Review – Dakar 18
I still remember this as if it had happened yesterday. As a member of a family of diehard car enthusiasts, we once traveled to Lisbon to actually witness the first leg of the 2008 Rally Dakar, only for it to be cancelled at the last second due to security issues in Mauritania. From that moment on, the then 30 year old rally series started taking place in South America, losing a bit of its charm due to the fact the damn thing didn’t even take place in the location it was named after.
Being able to actually play a Rally Dakar game is a completely different story, though. Unlike games like Dirt or V-Rally 4, a Rally Dakar game is as much of a survival game as it is a racer. It’s a game about learning how to guide yourself on rough terrain with no GPS, overcoming tons of natural obstacles, having to deal with vehicular malfunctions, helping people who have crashed their vehicles, and also, you know, trying to win the actual rally itself. It sounds like no other game out there and in a world in which a game like Forza Horizon 4 includes three quarters of all car racing genres ever conceived in one disc, it’s great to see people doing something completely different.
I’m glad to say that, for the most part, Dakar 18 follows this very specific composition of how the competition actually works fairly accurately. This is definitely NOT an arcade game. This is a full-fledged ultra heavy rally raid simulator. There’s no GPS or map. You will either have to comply to what information your co-pilot is feeding you with or, if you’re a beginner, receive a bit of help from a small compass at the top of the screen in order to find the nearest waypoint. That’s basically all the help you will get in Dakar 18, as this game is definitely not for the newcomers, even if the game does a good job at teaching not only its mechanics, but the rules of rally raid itself.
Rally raid is less about full speed and more about careful navigation. Your co-pilot does an excellent job to tell you where to go, at what speed, in which angle, as well as detailing any nearby points of interest to help you out. The Dakar 18 devs put some effort into providing some extra replayability by scattering some hidden artifacts throughout the thousands of square kilometers recreated in the game.
This is all great, but is also a slight point of concern if the technical aspects of the game aren’t as good as a the standards of what a simulator should have. Sadly, in Dakar 18‘s case, the game suffers from a fair share of very annoying technical problems.
First of all, there’s the issue with the visuals. Sure, the scenery can often be breathtaking and the cars are well-modeled, but there are a handful of issues as well. The particle effects are extremely poor, with effects such as sand looking like mere pixels onscreen. The character models (yes, you can actually see them as well as control them outside the car) are poorly animated and their faces look hideous, like something you would see in PS2-era games. Finally, there’s the issue with the framerate. Whenever there’s just you and some dunes, the game maintains a decent framerate, but everything goes downhill whenever there are more elements onscreen. It gets really erratic.
The main issue, however, lies on the gameplay. The core concept of Dakar 18 is fine, as it recreates the feel of the event accurately. Controlling the vehicles on the other hand, can be a nightmare depending on how you decide to play this game. If you play it on a steering wheel, ignore this paragraph. If you’re playing on a controller with the “soft” steering method, the game will be a bit stiff to play but it will definitely be playable. However, any other option turns Dakar 18 into an extremely complicated and unresponsive game. The game becomes severely stiff and the simple fact of trying to turn your vehicle at an above average speed becomes a hellish chore.
I’m not going to try to sugarcoat this: Dakar 18 is a flawed game. Its visuals need a lot more polish and controlling the vehicles on anything but a steering wheel is a rough experience. On the other hand, this is THE real deal when it comes to a challenging rally raid experience. Being part survival and part racer, Dakar 18 does its best to accurately represent how tough it is to actually finish a race, let alone win it. If you’re looking for a rally raid experience on your PS4, Dakar 18 is a good choice. Just make sure to grab a steering wheel or else driving in the actual event might be an easier task.
The scenery is absolutely gorgeous and the cars are well-built. The framerate is extremely erratic and the character models look like they came from the PS2 era, though.
If you play it on a controller, make sure to set the steering to the softest as possible, as the controls are extremely rough and sometimes unresponsive. It’s much better with a steering wheel.
Your co-pilot is well-voiced and is always helpful. The car engines sound like they should and the heavy metal-infused soundtrack is also pretty good. Without a doubt, the sound design is the best aspect in this game.
Fun Factor: 7.0
It might be riddled with bugs and intimidating towards newcomers, but its loyal recreation of the rally raid event, the amount of content, and the addition of splitscreen multiplayer are enough to please fans.
Final Verdict: 7.0
Reviewed on PS4.
Dakar 18 is available now on PS4, Xbox One, PC.
A copy of Dakar 18 was provided by the publisher.