The result of three years of gestation by the Saber Interactive studio, Dakar Desert Rally represents the culmination of an automotive license that has been looking for itself 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 mechanical enthusiasts!
Gigantic map, several game modes, vehicles of different types, official affiliation with France Télévisions… the ambition behind Dakar Desert Rally is palpable right from the tutorial! Like a Forza Horizon 5, Saber Interactive’s proteges propel the player on a crazy desert trip (but no less sublime with its oases, rocky lands and sand as far as the eye can see) where car driving, skids on a motorbike and dizzying jumps on a quad. From the first minutes, the tone is set and we quickly guess that the new game from Saber Interactive has some under the hood!
A less airtight racing game
Without being a bad guy, Dakar 18 displayed too few qualities to win in the field of rally-raid. Even if the discipline is far from making the headlines in video game news, the title aligned too many flaws, both visual and playful, to make an impression. Aware of the shortcomings of the original, the Saber Porto team has completely revised its copy, taking care to adapt it to connoisseurs and novice audiences alike. After South America, the franchise is packing its bags 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 version, Dakar struggled to convince, the fault of dated graphics and a little winded gameplay. And above all, he had chosen to be particularly elitist, leaving many players on the sidelines. This is not the case with Dakar Desert Rally. For this edition, the developers have integrated a Sport mode which allows novice drivers to concentrate on the road and the competitors, without having to worry about the roadbook, the famous navigation system allowing them to find their way around in an unknown environment and to define a route. In short, have a real arcade approach and simplified navigation! Thanks to the addition of this mode, beginners can have fun on Dakar Desert Rally enjoying the fun of the races and sumptuous panoramas. Cars, motorcycles, quads, trucks, SSVs… the sensations are there and this assumed choice of Saber opens up the discipline to as many people as possible.
A thrilling experience for fans
But let the purists be reassured: Dakar Desert Rally offers a professional mode (as well as an unlockable simulation mode from level 25) which 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 find your way around and find the different waypoints (passing points). By giving so much geographic scope to their game, the developers have imagined scenery of incredible density and it doesn’t take much to get lost! It is then essential to identify the mileage, the direction to take, the possible obstacles and their dangerousness, etc. On a motorcycle or quad, it’s 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 words of the co-pilot, which sometimes mislead you completely! “Straight on the tracks” as a bend looms, it’s far from easy to understand when you’re just starting out!
The developers have worked on the reactions of the vehicles and the different elevations like never before, so that it is not uncommon to be surprised by an orientation that is not good. Everything has been done to make you believe it and it’s no exaggeration to say that there is a bit of Forza Horizon in this Dakar Desert Rally, and even the new generation Sega Rally in the deformation of the terrain (although this does not affect adhesion). The three years of development have not been too much for the experience to be as exhilarating as possible and it is through self-sacrifice, but also concentration, that we gain experience points, DP (Dakar Points) and the first places on the podium. This accumulated experience thus allows you to boost your vehicle, to repair it between each stage and, above all, to expand your garage with ever faster cars. However, it is necessary to keep in mind that Dakar Desert Rally, despite the Sport mode, remains a fairly demanding title, both in driving (even if it is a little more flexible than before) and in collisions. The crashes are really punishing! Suffice to say that you have to adapt your speed and constantly keep an eye on the navigation elements. And put end to 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 undoubtedly the one that immediately jumps to the eye, is the presence of untimely slowdowns. The latter are also well noticed during thunderstorms and other storms, when the particles illuminate the screen. The other concern comes from an artificial intelligence which suffers from the “rail” syndrome and which absolutely does not see your vehicle. If it gives the illusion of being rather reactive and realistic, not a race – or almost – happens without a competitor doing anything, to the point of attempting a round trip in the middle of a turn! When you get to the front, and knowing that the game is very punishing, there is enough to send the controller flying across the room. Finally, the piloting will not please everyone, the fault of a direction that is sometimes too sensitive, sometimes too heavy. The finding is even more striking on motorcycles and quads. Obviously, with time, we get used to it, but we can’t help but regret the sometimes random reactions of our cars.
It’s beautiful Saudi Arabia
Sand dunes as far as the eye can see, turquoise water, 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 kilometres, an area larger than Germany, Japan, Paraguay or even the Democratic Republic of Congo! Obviously, with such a map, the scenery seems huge! And to give even more majesty to their offspring, the developers of Saber have integrated a day/night cycle, but also weather changes in real time. In rainy weather, in a snowstorm or under a blazing sun, the game offers an absolutely superb visual! When you are immersed in gusts of wind in the middle of a storm or a sandstorm, the effect is striking!
More than enough to try out the 150 vehicles in the game, whether online or solo! The music, very cinematic, is also rather pleasant. In terms of visual and sound production, it’s a certainty: Saber did a crazy job!
Remains a question that will bother more than one. As it stands, can we speak of an open world? No, for the simple and good reason that we go from stage to stage and there is no mode allowing you to move freely on the map. Moreover, the modes are still very light since there is only the career and the free mode online. But beware, free simply means that you can customize your games. For the time being, and while waiting for the arrival of possible extensions, it will be necessary above all to be content with the career mode and hope that there are many players online. Anyway, for anyone interested in the discipline and who wanted a game worthy of the name, Dakar Desert Rally is, by far, the best pick. Not everything is perfect (AI, few game modes, no local multiplayer…), but the gap separating this game from Dakar 18 is gaping. And if you can, experiment with Simulation mode (speed limits, professional navigation, etc.), it’s worth the detour!
- A map as gigantic as it is sublime
- Varied scenery (sand dunes, beaches, mountains, etc.)
- Excellent sensations – including behind the wheel
- The best Dakar licensed game
- The day/night cycle, the changing weather
- Many views (including the impressive helicopter view)
- Sport mode for beginners
- Official license (drivers, vehicles, logos…)
- Fairly regular slowdowns in Resolve mode
- It’s not an open world in the sense of “total freedom”
- The motorcycle can be a real soap
- Not enough game modes
- An AI often picking up
- No local multiplayer
- The co-pilot far from being reliable all the time
Despite a lack of content, perfectible driving and unsophisticated opponents, Dakar Desert Rally comes to dust off the automotive genre with style. Based on the sumptuous landscapes of Saudi Arabia, Saber Interactive’s game displays a remarkable achievement and should delight those looking for a different racing game. If the developers have kept the requirement of Dakar 18 (with co-pilot, compass, roadbook, etc.), it is now possible to try out Sport mode and its arcade approach. Thanks to these additions, Dakar Desert Rally opens up to a wider audience without cutting itself off from the purists. With its impression of successful speed, its panoramas and sumptuous effects and its huge map, there is plenty to have fun while waiting for possible extensions. Undoubtedly the automotive surprise of this fall!
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