When it comes to racing games, it’s been quite a packed couple of months. I think we can safely say that, on Xbox One at least, nothing has been quite as heavy hitting as the recently released Forza Horizon 4. That’s not to say that other racers don’t deserve your time and attention, but for the most part, all eyes have been Playground’s new arcade racer. Though, that being said, for those that want something a little more sim-like, Dakar 18 is here to scratch that itch. The big question is, on the other hand, does Dakar 18 manage to do so?
The problem with so many racing games releasing in rapid succession is that it becomes harder for a developer to fight for your attention. However, with that in mind, we know from recent releases that each new racer has at the very least, brought something distinct to the table. Whether that’s Super Street’s focus on short-burst street racing or Forza Horizon 4’s focus on open world arcade exploring, there’s something for everyone; good or bad. Where does Dakar 18 sit in that spectrum? Well, it’s actually quite hit and miss.
Dakar 18 offers a surprisingly large open world that sprawls across Peru and Argentina. The sheer mass of land makes for a nicely detailed and diverse affair, giving players plenty of ground to cover that never quite wears as thin as I thought that it would. Here, you can take cars, bikes SxS, trucks and even quads as you attempt to tackle the tricky terrains within. I warn you though, the trip to becoming the Dakar 18 legend that you’re aiming to be, isn’t quite as smooth nor as trouble free as its promotional material tries to lead you to believe.
Before we dive in, let us summarize what Dakar racing is. You, along with your co-driver will have no map to work out where to go in order to meet your proverbial checkered flag. Instead, you’ll rely on coordinates to find the correct route and will then need to ensure that you hit all of your way points throughout. The fastest to hit those checkpoints, wins. If you miss any checkpoints, you’ll have time added to your overall clock. Furthermore, if you damage your vehicle or your car breaks down, it’s up to you to fix it. No pitting, I’m afraid.
By and large, the race is an off-road endurance (emphasis on endurance) race. The terrain that you and your competitors will traverse is much tougher than that used in conventional rallying and the vehicles used are true off-road vehicles, not heavily modified on-road vehicles. Make friends with your off-road terrain, you’re going to need to get used to crossing dunes, mud, rocks and several other progress-defying landscapes and obstacles. That’s not to mention the distance needed to travel, which can reach 800–900 km per-day.
There are shorter distances to race with, of course, but for the most part, you’ll be hitting races that can last up to an hour each run. It’s oftentimes grueling more than it is fun, and although I didn’t really enjoy the drawn out races, I appreciate that many will enjoy this for what it is. The game offers a decent tutorial that does well at feeding you into the basics of play, and covers pretty much every aspect of the game. That said, there’s no choice to avoid it. You’ll need to complete the tutorial before you’re allowed access to the main event.
Once you’re done there, the game starts to open and shows you what it has to offer. From the menu, there’s five different sub-categories to choose from, the usual options and settings that you would expect to find in a game of this standing, as well as the all important tanking page. Here, you can browse your profile of the vehicles you’re using throughout, on top of everything else that you’ve achieved in the game so far; time spent in each vehicle, right up to the number of crashes that you’ve suffered. Then, there’s the exploration page.
The exploration page is where you’ll want to go for additional training. There’s a total of five lessons to work towards, each of which will aid you ad teach you to understand the locations, headings, and general navigation throughout. You can also replay the tutorial and take part in some treasure hunt. Treasure hunt is fun, yet time consuming. Not too dissimilar to a free-roam mode, here, you’ll race across different locations on the map to seek out hidden items. Extra treasure hunts can be unlocked through playing the adventure mode.
Then, there’s the fabled multiplayer component; featuring both online and split-screen modes. Mercifully, Dakar 18 keeps this simple for the most part. You’ll select your vehicle, choose your track, and off you go. That to the side, it’s the adventure mode that offers the main action of the Dakar rally. Once you begin your rally, you’ll need to make an important choice. This is, of course, what vehicle you want to use. The game doesn’t allow you to chip and change whenever you feel like it, so make sure you’re happy with your choices here.
Saves do no carry over from vehicle to vehicle, and there’s a total of five vehicle types to select from, outlined above, all of which handle differently and offer generally altering experiences. The game comes with an in-car guide man. It’s his job to tell you where to go, when to turn, and what dangers are approaching. Communication if key here if you want to truly succeed. Bikes and quads lack co-drivers, so they’re arguably more hardcore in that regard. That done and dusted, what exactly do we do in the game’s adventure mode?
It’s actually a relatively simple affair to follow. You need to work through all of the checkpoints that each level entails as you move around the course, before hitting the finish flag and claiming your bragging rights. Now, that may sound easy, but let me tell you, as alluded to above, a race can take north of an hour to complete. There’s fourteen tracks in total, each lasting roughly that long, and when we factor in that you can take to each track in the five different vehicle types, there’s certainly some replay value to be had here.
There’s a layer of realism thrown into Dakar 18 too, meaning that you’ll consume both oil and fuel during your travels. On top of that, your tires can wear thin and (worse) flatten, and even your gearbox can break. Basically, you can truly screw up your vehicle if you’re not too careful. Repairing is as easy as accessing the menu and choosing your repair, but this will indeed cost you some Dakar points, and you don’t tend to start off with too many of them. Repairs do indeed add a time penalty to your run, so race fast, but race wisely, or else.
That said, it’s entirely possible to hit game-over if you crash too often, meaning a restart to your race – which isn’t fun when we take the length of each run into account. The co-driver can be a bit overbearing at times and continuously shout at you. This is intentional, but the man really will begin to piss you off when he’s shouting at your because you slightly went off-track or clipped an obstruction. It’s a small gripe indeed, but a gripe that hammered my mind far too often for me to simply overlook it, thus, I wanted to make a note of it here.
The game’s visual and audio design are on point for the most part. There’s some vivid details to the game’s world and its vehicles, and the draw distance is nice too. It’s a shame then, that driving on this vast map – regardless as to what vehicle you choose – is tedious, overly sensitive and at times, irritating. Group that with the over-the-top damage system that is near impossible to avoid due to the poor handling, and the constant yelling from your co-driver, and it’s headache central. Bottom line? Dakar 18 is a just-above average racer, at best.
Dakar 18 is held back from greatness due to a number of issues. Chief among these problems tend to revolve around the game’s poor handling and its over-the-top damage system. However, if you can overlook the game’s awkward foundation and forgive the overbearing co-driver, there’s a beautiful vast world to soak up, with no shortage of diverse content to take for a spin. Just don’t expect to be wowed.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.