Let the Dakar fans come out of their lair! After the huge disappointment Dakar 18, developed by Bigmoon Entertainment, Saber Interactive takes over the helm of the license after the takeover of the Portuguese studio, and offers us Dakar Desert Rally, a brand new title that is determined to forget the discontent of the players. on the previous installment.
The saber-toothed tiger bares its fangs once again. Saber Interactive, which needs no introduction, is tackling, after having proven itself many times on Mudrunner and SnowRunner, rally raid. And not just any, since it is the Dakar events (formerly Paris-Dakar) that today benefit from the know-how of the Saber Interactive Porto studio.
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Do we start with the technique?
Before getting to the heart of the matter, I would like to open this article with the technique. It's not very common, but it's clear that the first thing you'll say when you get to the game sheet is "Wouhaaaa, that's absolutely beautiful!" ". Unlike SnowRunner and its high level graphics, Dakar Desert Rally does not exploit the Swarm Engine but the Unreal Engine. The famous engine is completely at ease displaying this outdoor open world and its 20.000 km of road at a crazy pace. Saber Interactive is a past master in optimization (just see The Witcher 3 on Nintendo Switch to be convinced) and the game seeks above all the maximum opening. Thus, the minimum PC hardware to take advantage of it (or at least launch it) is an Intel Core i5-2400s CPU supported by an aging nVidia Geforce 660.
Yet once in play, even if we stay far from a Forza (which also does not have the same development budget), Dakar Desert Rally is doing very well. The scenery, varied from sand to snow, displays impressive depth and non-existent clipping (in “Epic” graphic quality mode). It's very pleasant and it stays fluid. For the models of the vehicles and the environment, the "devs" really sought realism, the sheaves of sand ejected by the wheels show how complicated moving in unstable terrain can be. The interior views are teeming with detail, down to the incredible water and dust streaks pushed by the windscreen wipers on the windshield, never before seen in a game.
Well, once we've put our drool net on the gamepad, let's talk about the gameplay. There is so much to say.
Dakar Desert Rally opens with an intro to Forza Horizon 5, offering you the opportunity to drive 3 of the game's 5 categories of vehicles in turn. You start driving a car before being "switched" to the saddle of a car. a motorbike in the middle of a jump, and we end up with a truck on a snowy road. The rhythmic staging gives you an immediate glimpse of the “Sport” mode, a sort of arcade mode with simplified rally rules. Dakar fans may be disappointed with this appetizer that is too easy to handle, where Forza and other Need for Speed players will be won over.
But the game quickly comes back to remind you that it's called Dakar. Start with the rules. The rally raid is not a race like the others. This is about connecting virtual crossing points (Waypoints) in a specific order, before crossing the finish line, while blowing up the clock. The rule is simple and understandable to everyone. In Sport mode (arcade), Waypoints are indicated by huge yellow circles and an arrow system. In short, you can't miss them, and you can concentrate on pushing the throttle hard.
This arcade mode nevertheless struggles to convince and puts the game in front of its main flaw: the physics of the vehicles is clearly not made for high speeds. At least, the “arcade” mode coupled with realistic physics is disappointing. Because physics is good in itself. Vehicles spin out of control on the sand, losing stability and steering. And for having already driven in these conditions: YES, it really is like that IRL! And the game reproduces this state of affairs well.
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In "Professional" mode, it's totally different, we come back to the real rules of the Dakar. The player must equip himself with the Roadbook – a list of headings to take to head towards the waypoints – or carefully listen to the co-pilot. The latter, a veritable chatterbox, delivers a diarrhea of instructions that are often difficult to follow. But at least we're right, we don't rush, we concentrate, and we refine our piloting to prepare to change course as soon as a waypoint is discovered.
Despite its apparent complexity, the pro mode remains very accessible and open to everyone. For the craziest among you, there is a 3rd mode: simulation mode. It is unlocked from level 25 (about 6 hours of play) and deactivates all assistance, in addition to making rival drivers more aggressive on lap times.
Vehicles for everyone
And if you are not comfortable with one vehicle, you can turn to another. You will find your happiness among 5 types of vehicles in total. Truck, car, SXS (buggy), quad and motorcycles. These are the official machines that participated in the 2020, 2021 and 2022 editions. Everything is licensed, including the pilots who accompany them. Not necessarily being a fan of modern vehicles, I was surprised to see a "Classic" category, available for owners of the Deluxe version (Season Pass) or the Legends DLC, which allowed me to acquire the DAF 95 X1 TurboTwin and the 405 Peugeot 16 Turbo 1988. And for the most nostalgic, there are even 2 CVs and 205 GTs!
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In short, in my opinion, Dakar Desert Rally finds its value in its gameplay more than in its vehicles, even if the developers have left absolutely nothing aside to satisfy everyone.
In the end, Dakar Desert Rally is one of those games that brings a bit of fresh blood when you start to get tired of a category, here car simulation. The developers deliver a finished title, without major bugs, which also offers good compatibility with existing and new peripherals, such as the Thrustmaster T248, which brings a whole new dimension to driving on sand.
Saber Interactive, king of off-road
Footnotes to the story
Dakar Desert Rally will satisfy all players, even the most demanding, with a well-thought-out difficulty management. The Unreal Engine is responsible for providing a rich and deep environment, and enhances vehicle models. Despite strict regulations, the Dakar rally raid has never been easier to understand.