The Dakar Rally is a long, gruelling endurance race that tests even the strongest drivers. Darkar 18 does pretty much the same thing to gamers, so it’s certainly realistic in that regard.
Bigmoon Entertainment’s Dakar 18 is a huge open-world reenactment of the famous rally. It offers the chance to drive across vast and different terrains in a wide variety vehicles which require fuel and careful driving in order to make it through to the finish.
Unlike other driving games Dakar isn’t about driving on a set route to get to the finish as fast as possible. There’s no road, for a start, and no markers between checkpoints you need to hit. Your co-driver issues instructions which, at first, seem like some random route with a bunch of hills in the way, and there are some hastily scrawled notes on the bottom of the screen that you’ll have to learn to read if you want to stay ahead. Instead of racing, the main aim is to actually get to the end at all. Every bump or jump can ruin your suspension or break your wheel, sand can play havoc with your engine, too.
The terrains mirror the real Dakar races, often taking place in desert or scrubland with the occasional tarmac road making an appearance as if to remind you that a more modern world still exists out there somewhere. For the most part, though, you’ll be spending near hour long stretches navigating around large sand dunes or over rain-swept muddy hills with your bonnet loose and your wipers going full blast as you pray you don’t get stuck in the mud again and hoping to see the next checkpoint or the finish line.
All of this would be fine if it wasn’t for the developers seemingly unable to make up their mind about whether this is a sim or an arcade game. While straddling the line works for some games, such as the Forza series, this is a game that would benefit from a working suspension or realistic tyre physics. The damage engine is equally ambivalent, possibly because you just wouldn’t reach the end of a race without crawling around dunes and hills instead of leaping over them.
Graphically, Dakar 18 also needs to do some catching up. It’s come on little since the last generation and looks a little out of place against other driving games, even though the majority of the scenery is naturally bleak and featureless. It’s no painting, though it does get the job done and at least the action is smooth.
Dakar 18 should really be a fun, original racing game with features that no other game has but the technical side and the lack of detail let it down. If you love the real Dakar race and want something that feels as similar as possible then you may still want to take a look, as there’s still nothing like it elsewhere, but for everyone else it’s a bit of a missed opportunity.