Dakar 18 is in early access so my review is based on the October 2018 build, however, let me start by telling you this. I’ve been playing racing games on computers since I first started with Pole Position on Atari. I played the Top Gear games when I was in high school (still play Top Gear 3000 sometimes), and more recently I’ve played the Need for Speed series.
Throughout all of that, although I enjoy racing games, they are not my go-to genre. And when I do play them, I prefer a more casual style of gameplay and I like to feel like I’m racing for something, not just to win. In most racing games I want to earn money to upgrade my car to better compete and to unlock better gear as I ‘build a reputation.’ I want to do something other than just try to get the fastest time. Bear that in mind concerning my review here.
Dakar 18 is another game in early access. This makes reviewing it a bit harder since I do not know if what I experience is a design choice, a placeholder, or a bug. But with that in mind, it seems like Dakar 18 could be a good game. It just doesn’t seem like my style of game, yet.
The game is a rally race, based on the Dakar rally in South America. There is a wide variety of environments for you to race through, each with its own unique challenges. You might find yourself stuck in the mud, or a sandpit, or perhaps you overshot your turn because you jumped off the peak of a sand dune.
There are different vehicles you can choose from, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Particularly when considering the environments mentioned above.
The game runs smoothly on my modest gaming pc, with graphics being good, but not great. The sound is well done, helping to draw you into the experience thoroughly.
Current state and future of the game
There were several things I didn’t like, things that really frustrated me. I’m not sure if these are issues due to the early access nature of the game, or if they are ‘features’ that simply don’t agree with my playstyle. For example, you don’t have a map to guide you through the course. Instead, you have a guidebook which lists the details about the next waypoint shown in the bottom right of the screen. If you’re in a vehicle with a passenger, he’s your navigator. He’ll call out to you the relevant details that you’ll need to know. I have no issues with any of that. It all seems to make sense and is very immersive considering the nature and premise of the game.
However, on more than one occasion, he’d be late in calling out the turns. As I fly through a fork in the road, he suddenly calls out ‘Ok. NOW! Turn left then right!’ By the time he’s even said ‘Now,’ I’m well past the point I needed to turn.
Dakar 18 has a tutorial to get you into the game to start, however, it isn’t much help. It starts you off with a simple lecture. They show you the overview of your HUD and describe what it all does. But after having sat through that for several minutes, they fail to explain what seems to be some key points to me. They throw you into the game and let you figure out the rest. Like what does ‘Danger 2’ actually mean, and what makes something ‘danger 2’ versus ‘danger 3?’
Helping is hindering
When they tell me to stop to tow another car to help them, what’s the benefit? I tried, I stopped, figured out how to attach the tow cable (with no instructions), and got back in my car. Then I moved at a snail’s pace while trying to get the other car out. Towing the car set me so far behind in my race that I couldn’t hope to catch up again. Was I doing it wrong? Was there something else I was meant to do? I don’t know and couldn’t figure it out. It certainly seemed like towing stuck competitors out of the mud was a waste of time, despite their encouragement to do it when you can.
Dakar 18 has an in-game repair mechanic. As you race, you take some damage, depending on how you’re driving. That’s different than hitting obstacles though, since doing that seems to kill you instantly.
As you take damage during the race, you can trade in some points (I guess the game’s currency) and time to make those repairs. However, the time costs are severe, and it wasn’t worth it to me to even make an attempt to repair anything. At least in short races.
Dakar 18 goals
Certainly, your goal is to try to avoid damage, but why have a repair mechanic that costs you so much time that you’ll lose the race anyway if you use it? Also, it’s not very immersive. You can repair on the fly with immediate results, however, the additional time is then added to your course time after you finish. You should have to perform the repairs yourself (perhaps with a small minigame that if you get good at you can do rather quickly), or better yet, don’t allow repairing in the middle of the track and make the player do it between races, maybe letting them pay cash or take a time penalty for a free repair… Overall the damage and repair mechanic doesn’t feel fleshed out and certainly doesn’t lend itself to immersion in the game. However, that’s just my feelings. Maybe others would like the way it’s done.
Don’t get me wrong. Dakar 18 looks good, sounds great, and has great potential. I like racing games and could see this one becoming one I enjoy playing. However, I can’t review it based on where I hope it ends up, only where it stands now. And where it stands now is not a game I enjoyed playing, and not a game I want to load up again without some modifications.
Let’s see where it goes, and I hope they can pull it off.