Dakar Desert Rally Preview – Rally raid arcade, sim… or both?
All racing games face the same tough decision: do you want to be a fun pure arcade racing game, a full simulation of a particular motorsport, or try to straddle accessibility and realism with the genre “simcade”? Dakar Desert Rally is a game that answers this question with a simple “Yes”. It’s a game that ticks all the boxes when it really should only be allowed to tick one.
The Dakar Rally is one of the toughest tests in motorsport – a rally raid that challenges participants with fully off-road, multi-class endurance races in extreme and widely varying environments. The first event took place in 1979, the sport’s current birthplace seeing you race through Saudi Arabia as the first leg of the FIM Rally-Raid World Championship, choosing a different starting point each year and winding through the country. on more than ten stages, until the arrival in Jeddah. The event explores the diverse biomes of the country, from desert to scrubland, steppes and mountain ranges, and weather patterns from scorching sun to snow.
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There are obviously various ethical issues surrounding sporting events in Saudi Arabia at the moment – from the “sportswashing” of the country’s reputation to the ownership and funding of sports, to the scenes earlier this year with the country’s war in Yemen with rebel drone and missile strikes. on an Aramco oil depot darken the sky above the 2022 F1 Grand Prix of Saudi Arabia. It’s an ethical question that I’m sure some will consider alongside the video game references of the Dakar Desert Rally.
There are two ways to approach this kind of event. You can go for a full sim that’s about as focused and hyper-focused as it gets, from navigation method to handling, or you can go arcade-style with visual overlays guiding you through environments and racing in the lead. one-on-one with other cars. Dakar Desert Rally does both, letting you really choose the kind of game and experience you want from the roughly polar opposites of the game scale – OK, so there’s no world destruction Split/Second or combative Motorstorm racing, but it’s still pretty arcadey.
We were able to sample both ends of that spectrum, starting first with the arcade-like Sport mode. This is where the game will hold your hand the most, putting fun and accessibility first, but still building on the foundations of fully recreating the sport. It has all the authentic vehicles in multiple classes, 30 stages taken from the 2020, 2021 and 2022 Dakar rallies, the extensive open-world rally map, dynamic time and weather, and more.
Sit behind the wheel of a racing truck, the gameplay is immediate and accessible, allowing you to start next to a field of other vehicles and then follow waypoints and markers that you must cross in order to check your progress. the rally. While there is a crafted route through the environments, you also have plenty of licenses to break out of the script, as long as you successfully reach the next GPS marker. As I run I take a wrong turn, have to turn around and waste a ton of time on competitors, but then the devs and their more encyclopedic knowledge of their game are keen to point out the various shortcuts, jumps, bumps that I can take instead of following the tracks in the sand.
I’m not going to mince words when I say there’s a sharp increase in challenge and difficulty as you approach the pro difficulty level – the guide rails to the side of the metaphorical bowling alley have been removed; now, instead of having handy visuals to guide you to the next point, you have nothing both a compass and a digital road book.
You will have to learn to read the Road Book if you want to succeed here. You’ll quickly understand what it means by “Following Tracks” – follow the tracks of other vehicles, basically – but you still have the second-to-second task of keeping tabs on the total and relative distances you’re covering, the la compass direction you need to follow and be able to digest the small topographical drawings of the landscape you traverse to reach each marker.
Professional mode will seriously test your ability to juggle multiple tasks. However, there are still a handful of assists available here, such as the ability to reposition your vehicle and having automatic saves at each waypoint. Between these, the “average” repair costs and the speed of the AI you are competing against, there is still an additional challenge for the simulation to overcome.
Going back to the Road Book for a moment, it’s actually the key to a custom Road Book editor built into the game. Once you’ve learned every twist the game’s 30 stages give you, you can use it to create your own stages in the world and then share them with others. The game is playable both alone and in online multiplayer mode for up to four players.
Responding to both ends of the racing game spectrum is a daunting task to undertake, but even from a relatively short hands-on, it feels like Dakar Desert Rally pulls it off with aplomb. Sport mode should make this game completely accessible, but there are also depths to the challenge that having to race and navigate from the Road Book will provide more sim-thinking players.
Dakar Desert Rally will be released on October 4 on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.
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