The Dakar Rally is a motorsport event taking place in Saudi Arabia that tests both raw speed and navigational skills and endurance. Cars, trucks, quads, bikes and buggies blast along tracks, plunge over dunes and take tight turns. The stages span hundreds of kilometers. It’s a testament to the craziness and arrogance of humans – when we see an endless desert, it doesn’t matter if we skip stage 10 because all you have to do is select it from the menu! Dakar Desert Rally from Sabre Interactive is a step up from their 2018 game which I was thankful for since I wasn’t all that enthused last year. This game can be rewarding for players who are willing to put in the time but there are still some rough edges that keep it from being truly amazing.
I’ll start by admitting that I’m probably a bit biased, since I’ve been playing Dakar Desert Rally for many hours. However, after a few dozen hours of crashing over dunes and getting lost in the depths of Saudi Arabia’s vast desert…I can’t remember how long it would take to get back to where I was before my progress was wiped. Apparently this is not too uncommon. This happened to me not only once but twice-both times after a hotfix that had promised to help solve this issue (and save my data). After struggling with my game for a while and trying to reload backup saves, I gave up. My progress in Dakar is gone and with it my faith in the game. Hopefully someday soon the developers will fix it so we can have our faith restored. Until then, this will be one bad taste that remains in my mouth until I eventually go back to play again, because there are actually many awesome things about Dakar Desert Rally as well.
While you can’t get lost in Sport Mode–there are big, pulsing checkpoints and directions at the top of the screen telling you which way to go–it’s a mode for those like me who don’t know a lot about Dakar Rally. It’s not essential, but it gave me good practice for the other modes. I recommend Sport Mode for people who want to learn about how vehicles handle or as a warm-up before taking on Professional Mode.
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Sabre Porto developed this application
Sabre Interactive published this article
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Professional mode is an excellent level of difficulty. Not only do you need to be fast, but you also have to navigate through checkpoints, compass readings, and the Road Book. Successfully completing this challenge depends on your ability to pick up clear instructions from your co-pilot within the car, truck or motorcycle class. In bikes and quads, you’re entirely on your own with no voice feedback except for what’s written in the Road Book. For instance: “In 56.11KM turn left off-track to CAP 291, dips.” You’ll eventually be able to interpret the instructions in your head as if they were spoken aloud by a co-pilot but you need time and practice before that becomes automatic. Dakar Mode is tough enough already when it requires skills in a foreign language; Professional mode makes it twice as difficult because it’s all written in French and comes at a higher degree of difficulty.
Following a set route is easy in other racing games. But the Dakar Desert Rally is different. You never know what the next turn will look like, or who’s going to greet you when you get there. Learning how to find your way back on track or when it’s safe to take a shortcut is key to your success. It may not be fast, but it’s fun when you successfully get through a tough section. That feeling of accomplishment can’t be rivaled by any other, even if it took you hours longer than all your competitors. In the Dakar, good times come from attention to detail and speed. Careful, mindful speed – because mid-race repairs are costly and anything major will drop you out of the top eight and out of the event
The one thing that frustrated me about the navigation system was the issues with the co-pilot. Sometimes his voice blends into the sound of cars passing or other numbers being announced. This can make it tough to hear which direction to turn on occasion. The worst thing is when he gives you wrong directions, which means you may end up driving in circles for a long time without realizing it. Obviously this is unrealistic, and I could see how people would enjoy it as a realistic twist on navigating (it’s hard to read notes while your spleen is trying to come out through your skull). Ultimately though, I found the co-pilot’s wrong directions created distrust and made me want to turn off all notifications and just use the map instead since it never misled me.
Both the Sports and Professional modes heavily compress the distances, which I really dislike. In order to make events shorter, they don’t adjust properly to the changes, so your kilometer count goes much, much faster than it is supposed to. Until you get used to this, it can make judging distances tricky because the right turn in 4km you have been told about suddenly comes upon you.
The most authentic Dakar experience is Simulation Mode, which removes mid-race saves, bumps up the AI difficulty, and adds speed restrictions. Stages go from ten minutes to an hour, not as gruelling as the real thing but still tiring. A deep sigh of relief goes through me when I reach the end of a long stage–just like Dakar fans will feel. And yet this mode is locked for players until they’re at level 25. That’s because it takes about 6-10 hours to get there–rarely an enjoyable experience for poor newcomers who’ll likely be turned off by a game with no menu screen or splash screen. It would have made more sense to simply disable Simulation mode from being viewed without warning gamers that it’s not for beginners.
Fortunately, Dakar Desert Rally isn’t just a flat-out simcade. Even when you’re racing giant sand dunes that would make an actual Dakar racer cautious, Dakar Desert Rally continues cranking up the speed for your in-game vehicle until it matches the real thing’s brutality. While purists might hate it, I had a good time with the simplicity of driving without worrying too much about a real desert racer’s stamina and endurance needed to stay alive on stage.
You can drive in five different modes; cars, trucks, bicycles, quads or buggies. All of these have very different handling styles and it would be hard to juggle mastering them all. Most racing games only highlight one of these vehicles, but Dakar Sabre is an officially-licensed product with a focus on two wheels and four. The results are mixed: for the most part, cars and trucks handle well, with the trucks being the best; they feel solid and heavy when you power up some high dunes, and there’s a moment at the top when it seems like your engine is about to give out….but suddenly you roll down the other side like a maniac. Their weight makes them the most reliable of all vehicles, whereas bikes are prone to sudden sliding without being able to stop it. You will never be able to anticipate what will cause this slip because I slid over 150 times without being able to tell what was going to make me slide in the first place.
Quad bikes are easily the worst of the bunch, and their seemingly unstable nature has one contributing factor: they’re driver-only. The front brake is not strong enough to deal with slippery surfaces, so if you get in a slide, it’s difficult to control unless you have a large steering radius. The handling can also be changed for more stability by angling the wheels slightly outward. Some changes to the tuning will help you, but your best bet is hope for the best!
In general, bikes and quads control more consistently than the Dakar. Still, there’s a lot of risk involved. The counterargument is that the game is accurately depicting the Dakar. Even driving at full speed on sand is risky, and just an incidental bump could result in a slide or death-tumble as if you were shoved into a washing machine and left to yourself. I think that this argument has substantial merit, but I also think it doesn’t work well in a videogame. You don’t have real feedback like you do in reality when it comes to controlling your vehicle and understanding what your body is doing-the weight shifting, tyres gripping, small changes in terrain-without it, the slides in Dakar can feel completely random because they seem to be caused by nothing at all without any feedback on why it happened or how to correct it. It can be frustrating, and so most people’s natural reaction would be to slow down but the speedy nature of the game doesn’t allow for anything more than that.
Overall, I found it hard to get a handle on the handling. It was most enjoyable with the trucks because of their stability, but I found the cars and buggies to be a lot of fun with tweaking the handling and accepting the occasional random slide. While the bikes were fun, Saber clearly struggled to handle both two-wheeled and four-wheeled vehicles in the same game. Finally, I avoided quad bikes almost entirely.
Obviously, the career mode is where you go to get some serious racing done. It’s about as close to the basics as it gets. Of course, since it has a Dakar license, that makes sense. You do events and more unlock as you gain XP while Dakar Points act as your currency – this can be used on vehicle repairs or new vehicles . There’s also an unusual sponsor wheel, which appears after you win an event and will randomly award you with more Dakar Points or free vehicles. It’s an odd addition that doesn’t fit in with the rest of the game, and it doesn’t add enough for the time spent unlocking it. After all this, there isn’t much else to say about the career mode – other than it has plenty of racing enough for your time and the old vehicles unlocked give you a good reason to replay events.
Although the features promised to be part of the game prior to launch are well-optimized, they’re missing a heap of features that would have improved gameplay significantly. For example, some notable omissions are the Road Book editor (which would allow people to create and share levels) and replays — an essential feature for Dakar players who like to watch their own recordings. Additionally, the livery editor is also absent from this version of the game. Fortunately, these functionalities will come in a future update. Knowing that these missing things are on the way should help ease your concerns about Dakar Desert Rally at launch.
Though Dakar Desert Rally lacks a photo mode, it’s undeniably a gorgeous-looking game. When you think of rallies in Saudi Arabia, you probably picture one long stretch of sand, but it’s actually full of variety. This is important for Dakar Desert Rally’s visuals because although you will be staring at a landscape that makes your underpants uncomfortable, there are also greener areas, lush beaches and even some snow to experience. All of them look excellent and there’s almost something calming about seeing the desert spread out before you. You’ll start to feel like there isn’t anything to worry about when the sun starts sizzling the desert beneath your car–at least not until you realize whether exploding off that huge dune is going to throw your suspension off. The level detail on the vehicles is terrific, and the damage modeling is great too–you can really smash these beasts up until you limp across the finish line with a wheel missing.
I experience some difficulties running it smoothly. Overall though, I’m using a 1080ti which is a couple generations old compared to Nvidia’s newest graphics card. The 1080ti is still exceptional, but it does tend to struggle more. This can make getting high framerates difficult–although not impossible–but getting stability can be really tricky. My biggest problem is sharing the stages with other cars, which is why racing in Sport mode is the worst performance of the bunch. With Professional or higher, you spend less time trying to catch up with competitors and thus have a more stable framerate.
When I use the phrase “share,” I really mean it. The AI is way more aggressive than friends and family would be. They’ll often swerve into you at full speed – even if you’re on their side of the road! They can be dumb, too. It’s common to reach a tight turn only to find one car upside down, one stuck on a rock, and another inching its way through a cliff instead of going back. Simulation mode compensates for that by making them more dangerous to every other driver out there and increasing the rubber-banding effect that lets them get up to speed much faster or sometimes catch up with drivers who are ahead. There’s some work that needs to be done here, but you can always head into the basic online suite and face-off against real-life maniacs.
Wheel Support and Configurations for Dakar Desert Rally
An obvious question in this game is how it handles using a wheel, so I hooked up my Thrustmaster 248 and gave it a whirl. Although the T248 is listed as an officially supported wheel, I had trouble getting the settings dialled in. Turning the wheel even a little would result in a far deeper turn in the game, and I never quite managed to get 1:1 feel. Aside from that, the experience was…fine. Nothing mind-blowing; VR support would have been nice too.
Keep in mind also that some people are having issues with wheels not being registered at all or acting strangely (we have encountered similar problems). Do your research before purchasing Dakar Desert Rally if you intend on using a wheel and pedals.
There are many challenges that Dakar Desert Rally offers. While navigation can be difficult to master, it doesn’t take away from the rewarding experience. It’s nice when everything works, but unfortunately there are also some significant problems. The handling is poor and the AI lacks intelligence, in addition to other issues. For example, I lost all my progress because the game wanted me to wait 16 hours before playing again.
If Sabre Interactive can get into the engine of this beast and give it a good once-over, then Dakar Desert Rally could be good.