Developed by Bigmoon Entertainment and published by Deep Silver, Dakar 18 is a world wind of an open world off-road racer. Inspired by the annual race conducted through the Amaury Sports Organization (A.S.O), Dakar 18 presents players with an open world experience that is both nuanced and expected in the world of off-road racing. Using the Unreal Engine, Bigmoon Entertainment broke the mold of what to expect from an annual racer, and through a series of design choices, the production team managed to create an in-game world that is as dense and expansive as any Grand Theft Auto game could cobble together. But just because something is new does not make it infallible.
Dakar 18 is as open world as it gets when it comes to off-road racing. From the start, players have a choice between 5 vehicle classes ranging from dirt bikes to pick up trucks. Each type bares it’s on caveats that affect the gameplay in a variety of interesting ways. For example, if a player chooses a dirt bike as his main vehicle, you can pick up speed much more easily but in turn, your maneuverability can be flimsy during sharp turns. I found this to happen quite often during the Lima, Peru segments of the game where each square mile of arid dry land was met with gut-wrenching sharp turns that had my character wiping out frequently.
The game is presented in a single player and multiplayer formats with the latter being expressed in a free roam Easter egg hunt. In this multiplayer segment, up to 8 players can roam the open hills of South America in search of treasure and hidden items without time restrictions which gave the game an immense sense of replay-ability. Nothing has been done before on this magnitude before in a racer, and Dakar 18 proves its grain of sand. But even when engaging with the single-player mode, gamers are never quite alone in the open world of Dakar 18. Only the larger vehicles come with a copilot. Your AI partner is responsive and organic, making you feel like you are truly a team trying to beat the other drivers.
Brilliant AI and Presentation
This brilliance of your AI companion is most exemplified during the Candida, Argentina segment of the game. In this part of the world map, there were multiple paths to choose and veering off the main road meant you have to backtrack while losing time on the record keeper. But lending an ear to the copilot, a player is easily able to avoid distractions nor loose time retracing his steps. But even if you forget to listen to your copilot, the developers included a roadbook navigational system that resembles a GPS instrument.
This roadbook device is your HUD and learning to cycle through its options is vital to keeping your vehicle on the go. Whether switching from first person or third person perspectives, the visuals are clean and vibrant. The Unreal Engine is magnificently exercised in the varied portions of South America’s drylands. When free roaming, one can easily spot a jackrabbit or an antelope that otherwise would have gone unnoticed in driving mode. Such realistic production values give Dakar 18 a sense of scale that is unnoticed in this otherwise monotone genre.
After being forced to endure a tedious tutorial, players can easily see where the production design of the game takes a turn for the worse. Load screens take forever between midway points to the point where you literally wait minutes to start a new race. The difficulty level between each vehicle choice is imbalanced to where one completely avoids picking the dirtbike because of its tendency to spin out of control. It feels as if the developers want you to pick the SUV class since they created landscapes that were geared towards heavier offloading vehicles rather than sportier choices.
In terms of landscapes, they may be dense with life but brimming with redundancy. A snow-filled mountaintop or a woodland creek would have done wonders in making you feel like the world of Dakar 18 is vast. Instead, the South American peninsula is displayed as an endless desert of sand and dirt.
More environmental diversity and less animal life would elevate this racer to near perfection. Even the roadbook navigational system felt tedious at times especially when your vehicle requires repairs. It can seem like an eternity before you find the right menu option on your navigational device. This adds an unnecessary level difficulty to an already complex interactive display system to the level of painstaking frustration. Simplicity would have assuaged the complexity of the world you are thrown into with Dakar 18’s fast-paced mechanics and this is where its developers missed the mark completely.
Regardless of genre, Dakar 18 is by far one of the top open world experiences of this generation. A complex HUD mechanic and lack of environmental diversity do little to detract from the radiance this title shines on modern generation gaming. During free roam mode, one can take a brief stroll through a sand dune and witness some of the most breathtaking visuals that only the Unreal Engine can produce.
Dakar’s developers created a piece of art that appeals to any gamer regardless of genre preference. Just exploring the in-game world is enough to warrant Dakar 18 a play through. The sands may be harsh, but the courses are a lush tapestry weaved together by high production values and great level design.