Dakar 18 Review

By Andrew Ogley, 8 days ago
With other great intercontinental races such as the Targa Florio, Mille Miglia, Panamericana and even the Gordon Bennet Trophy having fallen by the wayside and been consigned to the history books, the Dakar Rally remains, perhaps, the toughest endurance race that there is. There remains something special about the rally which leads drivers and teams to navigate over hundreds of kilometers of tough and unforgiving terrain. It is quite an extraordinary, motorsport event. The race spans three countries, over 9000 km, takes two weeks to complete, and featured over 300 competitors at the start. So when Bigmoon Entertainment promised to bring the most authentic Dakar rally experience to the consoles, it was a bold promise and led to high expectations from racing fans. Unfortunately, just like many of the competitors in the actual race, DAKAR 18 got a little lost somewhere along the way.

24/09/2018 - Carousel

On the surface, it all starts out well and looks promising. The title boasts over 15,000 square kilometers of terrain. All vehicle classes, cars, trucks, bikes, quads and UTVs are included. All three countries, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina, with all of their varying, challenging landscapes and environments are covered. The title even includes a number of real-life vehicles, liveries, teams and drivers.

The authenticity is indeed maintained with the rallying too. Drivers are expected to navigate through the stages using a mix of GPS and a racebook which is suitably complex, given that any stage may contain 70+ waypoints over hundreds of kilometers. Whilst it won't take days to complete a stage, it will certainly take close to an hour to get through any of the special stages and provides a good representation of the endurance nature of the sport. If you're driving a car or a lorry, you'll be aided — to a degree — by a co-driver who'll provide additional verbal instructions, useful as the road book iconography can be difficult to decipher whilst on the move. Take any single-person vehicle and you'll be well and truly on your own.

Unlike most other rallies, none of the stages have a pre-defined track to follow. The route is determined by waypoints across a massive expanse of terrain, most of which is entirely off-road. At some points, there will be a road or a track, or traces of a previous vehicle, but most of the time, you'll be just following a heading on a compass over whatever terrain may lie in your path.

Steep dunes, rocks, water, deep mud and various other perils all lie in wait for the unwary driver and can bring any rally stage to a swift end, either by damaging your vehicle or bringing it to a sudden halt. Whilst some repairs can be made en route, with appropriate delays, some will end your campaign prematurely. However, getting bogged down in mud or some morass needn't be the end. Maintaining the theme of authenticity, drivers can exit their vehicle and place recovery boards under the wheels to drive out and rescue themselves. It's even possible to use a winch to rescue vehicles. Of course, all of this will cost precious time. At times, it may cause frustration, especially as some will entrap you with little or no warning, but it does represent the real-life difficulties of this rally.

Ari Vatanen

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into the ideas and concepts behind making the Dakar rally an authentic experience, allowing players to get a good idea of what is actually involved. However, it's the realization of those ideas where things start to go a little askew.

First off, the handling of the vehicles, although clearly different for each vehicle, feels off and too simple given the realism that the team was aiming for. There are occasions where the vehicle can be launched off the top of a high dune and perform a jump that wouldn't look out of place in GTA Online. The damage model feels inconsistent too. One particular crash resulted in the bonnet flying dozens of feet into the air, but there was no further damage to the front of the car or even the windscreen.

Navigation feels more like following a waypoint than following a route, which is sometimes preferable to following the instructions from your co-driver, who incidentally seems to have only one vocal level and shouts all of the time. Frustratingly too, calls can come too late. Heading in the right direction will be greeted with calls that make sense. However, heading off in the wrong direction can often result in the exact same calls being given, until your co-driver suddenly decides you are actually heading in the wrong direction and tells you to head back to the last known waypoint. If you're playing on anything other than rookie, that's going to be a challenge in itself. But this quirk, too, is inconsistent. When trying to navigate a slow-turning lorry towards the next waypoint, I was told — shouted at — that I was moving too far from the waypoint, when all I was doing was turning in a circle.

Ari Vatanen

Then there is the Treasure Hunt mode which is totally incongruous to the rest of the title and even the genre. Here, players can roam off into the admittedly huge open-world and try to locate specific objects, like a cocktail or musical instrument native to that particular country. What this has to do with the real Dakar rally is a mystery, and the reason for including it in the game feels like nothing more than an excuse to demonstrate that players can leave their vehicles and explore the map on foot. The added value to the game and racing is quite simply minimal.

Graphically, releasing in the same time frame as Forza Horizon 4 was always going to be a hard act to follow. Sadly, Dakar 18 graphics also seem to be a little underwhelming compared to other racing titles too, certainly in the rally genre. Admittedly, it was always going to be hard to avoid a certain amount of repetition in models and features given the large expanse of land to be covered, but there are other small issues too with the graphics implementation. Vehicles literally drop into the world at the start of a stage. Motorbikes spookily right themselves after spilling their rider. Bushes and rocks can be hard to determine, and textures regularly pop into view. The audio is solid and fairly detailed. The menu screens are accompanied by a thumping musical soundtrack that you'd expect from titles in the genre, but during racing, the music is switched off and you're left to the sounds of the vehicles and natural surroundings.

Screenshots

Overall, the authenticity seems to come at the cost of gamification. There aren't too many concessions to the gaming fraternity and overall game design seems to have been overlooked. There's no stage selection possible, all of the races have to be started at the very beginning. Even with the treasure hunt mode, you'll need to complete earlier stages to unlock others. The only concession is that the player is able to quit any rally stage and pick it up again from the last waypoint. Given that those special stages can be long, it is a welcome feature.

For the achievement hunters, this is another title that will not provide any quick boosts to your gamerscore. There are 54 achievements in total, most of which revolve around completing stages under various conditions. There are a number linked to the strange treasure hunt mini-game. It's not certain whether the achievements are glitched or just take a mammoth amount of time to complete, but at the time of writing, the highest score from our community is a meager ten achievements unlocked.

Check out our Best Racing Games article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

To bring arguably the world's toughest endurance rally to the gaming world was always going to be ambitious. To do this and aim for a high level of authenticity even more so. There are moments when you begin to feel this and appreciate what the drivers must go through, however, there are too many issues that break the immersion and undermine the authenticity that the developers were aiming for. It feels as though the game's vision or identity is not clear. There are moments when it feels like it is heading to the realms of hardcore simulation and then other moments back to arcade racing. Ultimately, the game falls between two stools, not realistic enough for the hardcore enthusiasts and not gamified enough for the gaming community. If a better balance could be found, then there is great potential here, but sadly, at this moment, the title just can't reach its own lofty ambitions.
2.5 / 5
DAKAR 18
Positives
  • Massive landscapes and maps to navigate
  • Authentic feel to the routes and navigation
  • Good representation of the perils and pitfalls of the race
Negatives
  • Graphics are lackluster
  • Vehicle handling undermines the authenticity of the game
  • Co-driver is loud, inconsistent, and sometimes even wrong
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent around 20 hours rallying and treasure hunting. Four of the 54 achievements were unlocked. The download code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. The game was played on a standard Xbox One console.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Andrew Ogley
Written by Andrew Ogley
Andrew has been writing for TA since 2011 covering news, reviews and the occasional editorials and features. One of the grumpy old men of the team, his mid-life crisis has currently manifested itself in the form of an addiction to sim-racing - not being able to afford the real life car of his dreams. When not spending hours burning simulated rubber, he still likes to run around, shoot stuff and blow things up - in the virtual world only of course.