For the most well-known rally raid event in motorsport, there really haven’t been that many games based on the Dakar Rally in the last 40 years. There seem to be only five, really, and one of them is an 8-bit fever dream from 1988 where your car has guns and you go from France to Africa driving…under the sea avoiding giant starfish, lobsters and many torpedoes. Perhaps adapting the Dakar into a game is as difficult as winning it in real life? This would certainly explain the Dakar Desert Rally, where I’ve been weaving between enjoying its genuinely immersive moments of brilliance and cursing its mistakes, uneven performance, odd design choices and often unresponsive handling, which have countered effectively almost everything it does well.
There’s no denying that the Dakar Desert Rally is a hugely ambitious – and ambitiously massive – off-roader, and there are definitely glimpses of the enthusiasm with which developer Saber Porto has come to distill this grueling event into a digestible and, in many ways, , unique racing game. The most impressive thing is the setting itself. The vast expanses of open desert are a particular highlight; though they may seem barren and uninteresting, emerging from twisting valleys or clumps of palm trees into these rippling oceans of sand makes for a corridor with a rare sense of scale. Even in its heaviest racing trucks, the Dakar Desert Rally made me feel weak climbing its mountainous dunes, especially with its sleek helicopter camera, and it’s times like these that the Dakar Desert Rally is stronger. The time of day effects are lovely, and the dazzling wild weather effects are amazing too; they don’t really seem to add an overt layer of danger to racing beyond a slight drop in visibility, but they are wonderfully atmospheric.
This environment reportedly weighs in at a whopping 20,000 square kilometres, which Saber Porto has described as the largest open-world racing game ever, but unfortunately there’s no way to get a sense of its full scope at launch. . Unfortunately, Free Ride and Custom Events are scheduled to arrive as updates later this year. Updates will be free but, combined with the fact that Saber Porto has also relegated racing gear customization and even replays to later updates, it all contributes to the feeling that this isn’t quite finished. Some games are released in early access and some are released too soon.
It’s a problem, for example, that in Xbox Series X Dakar Desert Rally, the resolution mode actually looks smoother than its performance mode. In resolution mode, the frame rate is fixed at 30 frames per second, and that consistency makes it look smooth enough. Performance mode, which apparently sacrifices pixels for frames, looks considerably worse to the naked eye. In fact, it can hit 60 frames per second when the conditions are right, but it’s certainly not locked there, and it flutters noticeably when the screen is full of sand-spewing competitors. The resulting drop off is pretty terrifying at times. In fact, I even thought the modes might have been mislabeled at first, but no – resolution mode is easily the choice.
The growing list of bugs I’ve found certainly doesn’t help either. There are minor things like the scratches and cracked windscreen on my Iveco Powerstar that never fully go away no matter how many times I pay for repairs, or the music still playing at 0% volume, but the auto save issue that I am currently experiencing on Xbox Series X is much worse. Lots of progress is disappearing after exiting, despite the autosave icon flashing all the time. Quick resume is a useful crutch, but losing XP levels, new vehicles, cash, and completed rallies, and going back to a random mid-race checkpoint from hours and hours ago, is hugely frustrating.
Equally frustrating is the driving model. The Dakar Desert Rally features a formidable array of rally raid machinery representing all classes of competing vehicles, and there’s a very good damage model here. Unfortunately, there’s also a huge gulf between what’s fun to drive and what’s not fun at all. Quads are horrible to ride, hopelessly sensitive to changes in direction. The bikes are a little better, they don’t feel Quite so delicate, but still prone to losing control on a regular basis. The handling of cars and side-by-sides is a little more compliant than that of motorcycles, but only slightly. The feeling of weight when accelerating in a straight line, jumping and taking smooth corners is fine, but anything beyond the slightest oversteer is completely insurmountable. It’s incredibly frustrating to get into a tame drift but be totally unable to get out of it; once you are slightly to the side, you will turn. Adding a bit of angle to the steering in the adjustment menus before a stage can help a bit, but it’s not a complete solution by any means.
The trucks, however, feel great. Despite being the largest and most burly vehicles available, they are by far the most fun to drive. They are planted and stable despite their height, feel safe and predictable when landing on jumps, can absorb hits from opponents without spinning, and actually respond to countersteer. They aren’t slow either. Honestly, I’d be happy playing the entire campaign just on the trucks, and I currently am. I wish all my opponents could fit under all the starting gates. Unfortunately, an event caused me to get stuck behind an AI opponent who couldn’t do it, delaying the start of the race for 10 minutes, during which time I couldn’t pause and restart because control hadn’t been handed over to me yet. .
Of course, I didn’t want to just quit because of my autosave issues, but when the same thing happened on the final reboot, I gave in, quit, and rebooted…and subsequently lost hours of progress.
Dakar Desert Rally Screens
It should be noted that these rolling starts against rivals only happen in Dakar Desert Rally’s arcade-inspired sports mode, which features giant, shiny landmarks and races against packs of opponents right out of the box. It’s not really representative of the actual Dakar format, but if you can tolerate the surprisingly aggressive AI, it’s a better entry point for those who may be intimidated by the guidance aspects of the higher difficulty levels. Professional mode, for example, requires us to interpret directions explained in a road book and reach invisible waypoints. This is a satisfying challenge and a different kind of race than anything I normally play, but it’s undermined a bit by the robotic co-pilot whose advice isn’t as detailed as the road book instructions – his vague calls keep right / keep left can be particularly ambiguous.
I’m also not a fan of Saber Porto’s approach to distance climbing; The Dakar Desert Rally map is supposed to be a 1:5 scale replica of Saudi Arabia, but the studio has reduced the distances to match. This means that a race listed at 70km is actually only a fifth of that, which is admittedly a fairly harmless quirk. Unfortunately, it also means that when your co-driver warns you to turn left in two kilometers, the reality is that it’s only 400 meters, and you’re only seconds away, which is jarring and weird.
Also strange is the fact that competing in the real Dakar race is locked behind a third difficulty level, the simulation mode, which can only be unlocked by reaching level 25. That’s something that takes many hours of fumbling to master. the initial salvo of shorter. , introductory rallies. I definitely don’t understand why the title event is closed like this; for casual gamers it’s essentially absent, and for hardcore racers it’s annoyingly out of reach for far too long.
There really isn’t much of a sense of campaigning like a real rally driver in a specific team here, in general. The Dakar Desert Rally simply throws us a random assortment of vehicles and tells us, ‘Go’. The freedom to drive anything is nice, I guess, but it’s also a bit like F1 that lets you show up in a Ferrari one weekend and a McLaren the next. I also love the historic cars that Saber Porto has put in, but unlike the real thing, they don’t have their own classic class. This leaves 80s icons competing against modern metal, which is pretty incongruous. Unlocking them is also a punishment, because it requires completing events five times (once in each class; yes, you have to ride a quad).