When DAKAR 18 was first revealed with a beautiful CGI trailer we had high hopes of a beautiful open world with dunes as far as the eye can see. As we learnt that the game had a map three times larger than The Crew 2 the excitement grew, so when DAKAR 18 showed up on the Rocket Chainsaw review table we quickly jumped in and started a career. DAKAR 18 brings a new type of racing to the current generation of gaming, and while other developers are heading in the direction of fast-paced action-packed explosiveness, Bigmoon Entertainment has created orienteering on wheels. This game is not for the feint hearted casual gamer, so put your helmet on and get your compass out because it’s time for some off-roading.
DAKAR 18 has five different vehicle types to choose from in cars, trucks, bikes, quads and SxS. Cars are the easiest vehicle to use and if you’re going to play through the main mode it’s recommended you use them for the first time. Trucks are big and heavy, slow moving, but we found they were pretty easy to handle as well, if not easier than the cars. The SxS vehicles look like Mars rovers, and with their single “Drive” gear can only travel about as fast as trucks. They’re pretty fun though, and a good alternative to cars.
Bikes and Quads on the other hand are a completely different story. We were looking forward to dirt-biking around Peru, Bolivia and Argentina but the bikes don’t handle particularly well. There are games from 20 years ago that have better dirt-bike handling than DAKAR 18 (Motocross Madness comes to mind) and while the game penalizes you heavily for misbehaving or damaging your vehicle which we’ll get in to later, you’re invincible on your bike. Crashing in to a wall at 140KPH causes you to fly off with hilarious ragdoll physics, but you simply stand up and brush yourself off and walk back to bike, which is always miraculously standing.
Quads were a complete nightmare to drive. We took them down to a beach where the sand was flat to make sure, and we just couldn’t get them to drive straight for more than 100 meters at a time before spinning out and doing a 180. This made them an awful choice of vehicle for basically anything you want to do in what is literally the largest open-world vehicular game ever made. While quads are known for being super dangerous and spinning out on basically any surface, we felt they should have been easier to handle in DAKAR 18.
Players are presented with three gameplay options in the main menu: Adventure, Multiplayer and Explore. Adventure is where you will embark on your DAKAR 18 career and makes up the core part of the game. There are three difficulty options, but the game practically forces you to start with Rookie. DAKAR 18 is by no means a game where difficulty is something that can be taken lightly. There’s no shame in playing the game on Rookie mode, as Competitor and Legend difficulties remove key features that assist you with your direction of travel. Rookie mode gives you an active compass that points you in the direction you need to go with a yellow marker.
There are no big checkpoint signs in DAKAR 18 as you traverse across South America, this is the authentic experience so while sometimes you might be told to expect a tire on the path or to drive along a fence-line, most of the time you need to use your orienteering skills to get by. Switching the difficulty up takes away your active compass and you’re left with basic compass directions that you must figure out yourself. If you get lost you can restart at your most recent checkpoint, and it’s also once again advised that you choose a car/truck/SxS so that you have a navigator passenger to assist you. The navigator is great in telling you when you’ve gone off-track, but sometimes his directions are not perfect.
Luckily DAKAR 18 is not about how fast you can win a race but is more focused on how carefully you can navigate the world. There’s no massive jumps off sand dunes here because you’ll badly damage or total your vehicle. If you break any part of your car then you get a whopping three-minute time penalty, meaning it’s better to be cautious over bumps and jumps than to gun it, as no shortcut is worth a three-minute penalty, let alone if multiple parts of your vehicle break. Players can also get disqualified for driving into pedestrians or getting stuck in water, so the moral of the story is DAKAR 18 is about driving carefully, not racing.
Adventure mode is made up of 14 locations each with a different number of stages. Each stage can vary from a few minutes up to an hour, with the longer ones being far more challenging when it comes to keeping your vehicle from breaking down. It’s a slow grind to progress through Adventure mode, but eventually the scenery begins to change as you head further south. DAKAR 18 seems to be more about the journey than completing the full rally though, and you never know what’s going to be over the next dune or around the next rock wall.
A great feature of DAKAR 18 is the ability to get out of the vehicle and walk around. There’s an animation for taking your helmet off and switching to a cap, waving your arms around to try and get help, and there’s also a tow feature where you can connect your vehicle to another one that’s stuck in mud and help pull them out. While this feature gets demonstrated in the tutorial, it’s extremely rare to have to do it in the open-world. Being able to get out of your vehicle is great in any car game, and we found in DAKAR 18 you can explore areas that you would otherwise have just driven past.
Given the vehicle you pick at the start of Adventure mode can’t be changed unless you restart your DAKAR 18 career, Multiplayer mode is a great way to try out the different vehicles. Here you will find online and split-screen modes, and fortunately when you go online you can choose any of the locations around the map regardless of whether you’ve unlocked them in Adventure mode. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find any online games and nobody joined us when we tried to host, so we were limited to split-screen which only allows you to do the rally and not the treasure hunt.
The third and final gameplay option is Explore mode which features Training, Tutorial and yes, Treasure Hunt mode. You complete the tutorial when you first start DAKAR 18 and here you can replay it, but the training mode is where players can hone in on their orienteering skills. If you’re unsure on how to read the maps and follow the directions, you can get refreshers here and be more confident in taking on the harder difficulties. Treasure Hunt mode is for players that like to explore, although it’s not too hard to gather the artifacts in each stage. The 14 parts of Adventure Mode are divided up here with two or three artifacts located in each, and this mode is where you will find the only map in the game. Luckily the map guides you directly to the vicinity of where the treasure is located, and this will usually be a town area or prominent location on the map. Once you reach the location you need to get out of your vehicle and look for little chests. It’s not really what we would call fun, but at least Treasure Mode adds something else to do in-game without the pressure of feeling lost or steering away from invisible checkpoints.
Visually DAKAR 18 has its ups and downs. While the environments are vast and varying, the draw distance on objects is very poor to the point of us wishing we reviewed the PC version so we could see how much it would max out. The frame-rate was jittery, and every now and then the game would flicker white. DAKAR 18 was far from the smooth and gorgeous experience that we saw in the first CGI trailer, and with games like Forza Horizon 4 and The Crew 2, our standards far exceed what DAKAR 18 offers. Camera angles were stock-standard except for one cool birds-eye view which simulated a helicopter overhead (and even makes it sound like you’re in one). This allowed for some pretty cool shots as you drive over dunes or maneuver through mud, but with no instant-replay and no photo mode the fun you can have with this angle was limited. The audio in the game also came across as basic, with limited vehicle sounds and strange crashing noises, while DAKAR 18’s most redeeming feature is probably the music.
It’s hard not to sound like a cracked record here, but we had high hopes that DAKAR 18 would bring a unique genre to the driving scene. It’s been 15 years since we’ve seen a DAKAR game, and with current-gen tech and the promise of a huge open-world we were expecting good things. DAKAR 18 has a lot of downfalls and barely any pros, and for that reason we can’t score it any higher than what we did. While it’s a great concept, Bigmoon Entertainment needs to go back to the drawing board if they want to make this a yearly or bi-yearly franchise.
Rocket Chainsaw reviewed DAKAR 18 on an Xbox One X, however it is also available on Windows PC and PlayStation 4. We tested it using a controller as well as a Thrustmaster Ferrari 458 Italia racing wheel (which wasn’t an option at launch), and found the wheel handled better than Forza Horizon 4 at launch, but nowhere near as good as racing simulators, and had limited customisation options.
- A great concept with an overwhelmingly gigantic map - Good variety of official DAKAR Rally vehicles to choose from
- The way some of the vehicles handle and spin out on slight bumps makes for horrible gameplay - Gameplay in general was nowhere near the standard we have come to accept from car games in 2018 - Graphics don’t hold up on the Xbox One X - No online activity