The Dakar Rally is by far the most gruelling event in the world of motorsport. Only the really brave attempt to accept the challenge laid out in front of them. Now the popular motorsport has made its way to the industry we all love, video games. As a gamer you are also going to have to be brave to play this game, but for very different reasons.
Don’t skip the tutorial
Calling it ‘Dakar’ is a bit misleading. The race, which once took place in Europe and Northern Africa and had the finish line in Dakar, has now moved to South America (and has been there for the last decade). The event now starts in Peru, makes its way through Bolivia and finally ends up in Argentina. Dakar 18 is a representation of this event that includes all the various official brands, right down to the official drivers that have been taking part. It’s exceptionally impressive to see everything being showcased so close to the real sport. Unlike most other racing games, this is one game where I highly recommend that you consider the tutorial, as it’s not as straightforward as other racing games.
Suck up your pride and go with the Rookie mode to start with.
As with most rally titles you’ll be taking part in various stages, each with their own unique obstacles. However, unlike other rally games you’ve played, you will not be sticking to the main road. Dakar 18 consists of a huge open-world where you can virtually drive anywhere, but you have specific targets to meet and time is your biggest enemy. Therefore it’s a good idea to get a good understanding of your handy roadbook. The roadbook is filled with lots of important information and is displayed on your dashboard (or on the HUD if you’re racing from a different view). It provides you with a detailed breakdown of the distance to your next waypoint, the dangers you should watch out for and the direction you should be taking, named CAP.
As soon as you make it to a waypoint your roadbook will tell you what CAP to head to next. CAP is basically your GPS ccoordinates Understanding this element is of the utmost importance as without it you can get completely lost, as several drivers have in the real world. Suck up your pride and go with the Rookie mode to start with. It provides you with a marker on your HUD to help you find your next waypoint, but if you are a hardcore fan you best understand that roadbook. Some vehicles come with a navigator that’ll assist you with audio commentary of where you should be heading to next and, I must be honest, my guy was quite a crude bastard. Veer off the track and he’ll spare little time to tell you that you’re screwing up.
The game comes with the expected career mode where you’ll get to choose what vehicle class you’ll support followed by one of the many official drivers or riders. Being a South African I obviously went with our own pride and joy, Giniel de Villiers. This means I ended up using his Toyota Hilux. Unfortunately this is also the point where the ugly truth of Dakar 18 reared its head. Controlling these vehicles is exceptionally difficult. It’s got absolutely nothing to do with the terrain and more to do with the fact that the vehicles are all very twitchy. I tried all the other classes (including bikes, quads and trucks) and it was no different. In fact, going off-road was better than driving on a straight main road. Touch the analogue stick, while on a straight, and my car would veer off the road and ultimately spin out or, more annoyingly, crash into an obstacle.
Some stages can last 30 minutes through to one hour – don’t expect a ‘quick race’ in this game.
Tick tock tick tock
Now, one of the biggest challenges in the game is looking after your vehicle. Everything from your radiator through to your gears and wheels can be affected with each and every impact. This is something that should be in the game and is a feature I appreciate, as it keeps in line with the real sport. However, when your vehicle is so tough to control it’s a downright pain. There is, however, more to this problem. Some stages can last 30 minutes through to one hour – don’t expect a ‘quick race’ in this game. So, when you’re nearing the end of the race and the car slides out, smashes into a nearby rock and just about totals the car, it’s exceptionally frustrating. Especially when you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and the car just veered off the chosen path for its own random reason. Reset it to the last waypoint (in turn also losing time) and you’ll just have to live with the fact that you still have a car with major damage issues. These parts can be repaired while on-the-go, but you’ll have to sacrifice precious minutes for it.
I actually had quite a bit of fun driving up and down sand dunes, while battling to keep the car straight enough so it won’t slide back – that’s part and parcel of the sport. Shoot over a steep dune at a high speed and you run the risk of permanently damaging parts on your vehicle when feeling the impact of it on the other side. If you’re on a bike you’ll fly right over the handle bars and come crashing down, which requires you to walk back to the bike and hop back on. There’s no ‘quick reset’. If you’re in a four-wheeled vehicle you can get out of the car and walk around freely. Should you find a fellow competitor that is stuck you can help him by towing his car out of harm’s way. That’s only if you’re a good Samaritan. I left the bastards. I needed the time. Another reason to get out your car is to go treasure hunting in the Treasure Hunt mode. It’s a nice extra feature, but it’s not going to keep you coming back.
Once you’re done with the career mode you’ll really only have the multiplayer to come back to and it’s supported both online and via split-screen mode. I honestly did not try split-screen mode, as I had no one to play with, but I attempted to play several games online and at every attempt the lobbies were completely empty. Graphically Dakar 18 is neither here or there. Considering that it’s made up of such a huge world, the scale is quite impressive, but small things like rocks, vegetation and other small obstacles, like shacks, aren’t detailed all that well. The vehicles look okay, but the drivers or riders are a far cry from the standard we expect these days.
Dakar 18 is the first entry into the new series. It’s tied to a very popular annual event and it definitely on the right track. The fundamental layout of the various stages are superb, it now just needs the vehicles to react better to your inputs. Fix that important element and next year could be a whole different story. For now, it’s a good idea with a frustrating outcome.