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Dakar Desert Rally Review – Authentic Racing

Dakar Desert Rally, an open world rally racing game by Saber Porto, released on October 4, 2022 on Xbox, PlayStation and PC. It’s a fantastic and exciting replication of the world-famous Dakar Rally. Racing is intense in the arid desert of Saudi Arabia as we race on tracks from the official 2020, 2021 and 2022 Dakar races in amazingly detailed vehicles such as cars, trucks, motorcycles, trucks and SSVs. It’s one of the better racing games I have played this year with some minor niggling issues that can easily be overlooked as you race through vast sand dunes, beaches, and rocky outcrops in stunning detail.

If you know more about the actual Dakar Rally, you will appreciate the connection between stages of a race. You have a starting point and race to the first staging area. In the real race, a massive bivouac would be set up that is like a moving village, giving respite for weary racers and a chance to repair and tune your vehicle before commencing the next stage. In between races in Dakar Desert Rally, it gives you the chance to repair and tune your vehicle, but it glosses over the real-life experiences in the bivouac. Still, this is a game after all and for those that have little interest in the real race, this is still a great rally racing experience.

Each event can be completed with any of the five vehicle types in the game, though if you complete each event with all vehicles, you will unlock a new vehicle for your garage. Once you choose a vehicle, you must complete all stages to complete that event. There are achievements for finishing first in each stage of each type of event. But first you will need to complete a qualifying race in each vehicle type, and at the start of an event you can choose from two game modes initially, sport and professional, with a third realistic mode unlocked at XP level 25. Sport mode plays more like most other racing games where you start on a grid with all other racers, there is a visual waypoint in the distance, arrows on the ground show which direction you need to turn on tight corners, and route info cues pop up in the top middle of the screen. However, with the waypoints being so large and visual, you can mostly ignore the section queue information.

If you want a more realistic and true-to-form race like the real Dakar Rally, professional mode is where you will want to start. You will have the section roadbook cues with information such as checkpoint direction, compass degrees, and then visual cues such as rocks, trees, waterways, and so on. However, there are no waypoint icons in the distance nor arrows on the ground to indicate which way to turn. This is where I started given my interest in the real race. Boy was it a tough introduction to the game! Just finishing the first qualification race in professional mode took me at least 6 attempts as I learned to interpret the route info cue cards and gain some muscle memory for the twists and turns of the course.

Racing in sand dunes means there are a lot of tyre tracks and generally these are a good guide as to which direction to head, however as each stage segment overlaps the area, you will need to listen to the navigator telling you to leave tracks or turn sharply now. Then each successive race after that took several attempts to learn the race enough to complete it in first place. There are also dynamic weather effects such as sandstorms, heavy rain, snow, and thunderstorms, so it gets increasingly difficult to be able to see the tracks, let alone obstacles up ahead. Ensuring you understand the roadbook cues will get you through.

Controls in Dakar Desert Rally are generally fluid and responsive on the Xbox Series X and PC, though the performance on Xbox One had slight stuttering which was enough to throw you into rocks or trees on corners. The other contentious control mechanism is when having to break suddenly. This usually locks your wheels up which was an initial frustration. I understand that at 180km and in soft sand, breaking so hard and trying to turn isn’t going to be pretty, but it did take some getting used to in the game. Turning while tapping the brake or just letting go of the accelerator early before the turn seemed to work best for me. Though when in sport mode, I was usually undone by another vehicle turning the corner at the same time taking us both out. This resets your racer back a bit but without penalty other than having to do some catch up racing to the pack.

I do like the fact you can choose to tackle each event in a different vehicle if you wish to break up the gameplay. Some events have four stages each taking about 6-8 minutes, whereas other more difficult events may only have two stages, but each of those stages took me 11-14 minutes to complete, depending on how many crashes I did. It’s a good enough chunk of gameplay in particular vehicles that racing the same sections of stages doesn’t get too repetitive. I often switched between sport mode and professional mode, depending on my mood if I wanted an easier gameplay session or more focused. The player is certainly given a lot of freedom and options to play it their way.

Overall, Dakar Desert Rally is a fantastic and authentic rally racing game aimed at fans of the great Dakar Rally. If you know nothing about the real race, there’s plenty of great rally racing to be had here and you will have plenty of freedom of choice in both vehicle and races to attempt. For hardcore fans of the rally wanting a true Dakar experience, locking the hardest difficult behind level 25 XP may be a frustrating for some, but it’s well worth learning the nuances of the game through the time it takes to get to that level.

Dakar Desert Rally is out now on PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X, and PC.


Written by: @ChrisJInglis

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