I’m going to come straight out and say it. This game from the very beginning frustrated me – The last racing game that I put time into was F1 2018, in fact, I’m still playing it – The issue is that you can become accustomed to the way that a game feels, and when switching to a new game, where the dead zones, weight and feel of everything is different, it can throw everything off whack. This also happens when the game isn’t a game, but instead a simulator that goes real hard into the world of Dakar.
I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that most people are aware of the word Dakar and its loose relationship with racing, but don’t know exactly what it is. The Dakar is a Rally Race, that, until 2008, was a race between Paris, France, and Dakar in Senegal – The race is an off-road endurance race using true off-road cars rather than modified road cars for use off road like in a traditional rally; the reason why it is an endurance race is that on some days, they can cover over 500 miles in a day, crossing sand dunes, mud, rocks, and more. Since 2009 the race has been held in South America, being changed due to security threats.
And now for the real reason why I got frustrated, I got cocky – One of the first things the game tells you is that, if this is your first time playing a Dakar game, play the easy mode first, and even then, definitely do the tutorials as well. There’s a lot of complex navigational information that gets thrown at you and having that lenient help to start you off is seriously useful; if you do what I did, by jumping straight in head first into the medium difficulty, you’ll discover that the marker for the next waypoint doesn’t exist, while there are verbal instructions and the ones written down in the bottom right corner. It becomes very easy to become lost in the vast desert, even if you’re only 200m away from where you’re supposed to be. There are some bonus perks to starting on easy as well – You take less damage, any damage you get is cheaper to repair, and the AI isn’t as hard meaning that you have better chances to win.
Probably one of the most important things to do with a rally race game where each stage is an open world is to nail the way that the environment looks. This naturally is going to be very hard, especially if the majority of the game’s levels are based around sand – The single colour of sand in the game, even with the waves that are set in the sand makes it very easy to lose track of yourself – This isn’t helped by the quality of the textures though; it’s obvious that lots of effort has been put into the cars, bikes and trucks to keep the teams and manufacturers happy, but less focus was put into the world, which I would argue to be just as important, if not, more important.
The other thing that I think had less effort in development is the feel of the cars – It’s not great; it’s not incredible; adequate is probably how I would best describe it. There are times where the car feels exactly how it’s supposed to, running up and down the sand dunes, but there are times where you may get stuck in a bog, or you’ll clip a rock and it sends you flying and the car doesn’t quite do what you would expect it to do with real physics. If the game had had just that little bit longer to fine-tune the feel of it, it could be a completely different story.
Overall, I’m a little disappointed with this game. When I first heard about it, I was pretty excited; the chance to be able to drive a race that I only heard about occasionally on Top Gear made me want to play this over something else, but finally getting my hands on it, it wasn’t what I expected. The graphics can only be described as last gen, the cars feel ‘okay’, but with a game all about racing, I want it to be a little better. The only thing I feel I can praise the game on is the way that it directs you around the race – It’s more than the typical left-right within a normal rally race; the way there are descriptions for what you’re aiming for, illustrations to help give more info and the Cap Heading to tell you which direction you’re going – The reason why this game is getting the time I’m putting into it is because of the navigation; it’s something completely different and something I’ve not had the chance to play before, subsequently, I have to adjust my playstyle to it.
This game, if it had spent a bit more time in development, especially with the art and the feel of the cars, I feel it would have made the game better – Overall I’m giving this game a generous 6.5; it’s something that I’m glad I’ve experienced, but not something that I’ll keep going back to to play.