Dakar 18 review
Bigmoon Entertainment, the Portuguese developer better known as an art studio for hit games franchises such as MotoGP and WRC, recently acquired the Dakar licence. An open-world annual rallying event known for endurance and reliability would surely be a great foundation for turning it into a computer game, especially with other open-world racing titles out there such as Forza Horizon grabbing a lot of attention right now. Sadly however, Bigmoon Entertainment have a long way to go to make the Dakar franchise a joy to play.
Upon loading for the first time you are thrown into a rally which you are lead to believe is a tutorial. Except you are treated to a voiceover telling you intricate detail of how navigation works before you are given the controls of a car to complete a small course which you have to complete before getting into the game itself – this is neither useful nor gives you any confidence that you know what you are doing. When you do actually enter the game properly you then get the option to do a tutorial covering all aspects of the game which is far better – so what is the opening all about? Not a great start.
There are five types of vehicle in Dakar 18, the same types of vehicles in the actual sport: bikes, cars, trucks, quads and UTVs. Each type of vehicle allows you to complete the Dakar rally in its own right and as you would expect each vehicle type comes with its own handling characteristics. Sadly however you can tell that the developers have not permitted enough time on every vehicle to hone the handling in time for release. The car, truck and UTV handle reasonably well, but the bike and quad are simply terrible. You will find yourself snaking across the desert uncontrollably and playing with either is simply unplayable, especially the quads.
The main feature in the game though is the Dakar rally. A tortuous endurance rally that takes place over 14 stages starting in Peru and ending in Argentina via Bolivia. To complete each stage you need to drive to points on a predetermined map to by means of a checkpoint. Whilst you are guided to each point using the rally notes (which are very confusing to begin with) you are not limited to a set route and can choose your own route – the most direct is the ideal however as you want to complete each stage in the quickest time possible. Again this format should work brilliantly as a computer game, but it is simply lacking in so many areas that the game just isn’t fun.
Very long load times grate you each time you start a new stage, and if playing on Xbox One X the internal fan operates on overdrive as its trying to churn the data to bring you a very bland landscape that is not a smooth frame rate at any point and even the car liveries are buffering at times to display correctly. Driving in a car, you will find you are at the mercy of a fragile vehicle too resulting in repairs needed and very careful driving…which is a little surprising bearing in mind the type of terrain the cars in Dakar are built for. Damage modelling is great in racing games but having to stop 10 minutes into the first stage to make repairs is a little concerning ahead of the remaining 13 stages to come.
You will also need to set aside plenty of time in order to complete the game. The second stage took me 45 minutes to complete and requires a lot of attention throughout – Bigmoon have certainly captured the sense of endurance very well, but when the terrain largely remains the same, those 45 minutes become quite a chore. If completing the rally in a car, UTV or truck you are joined by co-drivers. The most annoying co-drivers that freak out if you go off track. As for completing the stages you can either use the rally notes or if playing as a rookie (there are three difficulty levels in total) you get a waypoint to follow at the top of the screen, but all you end up doing is looking for a yellow dot throughout and driving in that direction – they need to think of a more engaging way to drive in Dakar that simplifies the rally notes instead of this approach.
Anyway, I finally completed the second stage finishing in 3rd place which I was quite pleased with…only to then be slapped with 2 hours worth of penalties. At no point in the stage did I think I had been penalised and have no idea why I was. Very frustrating and something I haven’t since figured out with further progression.
One of Dakar 18’s more interesting and fun features is the online mode. Sadly however at the time of doing this review there was no one available online to play against to provide further comment.
The concept of Dakar as a racing game is excellent and I am sure in time this could turn into a very successful title. This is not it though and Bigmoon really need to follow up with a title next year which shows clear progression. Instead of trying to deliver on the full Dakar experience from the outset perhaps focus on a smaller version of it and provide a basis to build upon. We all like open world gaming and there is a great product within the licence – we look forward to playing it in the future.