Dakar 18 is a realistic simulation game based off of the world-famous annual rally organised by Amaury Sport Organisation. The Dakar rally is the biggest of its kind and features a variety of vehicles from cars to trucks to motorcycles. Just like the real thing, in Dakar 18 players will need to rely on their wits, attention to detail and sense of direction.
As soon as the game loads players are taken through the basics of the game. This section of the game is unskippable, and rightly so. Dakar 18 differs from other racing games by having no clear map or road to follow; parts of the game will be through the open desert while other parts might be on open fields. With no way markers or large flashing arrows to direct the player, gamers are instead expected to rely on the trusty information provided by their navigator and the road book. Of course, if you fail to pay attention to the tutorial you’ll have no idea what’s going on. And believe me, you’ll find it very difficult to learn on the fly.
The main game consists of three game modes. An Adventure Mode, which is the single-player campaign and multiplayer mode for online and local split-screen, the Explore mode, shorter stages designed for players to get used to their chosen vehicle and to test their own skills and lastly a Treasure Hunt mode.
The main mode boasts 14 stages of open world environments where, like most games, players need to finish in the fastest time possible while ensuring they hit the required checkpoints. While speed is the main dictating factor in this mode, ensuring that your vehicle doesn’t take damage from the terrain is equally important. Doing so will cost you valuable time and can ultimately be the difference between a victory or a crushing loss. Players looking for even more of a challenge can also choose to take on each of the stages with either a bike or a quad, doing so will mean going solo without a navigator to shout out directions. Reading the journey book is much more important here and makes it much more difficult to complete.
Bigmoon Entertainment has gone for realism and tried to stay as faithful as possible to the real Dakar Rally as possible. One of the game’s few redeeming qualities is the open world maps. No markers, no signposts, just true, open world driving. This means no GPS or on-screen headers for direction; players are required to hit the number of checkpoints by using the on-screen journey book and listening to the advice of their navigator.
During normal gameplay you’ll always have a navigator with you. He’s responsible for telling the player where to go during the race. While the journey book is also on screen it’s not always practical to keep glancing down at it so the verbal cues help greatly. Though, with this being said, the navigator can also get very annoying. During scripted sections, he’ll still shout that you’re going the wrong direction, or move a degree off course and again you’ll get a verbal telling off. His one volume level grates after a while with no option that I can find to lower his volume.
And that’s not all that’s wrong with Dakar 18. Despite the game landing on current gen consoles, I can’t help but feel the visuals are extremely below par. In a world with Forza and Gran Turismo, it’s hard to accept something that looks, for lack of a better word, terrible. Character and spectators look wooden and lifeless and the terrain consistently clips through the vehicle models.
In comparison, the controls don’t fare much better. For a game that focuses on a realistic driving experience, the controls feel very arcade; that is when they work. Cornering hard sees the vehicle respond with little gusto while minor adjustments see the machine veer widely from left to right. And yes, you’ll get a berating from the navigator for this as well.
I really wanted to love Dakar 18. The idea of being let loose in the wilderness with nothing but my wits and a navigational guide is exciting but there’s just too much wrong with how the game has been presented. I believe now there’s a patch that should address a number of the issues, and in this day and age we seem to accept this as a valid excuse for a poor release but remember, the patch won’t be available to download forever. When the current gen’s servers eventually go offline the game should still be able to hold it’s own as it was released.