When I was growing up only three things mattered in my life entertainment wise, Counter-Strike, Football, and most importantly Rally racing. And over the years I have come to idolise and adore just about anything related to the World Rally Championship series, and the now re-branded Paris Dakar. However, back then the spectrum of rally-centric games, especially of the Paris Dakar kind was incredibly limited, bordering on nonexistent, and that’s because back in the late 90’s and early 00’s, it was difficult, if not impossible to create the true to life simulation set within the remits of the Paris Dakar competition. However, now, fifteen years after the last Dakar related title has been released fans of the discipline, as well as the event has been graced with Dakar 18, a title which has been dubbed as the ultimate simulation of Dakar. But in order to find out whether those claims are true or not, you’re going to have to continue on reading, and see for yourself.

First thing which has to be underlined about Dakar 18, is that it is a recreation of the most recent edition of the Rally, meaning that you will not race among the African plains, but foreign and desolate landscapes of Latin America. While this choice is easily understandable, by anybody familiar with the event, then it has to be said that not being able to participate in the Dakar rally of the pre-war on Terror era is a little disappointing. As this particular incarnation of the event is remembered most fondly by those who grew up with. But just like with everything in life, we simply cannot have it all, and it appears that in the case of Dakar 18 we can’t even have a solid rally simulator.

Just like Assetto Corsa which originally launched all the way back in 2014, Dakar 18 is a complete simulation of a motor-sport upon which it is based. However, just like the product of KUNOS-Simulzioni, Dakar 18 is a rather lacklustre release, which puts all its proverbial chips on the simulation-based aspect of the title, and just like Assetto Corsa, it neglects all the other features and elements, which due to their general lack of basic polish, and any form of quality, drag it all the way down to the depths of the modern gaming abyss, which is full of titles such as V-Rally 4, and countless renditions of the current WRC games.

Whenever a title looks visually underwhelming, I do not like to bash it, as graphics are not always the most important thing. But if I were to say that Dakar 18 is nothing to write home about, when it comes to its visuals then I would be committing a civil perjury, as Dakar 18 is not just underwhelming, it is simply ugly. Basic car models are simple, yet are covered in tame and archaic textures. The in-game environments are below the lowest of the pars, and all the special effects which are accompanying them are either so tame that is simply impossible to notice, or so in your face and jarring, that you feel like the game is trying to blind you.

When it works just fine, Dakar 18 is an eyesore, however, it rarely works ‘just fine‘, as for the most part, it is filled with an array of visual glitches and reoccurring imperfections, which only further drag it down. The previously released Gravel did also suffer from some visual gremlins, then they were nowhere as common and as obnoxious as the ones which you’ll come across within the remits of Dakar 18. And while screen tearing, and inconsistent frame-rate could be excused, as most consider them to be a minor inconvenience, then unfortunately the same cannot be said about object pop-ins. Pop-ins which is so bad that they load-in massive objects such as trees, boulders and other vehicles mere meters ahead of you. And yes, texture pop-ins are also a thing, and are just as bad, if not worse.

Prior to its release, I would call Dakar 18 an AA title, with little no hesitation. But as low effort, and as poor as some AA titles are, Dakar 18 is simply a whole level below them. It’s not just about its graphics, or performance, it is also about the fact that Dakar 18, despite of being a rally simulator, features a rather underwhelming driving engine. An engine which is a far cry from what most of us are used to.  In truth, Dakar 18 feels more like an arcade racer with some sub-par mechanics thrown into the mix, which do more bad than good. As ultimately, all features of the vehicle handling which titles such as Dirt: Rally have nailed to a tee, are nothing more than a nuisance within the digital remits of Dakar 18. But it is not all bad, as the title in question does possess some redeeming features, but their impact is rather subjective, as you are about to see for yourself.

Dakar 18, is a title built upon a wide range of licences, which range from likeness of the titular competition’s drivers, through vehicles, all the way down to the event and its locales. And those who will buy the title with the hopes of experiencing the event first hand, will be rejoiced with this particular fact. But for those who will seek to play Dakar 18 purely for the gameplay, licences will be nothing more than window dressing on a trash skip. As when the push comes to shove, Dakar 18 has nothing to offer besides the handful of vehicles, names, and tracks, and that’s because every single component outside of those is nothing short of shambolic.

In conclusion, Dakar 18 is an unappealing eye sore, which despite of its inherent lack of visual quality, is also plagued with countless performance related issues which range from catastrophic frame-rate, all the way down to object pop-ins. And its flaws, as you’ve already read, extend far beyond the visual side of things, as Dakar 18, simply plays poorly, as its driving mechanics, and the engine upon which they’ve been build are soul destroying. Sure, it is a fully licence title, with a fair amount of content, but in this instance negatives heavily outweigh the positives, and the result is rather heartbreaking – especially for those who were waiting well over a decade for the next Dakar title, a Dakar worth its name.