Dakar 18 is the latest game to come from Deep Silver Games and believe me, its a big one. I do mean that very literally; be warned, the game installation was 41gig and update 1.02 was 37gig. There is a reason for this however, it is a very large game to play. I would go as far as to class the game as an open world racer. By that, I mean that in most racing games you are stuck within the confines of a rack track, or road to race along. With Dakar, there is a severe lack of roads.
I’m sure that everyone is familiar with the setup of the Dakar Rally by now. Lots of people in various vehicles racing across deserts between checkpoints. Its certainly an ambitious task for someone to attempt to translate that into a video game.
The question is, have Deep Silver managed to pull it off?
After waiting for what felt like an eternity of installing the game I managed to load it up and get started.
For the uninitiated, Dakar is a bit different, since your focus isn’t simply on the finish line; you also have to pass through a series of checkpoints along the route. These aren’t arranged in a convenient or linear fashion, however. Instead, you’re following directions, either from your co-pilot if you are driving a vehicle which can seat a second person, or notebook in the bottom right of the screen, using a central compass at the top of the screen to help you stay on the right path. On the easier level settings, it is a lot easier to navigate between the checkpoints, but it is still very easy to get lost and if you do miss any of the checkpoints you will be penalised at the end of the stage.
Most racing games focus on flat out speed, getting from A to B in the fastest time possible. Well, yes, this is the same, but you cant simply go flying around the desert at full speed as you will terminally damage your vehicle. You can stop and repair your vehicle throughout the race, but it costs time and Dakar points which are limited, so you have to be careful. Its an easy thing to wreck the vehicle as you climb up sand dunes and then drop violently off the crest of one. This is much more of a simulation than an arcade racer, so you do have to think ahead to the horizon and listen to your co-pilot. One of my annoyances with the game however was the co-pilot; he does like to scream and shout at you to the point where I really wanted to kick him out of the car and leave him to rot.
The races as well are not just simply stages which will take a couple of minutes to blast through, the second race of the rally took me a good 40 minutes to complete and is set over 400 kilometers of desert racing.
Interestingly however, even though you are racing, there is an element of sportsmanship thrown into the game. You may encounter a stranded vehicle which is stuck in deep, soft sand. You can choose to ignore them and continue on, or you can stop, get out of the car and tow them out. I love this feature of being able to get out of the car, something which you can use in Exploration mode to collect artefacts dotted around maps for some lovely trophies. It’s moments like this that add yet another element of realism to the game.
So, the main game consists of three game modes; Adventure, Explore and Multiplayer. The latter featuring online and split-screen options. Adventure is the main campaign across 14 stages, while explore allows you to revisit tutorial stage challenges, view treasures picked up from races and undertake several training missions. In adventure mode, you are free to pick from the five vehicle classes, which include motorbike, quad, car, jeep and truck.
The one thing that any racing game relies on is the handling mechanics and I have to say that for me, they didn’t feel responsive enough. The amount of times I had to turn hard left or right and the car just kept going forwards was annoying. You bounce a lot as well due to the surface which can really throw you out of line. No matter what I did with the suspension settings, the vehicles acted exactly the same way. Its a rather floaty feel to the driving and you don’t get any kind of realistic feedback through the controller. I was expecting big vibrations when landing a jump in a car, or heavier vibrations driving a truck, but didn’t get them.
The overall graphics aren’t exactly Gran Turismo standards either. It did feel like I was playing on a last gen machine at times. The vehicles are very ‘boxy’ and to be honest, as there are not that many to choose from within the game, I feel that they could have done a better job on them.
The game is great to play if you can overlook the few imperfections it has. Perhaps some of the issues can be fixed with some patches, but if the next update patch is as big as 1.02 then I have a long download ahead of me. Yes, I could play the game before that update patch was installed and it was terrible for want of a better term. I’m glad to say that installing that patch improved the game immensely, but there’s still work to be done as far as I’m concerned.
For me I have to give the game a 7/10. Its a great attempt at portraying the Dakar Rally on a gaming system, but it does need work still.
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