The fruit of three years of gestation by the Saber Interactive studio, the Dakar Desert Rally represents the culmination of a car license that has been sought for many years. For this comeback, the developers have gone all out and this new iteration is probably one of the most beautiful surprises of the new school year for mechanics enthusiasts.
A gigantic map, various game modes, vehicles of different types, official affiliation with France Télévisions… the ambition behind the Dakar Desert Rally is palpable from the tutorial! Like a Forza Horizon 5, Saber Interactive protégés propel the player on a crazy desert journey (but no less sublime with its oases, rocky outcrops and sand as far as the eye can see) where car driving, motorcycle drifting and the dizzying jumps on a quad From the opening minutes, the tone is set and we quickly guess that Saber Interactive’s new game has something under the hood.
A less airtight racing game
Without being a bad guy, Dakar 18 showed very few qualities to win in rally-raid terrain. Even if the discipline is far from making video game news headlines, the title lined up too many flaws, both visual and gameplay, to make an impression. Aware of the shortcomings of the original, the team at Saber Porto has completely revised their copy, taking care to adapt it to both connoisseurs and novice audiences. After South America, the franchise is packing up in Saudi Arabia for more than thirty official stages! Enough to rediscover the sensations of the 2020, 2021 and 2022 editions of the discipline!
In its previous iteration, Dakar struggled to convince, due to outdated graphics and slightly breathless gameplay. And, above all, he had chosen to be particularly elitist, leaving many players on the sidelines. This is not the case with the Dakar Desert Rally. For this edition, the developers have integrated a Sport mode that allows novice drivers to concentrate on the road and on the competitors, without having to worry about the roadbook, the famous navigation system that allows them to orient themselves in an unknown environment and define a route. In short, have a real arcade approach and simplified navigation! Thanks to the addition of this mode, beginners can have fun in the Dakar Desert Rally enjoying the fun of racing and sumptuous scenery. Cars, motorcycles, quads, trucks, SSV… the sensations are there and this supposed choice of Saber opens the discipline to as many people as possible.
An exciting experience for fans.
But purists rest assured: Dakar Desert Rally offers a professional mode (as well as a simulation mode unlockable from level 25) that is based on the same realism as Dakar 18. In short, we find everything that makes the charm of the rally-raid where mastering the roadbook is essential to get your bearings and find the different waypoints (points of passage). By giving their game such a geographical reach, the developers have envisioned scenarios of incredible density and it doesn’t take much to get lost. Then it is essential to identify the mileage, the direction to take, the possible obstacles and their danger, etc. On a motorcycle or quad it is even worse because there is no co-pilot to warn you! Needless to say, you don’t become a rally raid specialist in a few minutes. It takes practice, analyzing the dangers indicated in the roadbook and adapting to the co-driver’s words, which sometimes completely disorient you! “Straight over the tracks” when a curve is looming, it’s not easy at all to understand when you’re just starting out!
The developers have worked the reactions of the vehicles and the different elevations like never before, so it is not uncommon to be surprised with an orientation that is not good. Everything has been done to make you believe it and it is no exaggeration to say that there is a bit of Forza Horizon in this Dakar Desert Rally, and even of the new generation Sega Rally in the terrain deformation (although this does not affect the grip). The three years of development have not been too long for the experience to be as exciting as possible and it is based on sacrifice, but also on concentration, that we gain experience points, DP (Dakar Points) and the first places on the podium. This accumulated experience allows you to power up your vehicle, repair it between each stage and, above all, expand your garage with ever faster cars. However, it must be taken into account that the Dakar Desert Rally, despite the Sport mode, is still quite a demanding title, both in driving (although it is a little more flexible than before) and in collisions. Crashes really punish! Suffice it to say that you have to adapt your speed and constantly keep an eye on the navigation elements. And in the end, all the advantages of Dakar Desert Rally make the game really addictive!
Unfortunately, there are several things that bothered us. The first, and it is certainly the one that jumps out immediately, is the presence of untimely slowdowns. The latter are also well noticeable during thunderstorms and other storms, when the particles light up the screen. The other concern comes from an artificial intelligence suffering from “rail” syndrome and not seeing your vehicle at all. If it gives the illusion of being rather reactive and realistic, not a single race, or nearly so, happens without a competitor doing anything, to the point of attempting a round trip in the middle of a corner! When you get to the front, and knowing that the game is very hard, there is enough to send the controller flying across the room. Finally, the handling will not please everyone, thanks to a steering that is sometimes too sensitive, sometimes too heavy. The finding is even more striking on motorcycles and quads. Obviously, over time, we get used to it, but we can’t help but regret the sometimes random reactions of our cars.
Saudi Arabia is beautiful
Sand dunes as far as the eye can see, turquoise waters, majestic mountains… Saudi Arabia, reproduced on a 1:5 scale, is a country of great diversity. It’s simple, Dakar Desert Rally is one of the most generous track racing games. We are talking about 430,000 square kilometers, an area larger than Germany, Japan, Paraguay or even the Democratic Republic of the Congo! Obviously, with a map like this, the landscape looks huge! And to give his offspring even more majesty, the Saber developers have integrated a day/night cycle, but also real-time time changes. In rainy weather, in a snowstorm or under a scorching sun, the game offers an absolutely magnificent picture! When you’re caught in gusty winds in the middle of a thunderstorm or sandstorm, the effect is shocking!
More than enough to test all 150 vehicles in the game, either online or solo! The music, very cinematic, is also quite nice. In terms of visual and sound production, it’s a certainty: Saber did an amazing job!
There remains a question that will bother more than one. As it is, can we talk about an open world? No, for the simple and good reason that we go from stage to stage and there is no mode that allows you to move freely around the map. Also, the modes are still very light, as there is only the career and online free mode. But beware, free simply means that you can customize your games. At the moment, and pending the arrival of possible extensions, we will have to settle above all for the career mode and hope that there are many players online. Still, for anyone interested in the discipline and wanting a game worthy of the name, Dakar Desert Rally is by far the best option. Not everything is perfect (AI, few game modes, no local multiplayer…), but the gap that separates this game from Dakar 18 is huge. And if you can, try the Simulation mode (speed limits, professional navigation, etc.), it’s worth the detour!
- A map as gigantic as it is sublime
- Varied landscape (sand dunes, beaches, mountains, etc.)
- Excellent sensations, even at the wheel.
- The best Dakar licensed game
- The day/night cycle, the changing weather
- Lots of views (including the awesome helicopter view)
- Sport mode for beginners
- Official license (drivers, vehicles, logos…)
- Fairly regular slowdowns in Resolve mode
- It is not an open world in the sense of “total freedom”
- The bike can be a real soap
- Not enough game modes
- An AI often picking up
- No local multiplayer
- The co-pilot far from reliable all the time
Despite the lack of content, the perfectible driving and the unsophisticated opponents, the Dakar Desert Rally comes to dust off the automotive genre with style. Based on the sumptuous landscapes of Saudi Arabia, Saber Interactive’s game shows remarkable achievement and should delight those looking for a racing game with a difference. If the developers have maintained the Dakar 18 requirement (with co-driver, compass, roadbook, etc.), now it is possible to try the Sport mode and its arcade approach. Thanks to these additions, the Dakar Desert Rally opens up to a wider audience without isolating itself from the purists. With its successful impression of speed, its sumptuous panoramas and effects, and its huge map, there’s plenty to amuse yourself while waiting for possible extensions. Without a doubt, this fall’s automotive surprise!
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