Following a reveal in December 2021 and pre-order bonus details earlier this month, at Gamescom, a slew of details have been revealed for the upcoming Dakar Desert Rally.
In fact, we’ve played it and spoken to the development team, so alongside the gameplay trailer, here’s everything you need to know about the latest official game of the real-world Dakar rally raid and why it’s one of the most expansive off-road driving games in a very long time.
It’s an open-world racing game with a career
The game is set within a giant open-world representation of Saudi Arabia, where the real-world Dakar event is set.
Read that again.
Open-world. Yes, as you can see in these images captured by Traxion.GG, you open the map that shows off the 20,000 km2 1:25 scale environment and there are icons representing events. From what we have seen so far, these events take place in the form of races against AI-controlled rivals where your finishing position counts.
Not time-based, like the actual Dakar, and not in a linear fashion. It’s one stage after the other with the quickest across all stages winning. Curious.
XP is earned to unlock driver levels and Dakar Points (DP) are earned to buy new vehicles. You can unlock classic cars by completing each event across the five vehicle classes – Car, Truck, Bike, Quad and SSV.
In a move that is like the real-world event, the multiple vehicle types are all playable and visible on your routes. So in a car, for example, you may see a quad bike competitor running its own race.
If all this sounds far removed from a serious experience, you’d be right. But this is by design.
“We decided to create progression. There’s an XP that will level up on part two part so we will get multiple level-ups. So we then decided to package the first part, around eight to 10 hours of gameplay, to be making sure that there will be evolution,” said Paulo Gomes to Traxion.GG, Game and Studio Director.
“We [want to] pick up someone that doesn’t need to know anything about Dakar and they just want to have fun.
“The events are set to a certain level of XP. So if you have XP level four, or level five, you will be able to play a certain level of roadbooks. If you have XP level seven, you unlock another pack etc.”
But it’s also a replication of the real event
Alongside the more accessible racing ‘video game’ career, however, is the more traditional – focussed – Dakar-aping section.
Called the ‘Dakar Experience’, this is where you complete stages based purely on time, with one overall winner in each vehicle category, with the routes inspired by those tackled by Peterhansel, Sainz and the like.
This is unlocked when you reach XP level 25, and is what a Dakar purist will be looking for.
“The Dakar Experience is what we call the simulation, the true simulation that is a representation of Dakar 2020, 2021 and 2022,” explained Gomes.
“Pretty much, on average, there’s 12 hours of experience to complete the Dakar 2020. Then you have 2021 and 2022.
“If you want to complete it with each different vehicle type, it’s multiplied by five.”
There are three distinct game modes
In an effort to appeal both to people who may not even know what the Dakar is and the hardcore simulation fan, there are three clear game modes that combine assists and rules.
1. Sport Mode
In races, each waypoint is a giant yellow beacon and arrows are sometimes displayed on the ground similar a racing-line option in a circuit-based racing title. The navigator is largely superfluous. Head to where you see, like Smuggler’s Run or a Trailblazer in Forza Horizon 5.
2. Professional Mode
The racing line and visible beacons are removed. This is all about you and your navigator who is directing you audibly to the next, invisible, waypoint.
The roadbook is used to deliver a rough direction of travel, the same system as co-drivers on an actual event. There’s also a compass-like arrow at the top of the HUD. This is an authentic, yet not impossible, balance.
3. Simulation Mode
Take the Professional Mode navigation, but remove the mid-stage saves – in other modes you can save your progress at waypoints, as some of the Dakar Experience routes will take up to an hour to complete – enforce speed limit rules just like the real thing and don’t allow resetting or repositioning. If you damage your vehicle badly, it’s game over.
Only the cognoscenti need apply.
There are over 150 vehicles and three seasons included
The vehicle list is diverse because it includes the five aforementioned types but also official, licenced, competitors and entries from the 2020, 2021 and 2022 Dakar events. You purchase these with DP as you progress.
In the Garage, you can view them and alter the livery design if you decided to create your own team. There will be a limit to the number of vehicles on display here, but a warehouse system is in place so you can collect every vehicle and store them.
Throw in the unlockable classic rides, and there’s everything from a contemporary Toyota Hilux to a Citroën 2CV.
Create and share your own routes
If the varied vehicles, different game modes and open-world single-player career weren’t enough, you can create your own routes in the map area, save them and upload them for others to enjoy.
There will be a method of downloading and testing user-generated roadbooks, and even rating the best ones.
“What we did is create a tool where you can go through all this 20,000 km2 area and easily put waypoints. The player can create the routes and will mark if there is a danger zone, if not a danger zone, or if there are speed limits, etc,” said Gomes.
Alongside route creation, online multiplayer is also a feature, although we have yet to test this.
Dynamic weather and time of day
It’s fair to say that Saudi Arabia isn’t known for its rain storms, mud or snow – the sun is baking seemingly 365 days a year.
However, Dakar Desert Rally will have a full day-to-night cycle and dynamic weather in what, in our hands-on experience, is a very flexible system that changes on the fly. Clears skies one minute, flash thunderstorm the next.
The AI is crazy
Your in-game rivals have been programmed to be lifelike, and that means in this instance they make mistakes. Sometimes you will come over a blind sand dune crest and a truck has crashed into a car and avoiding action is needed.
This is indicative of, well, Dakar – how lifelike the cadence of this is over a full playthrough though, remains to be seen.
You don’t just need to watch out for rivals parked up too, but parts of their cars, which if hit can inflict damage onto your vehicle.
Should this happen, or you hit a rock or rollover, there is a full visual and mechanical damage system, and your cash is used to enact repairs at the bivouac.
Yes, you can use a steering wheel peripheral with Dakar Desert Rally. In fact, during our testing with a Thrustmaster TS-XW Racer we noticed unique force feedback for each vehicle type. Motorcycles are controlled using a gamepad.
How Dakar Desert Rally came to be
Portuguese development studio Bigmoon Entertainment created Dakar 18, in well, 2018. Back then, the Dakar was set in South America and its first attempt was noble, but rough around the edges.
In the intervening years, the studio was purchased by Saber Interactive in 2019, in turn, these days part of the Embracer Group.
This allowed the team, now called Saber Porto, to jettison the yearly release schedule and deliver something more befitting of the original idea. There were images shown in 2021, but the team decided to continue working for three years until the final name was settled on at the end 2021.
Dakar Desert Rally uses Unreal Engine 4 as its basis. Traxion.GG understands that it does not use the SnowRunner game code – under the same Saber umbrella – but the teams did share insights.
Dakar Desert Rally Release date
Dakar Desert Rally will be released on 4th October 2022 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.