Dakar-18-Review Dakar 18 Review

   11/10/2018 at 15:29       Chris OToole       0 COMMENTS. - Score 3/5
 - PS4, Xbox One, Racing, Rally

Review by Rich Boulton.

 

The Dakar rally presents a fascinating challenge to translate into a game. The annual event covers thousands of miles over 11 days, with a variety of vehicles across harsh, open terrain and incredibly long individual stages. A great deal of the challenge is in the endurance itself, vehicle repairs, navigational challenges. Developers Big Moon have not chosen the path of least resistance in releasing Dakar 18. They could have simply created a slightly off-kilter rally game with quads, bikes, buggies, cars, and trucks. Instead they have chosen to share something far more ambitious, flawed, and intriguing.

Start the game up and you are treated to a spoken introduction by your co-driver, who begins to explain the basic concepts of the Dakar. You are to follow a series of GPS waypoints, instructions to lead you toward these are shown in the roadbook on screen, and delivered by your co-driver on a constant basis. The roadbook itself is split into a kilometre split, the ‘tulip’ which gives basic instructions relative to landmarks (if there are any) and ‘cap’ heading (degrees indicating which direction you should be pointed, and other information about the waypoint and upcoming warnings. At first this is all delivered in a clear, calm manner and makes remarkable sense, even for those of us who have no idea how the Dakar works. Then it continues, and continues, and your brain melts until there is only a dance of word-like sounds emerging from the TV speakers, carrying no meaning at all. Turns out the Dakar rally, and competing in it, is incredibly complicated, and you are receiving a crash course in all of the fundamentals in fast firing audible format.

Thankfully what follows is a series of qualifying stages that walk you through some of the concepts in action. To begin with your instructions will be limited to following the path, and by path you must understand that we are referring to some tracks in the sand. Soon though you will be asked to veer off to the side after the next waypoint, off the track and out into the untouched desert. Turn at the correct time, and point yourself toward the correct cap heading, otherwise you may find yourself travelling in entirely the wrong direction. The waypoints are close enough together in these stages that you won’t go too far wrong. Repeat these reckless behaviours in some of the real stages though and you can easily become lost in the vast wilderness.

Here is the game proper, and the reason you may want to pay attention. The way to win in Dakar 18 is not to put your foot down and get to the next waypoint at the highest speed possible. Attempting this will only get you lost and frustrated. Your orientation skills are what is tested most - how well can you listen to the instructions, read the tulip notes, keep a careful eye on your heading and any nearby landmarks. Notice there is no mention of driving yet, the actual act of propelling your vehicle forward is almost perfunctory. It’s a new experience in ‘racing’ games, and at its best extremely compelling. The world available here is incredibly massive. Forget about your Assassin’s Creed map, this will dwarf it. It’s mostly empty of course, but that’s the point. Follow a series of waypoints into the middle of the desert, and eventually you will crest the top of a dune, carefully dialling into the right cap. Doing this, at numerous points I felt something approaching awe, a nebulous feeling of being overwhelmed by the unending void of sand before me. It’s a melancholic feeling that you could fall into like a deep abyss, until you try getting up that next bloody hill, or your co-driver suddenly starts yelling “THIS IS NOT THE RIGHT CAP” into your ear.

For all its success imbuing the sense of adventure, Dakar 18 too often punctures its own emotional experience with its flaws. First off is the handling. As mentioned the driving itself is not the star of the show, but neither does it simply fade into the background, not always. Vehicles are extremely twitchy, forcing me to drop the sensitivity down considerably to make it playable at all. In all fairness after a while you can tease some nuance out of throttle feathering to keep momentum diagonally along a steep dune, for example, but for the most part you will only take notice of the handling when it is causing you frustration. Similarly the co-driver gets very excitable, and there are almost no settings to amend the tone or behaviour to assist in maintaining your calm. You may start to drive around a hill and simply be yelled at, or you may veer off course for a good minute before receiving feedback, which at that point is no more than a growl to let you know you messed up bud, and you should probably turn around, or give up and go home because you’re a failure and brought shame upon your house. I came away with the suspicion that for real life Dakar, the relationship and communication between driver and navigator is paramount, and it’s an aspect that the game understandably struggles to replicate convincingly.

More basic flaws are also to be noted. Stages can be incredibly long - some being an hour of your time. These are ironically the best examples of the pure experience Dakar 18 can deliver, but with no mid-stage save it shows a lack of respect for your time. Family? Responsibilities? Sorry, no Dakar for you. There’s also very limited wheel support. On the Xbox my Thrustmaster TMX did not register at all, and support forums are full of complaints about the lack of support. It’s a real shame as this may have helped the awkward handling, and would certainly add to the immersion at the very least.

So in the end this is a tough game, it’s a niche product anyway, and really shows its budgetary constraints. What is clear though is the vision and ambition present. If you can work around the issues, there’s a truly unique experience here. While I can’t recommend this particular iteration without reservation, I sincerely hope the team get another opportunity with an increased budget to refine this further, they definitely deserve it. In the meantime, if you are a racing game fan who needs to feel a bit smaller in the face of nature, pick this up and meditatively contemplate your place in the universe while you drive a giant truck up an even more giant sand dune.

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Better late than never, eh Ror?
 
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