Don’t start Dakar yet.

Title: Dakar 18
Platform:  PC (reviewed), PS4, Xbox One
Developer: Bigmoon
Publisher: Deepsilver
Release Date: September 25, 2018
Xbox One:
TL;DR: Lot’s of space to drive around in but the driving is terrible
Family Focus: Click here for more information

Rally driving – for those who don’t know the ins and outs of it – can look a bit chaotic but for those who can differentiate psychotic driving and real rally driving, the sport is one full of nuances. Turns are finely tuned, so as to tease the line of mistake, tracks might not be as clear as in other races, and directions might seem like nonsense, but rally drivers seem to be able to deal with both in a logic-defying manner that suggests they’re not entirely human. Dakar 18 manages to recreate a lot of the nuances of rally driving in a surprisingly satisfying way but seems to forget that it’s a racing game as it falls short on its racing mechanics in a big way.

The game’s racecourses span across 14 stages dotted around Peru, Bolivia, and Argentina. And while the game’s boast of being the biggest in track size – with stages being miniature open-worlds – might be true, there’s little variety to distinguish one stage from the other. Instead, stages only vary in the volume of shrubbery that’s littered around. Peru stages are sand-swept desert areas, with the sun bouncing off the ground at certain times in a downright beautiful manner, while the Bolivian stages look very much the same, only there’s rain and a handful of shrubs. And Argentina invites enough shrubbery to make the drive through the tight lanes created seem like the game has some semblance of actual tracks. So, yeah, the stages are bloody massive, but they’re not filled with anything of real interest, and while this is because the tracks are taken from satellite imagery to best duplicate the stages they’re based on, it ends up feeling a bit overwhelming at best and boring at worst.

The size of the stage does introduce a wholly unique challenge though. The majority of stages don’t adhere to any visible tracks, meaning you’ll have to learn how to navigate like a rally driver or face getting lost in the desert for a very, very long time. So, if you want to stay on course, you’ll want to listen to your co-driver’s every word. Directions come in the form of landmarks and compass numbers, so your navigator will usually shout “left of the big rock, continue at cap. 170.” Something that when I first started playing the game, had me stuttering, stopping, and eventually ignoring my buddy and driving into the desert’s abyss. But the process is surprisingly easy to pick up, and when you’ve finished a few stages in a respectable time thanks to your ability to co-exist with a very yelly man, you form a kind of unspoken bond with them until you can’t think of racing without them… until they shout at you for crashing into something.

But seeing that Dakar 18 offers quite the roster of vehicles, going solo is inevitable. While races with cars, trucks, and SxS vehicles have you team up with a navigator, the choice to race on a motorbike or quadbike will see you flying solo. Though, seeing that the sensation of driving either is akin to being punched in the face by a gym-bro – painful, annoying, and embarrassing – there’s not much to keep you on either vehicle for more than a single race. This is mostly down to the jagged controls of the bikes and the excessive sensitivity of the quad bikes. Motorbikes would – I assume – be an ideal vehicle for off-road racing, but the constant jiggling of them as you cross a desert, only to slow to a near dead-stop as you drag yourself through a degraded bit of track. While the quadbikes offer the same manoeuvrability as the golf buggies in GTA 5 – which would be fine if Dakar 18 wasn’t a racing sim – having a vehicle be near undriveable in a rally game is pretty inexcusable.

And unfortunately, the lack of depth to the racing mechanics does spread to the whole roster of vehicles. Cars, trucks, and SxS models are all infinitely better than the one-man vehicles, but the problem here is depth because as you travel through each stage, traversing dunes, mud-caked terrain, and track degradation all work to hinder your time. So, having something similar to the fine tune system we’ve become accustomed to in racing sims would’ve been a big help. Instead, Dakar 18 offers a simplistic repair system that does little to help out apart from when you repair something that’s utterly broken. It’s a shame to see the core concept of the game coming second place and it tells throughout the game; you never feel in control of whatever you’re driving and there’s little in place to change up how a vehicle handles.

Dakar 18 certainly has a lot on its side, the official licensing means there’s a few familiar faces, vehicles, and stages for rally fans. The size of the stages is pretty surprising, and the treasure hunt mode – which is essentially a free roam mode – means that that excess space isn’t totally wasted. But the dire state of vehicles leaves so much to be desired in my opinion; if you’re looking for a rally game, it might be worth hanging around for DiRT Rally 2.0.

The Good

  • A good variety of vehicles
  • The navigation system takes time to understand but it’s a lot of fun
  • The treasure hunt mode let’s you get out and explore

The Bad

  • The overall driving in the game is incredibly lacklustre
  • Stages are prone to looking the same and feeling empty
  • Quad bikes in the game are abominations and shouldn’t be allowed to exist

Family Focus

Dakar 18 is rated Pegi 3 in the UK and “E” for Everybody in the US. If you really don’t want your child to enjoy racing, then Dakar 18 offers you a simple solution to get the job done.

Disclaimer: This review is based on a copy of the game provided by PR for the purpose of this review.