tow rope to another vehicle in order to pull them out of a jam. This actually is part of the tutorial where you must help pull out a car stuck in the sand. It’s not always easy as it looks but there is perks to helping a fellow competitor out. You may also find yourself unseated from your motorbike should you collide with a bollard (yes, I’ve done that too) so you’ll have to drag your sorry ass back to your bike. In other instances, you might find yourself stuck in sand so you can use your shovel and put your vehicle’s wheels under mounts to help you get out of your sticky situation. Failing that? Well, you can always flail your arms around in an SOS signal.
After quite a few updates in the week of release, I thought the game would play more fluid but there are odd hiccups here and there from the game stuttering at times to getting stuck near the crowds ingame, forcing me to reload from last waypoint. These are minor niggles but I hope they’re addressed sometime soon. Outside of that, everything works pretty well and the only things I could comment on are the helicopter aerial view and the handling of the vehicles. The camera angle from above, namely the helicopter view, could be improved with shadow and even a tyre trail as it currently looks like the motorbike is floating off the ground when I play with that particular vehicle. All it would need is some extra effects to help give it a grounded appearance rather than some Tron-esque hover bike. The handling of the vehicles could be slightly better as they currently feel a little on the clunky side when trying to turn however having never driven through sand or over sand dunes, I can only imagine how awkward and similarly sluggish driving the real thing may be.
The stages in DAKAR 18 can be a test of patience. Some are easier and have fewer waypoints than others. For instance, the second round has 40+ waypoints and so it takes a good half hour, if not more, to complete. However, you don’t have to do it all in one sitting. The game autosaves after every waypoint so if you choose to exit the game, you can resume from the last waypoint upon your next gaming session.
There are other modes within the game such as treasure hunt, training and local/online multiplayer, however whenever I go in the lobby I can never find anyone online to play against. Perhaps this will improve over time when more people get the game. From a single player perspective, racing against the AI, this is more than enough to keep you on your toes.
With the developer rolling out updates every few days, they seem to be addressing problems which gamers have highlighted, which is always good to see. This includes better support for wheel controllers and handling.
With different difficulty levels available, there’s challenge for gamers of all abilities. Having played both Rookie and Normal mode, I can say that even Rookie has its moments. DAKAR 18 is definitely a go-to game for racing fans who desire more than flat track racing where not only do you have to be fast, you have to tackle the treacherous terrain and the problems that come with it, all whilst navigating off some notes. A thrilling, engaging slice of racing gameplay.