Dakar 18 (PC) Review

By Tomas Barry 13.10.2018

Review for Dakar 18 on PC

Developed by Bigmoon Entertainment and published by Deep Silver, Dakar 18 is a suitably ambitious project for a formidable brand of rallying. The Dakar Rally is a famous rally raid event that has been held annually by the Amuary Sport Organisation, since 1978. This highly demanding off-road endurance race sees competitors navigate through massive cross-country courses, clocking upwards of 500 miles per day on some stages. It features four vehicle classes - cars, trucks, motorbikes, and quads - and is viewed by most manufacturers as the ultimate test of their vehicles' durability. Suffice it to say, then, that the Dakar Rally is a unique challenge that asks much more of its drivers than just decent pace and good car control. For Bigmoon Entertainment, the challenge of authentically representing this event for the first time ever, seems an equally daunting task. Has it managed to bring it home with Dakar 18?

For those who aren't fans of the race series itself, it takes some time to acclimatise to the formula of Dakar 18. It's a unique racing title, that can't be directly compared to anything else due to its uncommon form and structure. In terms of the driving experience, since the driver is tasked with negotiating through a variety of off-road terrains, it's not dissimilar to the likes of DiRT Rally and V-Rally 4. However, this is free-form by its nature, rather than linear. In addition, the actual handling model is a lot less detailed, so drivers seldom feel like they are driving on a knife-edge in the same way as in track races. Instead, the sense of thrill is primarily conveyed through the unique parameters of the discipline. The real challenge lies in digesting the co-driver's instructions to hit the waypoints, not getting lost, avoiding environmental hazards, like sinkholes, and generally keeping your vehicle intact. This leads to a racing experience with a different emphasis, and a different type of flow.

Screenshot for Dakar 18 on PC

Is it successful? Yes and no. Once adjusted to the expectations of Dakar 18, it can be an engrossing experience. The open-world environment, in which each stage is set, is certainly expansive in scope. Tearing across the Pampas grasslands of Argentina, winding through the Andes mountains of Peru, and snaking through the Atacama Desert of Bolivia, during a full-length Dakar Rally, is rewarding in and of itself. However, what really livens the experience are the survivalist ventures it organically throws up; for example, mid-way through a stage, the player might come across a fellow competitor stuck in a mud-pond, whom you can sportingly tow out of trouble. Whilst playing on intermediate and expert difficulty settings, which removes aids such as waypoint markers on the compass, players may also become genuinely lost, requiring them to re-establish their position via the Dakar roadbook, which has been faithfully recreated.

However, the problem with Dakar 18 is that it's too much of a missed opportunity. While it does succeed in capturing the unique pacing and problem-solving aspects of the Dakar Rally, too much of that is in diluted form. Bigmoon Entertainment stated that it wanted to produce a simulation of the event, one that proper competitors could possibly even train with. However, even when set to its highest difficulty, Dakar 18 falls considerably short of that goal. It feels as though a lot of energy and resources that should have been dedicated to capturing the finer details of the discipline were instead earmarked for ensuring the experience remained accessible for all audiences. This is a great shame, and not just because it means proper fans miss out on some of the more nuanced elements. When playing on the lowest difficulty, Dakar 18 is reduced to a 'follow-the-checkpoint' extravaganza, which will quickly bore the lower end of the target audience. This means that the compromises were rather pointless.

Screenshot for Dakar 18 on PC

It would have been nice if Dakar 18 had encompassed more RPG-like elements into its core experience. This could have helped to emphasise its navigational and survivalist qualities, which in its current form aren't so well-realised and could be lost on the more casual side of its demographic. Having to manage dizziness in the high altitude of Bolivia or dehydration in the heat of the desert, would have provided an extra layer to the experience, which would have made it feel a lot more complete and representative. As it stands, it's just not as engaging or nuanced as it should be minute to minute, considering that the main goal was a simulation. Consequently, the experience feels too leisurely, and is only really broken up when the player gets lost and is tasked with re-establishing the current location and direction of travel. The next iteration would do well to invest more in this domain. Considering the Dakar Rally is mostly comprised of amateur entrants, its single-player experience could also have emphasised the road from rookie to pro far more by implementing an upgrade system.

The other major area where the title lets itself down is handling and physics. Whether controlling a car or a quad, the vehicles are lifeless and largely indistinguishable. Despite claims to the contrary, Dakar 18 is an arcade experience in this respect. The driving could have been so much more rewarding with a greater level of detail, and more simulative qualities, but they are simply not present in the handling behaviour. This is particularly true of the bikes, which are strangely twitchy when airborne and don't require the care they should. The physics themselves are disappointing, too. Vehicles can topple and roll if you are stupidly aggressive, but launch over a sand dune at an angle and it almost always re-centres in the air, landing perfectly planted, even on gradients. It should be far more punishing in this regard, providing a more dynamic sense of risk vs. reward for aggressive driving. Additionally, whether playing with a wheel and pedals or a pad, driving on different terrain doesn't feel as varied as it should.

Screenshot for Dakar 18 on PC

These issues come full circle to the major problem with Dakar 18. It sells itself as a simulator, but it's overly forgiving in too many departments, making it more akin to an arcade experience. It's strange that the developer has embraced arcade qualities where it suits, such as in the physics and handling department, but then fails to make use of the greater freedoms such a style affords. This would have helped the title a lot, particularly in terms of its longevity. Despite being so large, Dakar 18 is very bare on content. Other than re-doing the same full-length rally raid, where the checkpoints never change, and a treasure hunt mode where you re-run stages seeking out collectibles, its replay-value is limited to split-screen and online multiplayer. With such a massive world to explore, it would have made sense for explore mode to feature a wide variety of objectives and challenges. Unfortunately, that's not the case, much to the detriment of the game, overall.

The last persistently annoying issue this faces is performance related. Despite testing Dakar 18 on more than adequate hardware, the game suffers from several performance issues. There is a lot of stuttering and persistent frame-drops, specifically in areas with plenty of environmental details. Dropping down various settings in graphics only somewhat alleviates the experience, as well, which is very disappointing, considering they were never that impressive to begin with. There are also quite a few minor bugs experienced, such as shrubbery passing through the interior of vehicles when using the first person, and textures on smaller assets staying low-res until getting very close to them. On top of this, the PC version sports some very long loading times, which apparently is also the case on consoles. Binding buttons on a wheel is also problematic, and seems to be forgotten when next booting up. In this regard, Dakar 18 seems very neglected and rushed.

Screenshot for Dakar 18 on PC

Cubed3 Rating

5/10
Rated 5 out of 10

Average

There's some cross-country joy to be found in Dakar 18, but it could have been much more rewarding and successful considering the unique brand of rallying it represents. It is fun endlessly launching over sand dunes, hopping out of the car to be sporting by towing a competitor out of a jam, and finding one's way back on track after getting lost. Unfortunately, the fundamentals are out of whack. Vehicle classes are not distinct, terrain all feels the same to drive on, and both the handling and physics are more arcade than they are simulation, dampening what could have been a very visceral experience. The co-driver is infuriatingly annoying, his instructions often being confusing and ill-timed, whilst the graphics are not up to the standards of the genre. Many technical issues are also present, which reduces the sense of polish. There's fantastic potential here, but Dakar 18 as it stands is just average.

Developer

Bigmoon Entertainment

Publisher

Deep Silver

Genre

Driving

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  5/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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