Developed by Saber Porto and published by Saber Interactive, Dakar Desert Rally is an attempt to bring the world's most epic off-road race to our fingertips. Available now on Windows PC, PlayStation, and Xbox, we were very kindly given a PlayStation 5 copy of the game for this review by the folks over at Honest PR.
The Dakar Rally is one of the toughest and most brutal off-road endurance races on the planet where cars, bikes, quad bikes, and trucks race across thousands of miles of unforgiving desert. And for the most well-known rally race event in the whole of motorsport, there really hasn’t been too many games based on it. While Saber Porto appears to have captured at least some of the essence in Dakar Desert Rally, it also leaves quite a bit to be desired. I found myself constantly toeing the line between enjoying its wonderfully captivating moments and all out frustration at its bugs, questionable game physics and horrible vehicle handling. Unfortunately, the frustrations vastly outweighed the enjoyable moments for me and pretty much cancels out everything the game does well. I don’t think anyone can argue that this is a hugely ambitious undertaking, and you can definitely see glimpses of the passion and enthusiasm that the developers have poured into the game.
There are 3 game modes to choose from including Sport, Professional and Simulation. Sport mode is as close to an arcade style racer as you will get where you take to each stage of the rally at the same time as your competitors while you all race to the finish. In Professional mode you have the same collection of tracks but with a more realistic rally experience where you must really take note of the co-drivers pace notes to get to the finish. Lastly you have Simulation mode which is locked until you reach a driver level of 25 and for good reason. Simulation mode is for the hardcore rally experience where the tracks are actual recreations of the Dakar Rally itself. Each stage takes longer to complete and there are also speed limits thrown into the mix which really adds to the authentic Dakar Rally experience.
The visuals are where this game really hits the mark. The environment is glorious and even though it might sound a bit dull, racing through barren desert dunes and landscapes, it really does not come across that way in the Dakar Desert Rally. As you are weaving your vehicle through gorges or ravines and emerge on the other side where the environment opens up into a vast landscape of sand and desert roads. It really looks incredible and gives for a huge sense of scale. Even the huge off-road trucks look tiny beside the cavernous mountains and colossal dunes. The time of day effects and the weather effects are really impressive although it doesn't seem like the adverse weather conditions add anything to the difficulty of the racing. They only appear to reduce visibility ever so slightly, but they do look amazing.
And to top this off, Dakar Desert Rally provides you with a variety of camera angles to enjoy these views including a unique helicopter camera which provides us with a lovely cinematic view of your vehicle. The models and vehicle designs along with their engine noises also seem to be an area where the development team have really nailed it in Dakar Desert Rally. The details here are wonderful with officially licensed vehicles from some of the world's biggest and well known manufacturers.
Unfortunately it's not all sunshine and rainbows in Dakar Desert Rally. On PlayStation 5, I suffered from frequent frame rate drops in Performance mode, most noticeable when the screen was crowded with vehicles or when driving through water. Switching to resolution mode locks the game at 30fps which actually provides a more stable frame rate than performance mode.
The most frustrating thing and sadly, also the most important thing for any racing game is the vehicle handling. It is truly horrible to steer any vehicle that is not a truck. Oversteer comes far too easily and before you know it your vehicle will be locked in an uncontrollable spin which you cannot recover from. Once you start sliding, there is just no way to save it, no amount of opposite lock or even lifting off the throttle will help. Quad bikes being the worst, where even a slight change of direction can send you into a spiral of rage and frustration. Adjusting the vehicle setup by entering the tuning menus before a stage does help a little but it definitely is not a complete fix as before long you will find yourself in another uncontrollable sideways slide. The only thing I feel like they have got right are the trucks. They feel weighty and stable, more predictable when landing from jumps, they actually respond to counter steering and generally just feel great to drive. I ended up spending the bulk of my time in trucks and really did enjoy the experience.
The co-driver and his call outs are also an area that really does not hit the mark. The vague “right”, “left” instructions can feel very ambiguous and sometimes don’t even correspond to the road in front of you. Another issue I had was the developers approach to scaling distances in the game. The map is apparently a 1:5 scale of Saudi Arabia which is fine, however, they have set the distances in each stage to match which is something that caused me a bit of confusion. For example, if the co-driver tells you to turn left in 2km, when in actual fact it is only around 400m which is just a bit weird and unnecessary.
Yet another disappointment is the abundance of features that are not available at launch including replays, photo mode, free roam mode, custom events and a road book editor which allows you to create your own rally stages and share them with the racing community. These features are, however, scheduled to be in future updates. Along with the numerous bugs that I encountered, it all makes the game feel very unpolished and unfinished. All the issues here are a real shame because you can tell that the development team have a real passion for bringing the Dakar Rally to video game format.
Overall, for me personally, the bad more than outweighs the good in Dakar Desert Rally. The potential is there for this to be a truly special game, but it is just lacking in too many areas, most of all being the vehicle handling. I really hope some future updates can address some of these issues but for now, Dakar Desert Rally will disappear into the quicksand for me.
PaultheBrave09’s Rating: 2 out of 5.
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Many thanks to Honest PR for supplying the review code.