Review – Dakar Desert Rally
Reviewing Dakar Desert Rally, the brand new rally raid racing game based on the world’s most famous event not actually set in the titular capital of Senegal, feels completely different than when I reviewed its predecessor way back in 2018. Back then, rally games weren’t exactly at their peak. WRC and V-Rally games from that era weren’t doing that well critically and commercially, for instance. Those games were meant for expert players, giving zero craps about accessibility options. Nowadays, a newcomer can easily pick up and play the latest WRC and Dirt, so the devs at Saber Porto had to go back to the drawing board and deliver a game that could be played by newbies and experts alike. Oh, and take advantage of the power of the PS5, somehow.
The result? Well, a massive improvement over the previous Dakar game, that’s for certain. It’s not like Dakar Desert Rally is flawless, or even remotely close to competing with the latest (and pristine) WRC games. Although, I was pleasantly surprised with the sheer amount of content available to players. More importantly, I was impressed with how accessible this game is, especially when compared to Dakar 18, one of the least newcomer-friendly racing games I have ever played.
Dakar 18 was difficult to control. Unless you had access to a steering wheel, all controller-bound control settings were stiff and clunky to deal with. It made the game severely intimidating to all but the most hardcore of racing fans. Meanwhile, WRC, for instance, once a really intimidating franchise as well, was adding new physics options and gameplay features to ease its difficulty for newbies. Dakar Desert Rally does the same as well, not only with more responsive controls, but also by adding new difficulty and simulation options.
There are simulation presets that essentially turn Dakar Desert Rally into a game as easy to swallow as a WRC from a few years ago. The difference being that its physics are still a long way from becoming as decent as those featured in Nacon’s main racing series. With the sheer amount of vehicles available to you, Dakar Desert Rally basically lets you decide your favorite means of transportation right at the beginning of your career, resulting in a career mode that doesn’t feel anywhere near as frustrating as its predecessor’s. That doesn’t make Dakar Desert Rally a “pick up and play” racing game, and its controls are still a bit janky due to the aforementioned physics issues, but it’s a massive improvement regardless.
You’ll be in it for the long run, as there aren’t quick-play options. Dakar Desert Rally is all about its ginormous campaign mode, and most importantly, leveling up enough times in order to overload your garage with different kinds of vehicles. The more races you complete, the more experience points you acquire, which can be exchanged for new vehicles and slots in your garage. You can also acquire more prized vehicles, usually classic ones like a 1980’s Peugeot, by completing a few challenges here and there.
One of the main improvements you’ll notice in Dakar Desert Rally is its presentation. It’s a gorgeous game, taking advantage of the PS5’s hardware to render some beautiful locales, but another thing worth praising is the Saudi landscape itself. It’s not just about dunes, as you’re also going to rally on beaches, savannas, and even some snowy mountains. I did not know snow existed in Saudi Arabia, and it was a game that ended up proving me wrong. That said, the game’s performance still has a ways to go. For the most part, it’s a stable 60fps, but the framerate drops when things get too hectic onscreen. It’s not as bad as Dakar 18‘s terrible framerate, thankfully enough.
I commend Dakar Desert Rally for being a lot more polished and accessible than its predecessor, but it’s still a hard game to sell to a wide audience. Don’t worry, the game itself is actually pretty good, despite its technical issues, but it is a very niche rallying game that pales in comparison to its vast amount of competitors when you put them side by side. Maybe a follow-up will add a quick play mode and fix its technical issues. As it stands, it’s janky and still brutal towards newcomers, but it’s a step in the right direction for the series.
Dakar Desert Rally is absolutely gorgeous, but it is prone to some framerate issues every now and then.
Despite the occasional wonky physics and framerate hiccups, the controls and gameplay have been vastly improved when compared to the previous Dakar outing from Saber Interactive. There are different gameplay presets depending on your favorite playstyle and experience with rallying games.
The great voice acting is something I was already expecting from a game centered around having a navigator alongside you. I wasn’t expecting for an epic soundtrack to accompany me during races as well, however.
Fun Factor: 7.5
A noticeable improvement over the previous Dakar game. More content, more control and physics options, more modes in general. It’s a bit janky at times, and it’s still brutal towards newcomers, but it’s a step in the right direction for the series.
Final Verdict: 7.5
Dakar Desert Rally is available now on PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series S/X, and PC.
Reviewed on PS5.
A copy of Dakar Desert Rally was provided by the publisher.