Dakar Desert Rally – PS5 Review

0 0
Read Time:7 Minute, 15 Second

Colin McRae and Sebastien Loeb are names I know, not because of their rallying exploits but because of videogames. My knowledge of the Dakar Rally is not from games but because of its infamy as being one of the hardest sporting challenges around. Dakar Desert Rally aims to authentically capture the epic scale and challenge of the legendary event.

Become a Dakar Desert Rally Legend!

Coined as the largest open world, off-road racing game of all time by developer Saber Porto, the game is set across 20,000sq kilometres of diverse terrain. The team, based in Portugal, have previous experience with racing titles like WRC, MotoGp and its previous Dakar game, Dakar 18.

Formerly known as Bigmoon, the studio was acquired by Saber Interactive in 2019 and renamed Saber Porto.

Played here on PS5 the games install size is 45.16GB and is also available on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, Steam and Epic Games Store.


From the moment the title screen music hits you get the instant feeling that this game is different. The title music wouldn’t be out of place in and Uncharted game. It has an epic feel about it.

The premise is simple – race from point A to point B in the shortest time possible while hitting specific GPS waypoints and not picking up any time penalties. Times for completing each stage are totalled up to give the final event standings.

There are over 150 licensed vehicles from 2020, 2021 and 2022 to choose from. Official teams and sponsors with five vehicle categories – Cars, Bikes, Quads, Trucks and SXS. Featuring three distinct single player career modes – Sport, Professional and SIM the game caters for a variety of racing tastes.

Sport mode allows players to focus on driving and to race side by side with other competitors. An arcade mode essentially where repair costs are very reasonable and competitors are easier. Don’t be fooled by “easier” though as the other competitors will race dirty, taking any opportunity to send you barrel rolling down the side of a sand dune or hurtling into rocks.

Players navigate the stage by yellow waypoint beacons which must be passed through to validate them. Miss a beacon and receive a time penalty. Similarly if you have to complete any repairs to your vehicle during a stage you also take a time penalty. Tip – turn off the navigator from the option menu and you have yourself  a brand new Motorstorm game.

Professional takes the experience up a notch towards the real thing. Gone are the waypoint beacons so listening to your navigators instructions and paying close attention to the roadbook is key. There’s no side by side racing against competitors, so one less hazard to contend with. The pace of competitors is increased and repair costs are higher.

eyes on the roadbook

Wander too far off the beaten track and your position is reset to assist getting you back on course. After a while playing in “Sport” this mode feels more manageable and is quite enjoyable. It definitely requires more focus and concentration.

Locked out to XP Level 25, the SIM mode is the full authentic Dakar Rally experience. No save games, no assists and no re-positioning. If you get lost and a 5minute stage takes you 5hrs to navigate then so be it.

The career continues across all the three modes so XP and DP (Dakar Points – in game currency) that you’ve earned is available no matter what mode you race. Nice if you favour SIM and just want to jump into a quick Sport mode race to earn some rewards. Likewise if progressing up through the modes it’s great to carry everything forward.

Bonus Dakar Points and XP can be earned by hitting and maintaining vehicle max speed, drifting and performing jumps getting airtime. The earned DP can then be used to pay for repairs or to purchase new vehicles.

hit max speed for some bonus XP & DP

Events are made up of a number of stages and each event has an XP level requirement to enter. Stages can flow from wide open desert plains to narrow rocky mountain passes and on to undulating sand dunes. Add to the mix a heightened sense of treachery thanks to some truly epic weather effects like lightening storms, snow blizzards and sand storms.

Your progress through the stage is tracked by a vertical progress bar on the left of the screen. Validated waypoints are denoted in green (with waypoint number) while your current position is marked by a red diamond.

Then there’s the night/day element to contend with also… whatever you do don’t wreck your headlights during a night section – it’s terrifying.

mind those headlights

The vehicles feel good to drive for the most part. Tweaking the tuning of tyre pressure, camber and max steering angle before a stage can improve speed/handling, alleviating some of the major handling issues. With the quad bikes however, even though it was possible to greatly improve handling, the experience just never feels fun. The bike and quad respawn also takes way too long and could do with improving to take it more in line with other vehicles.

One thing I do feel needs to be improved is the garage as you cannot currently view vehicle stats that are in the warehouse without moving to the garage first. Also when looking at the garage slots its easy to mix up some cars with sxs vehicles. The little vehicle category icons present in the warehouse should also show on the garage slots.

Graphics & Audio

Dakar Desert Rally is stunning to look at. The meticulously detailed vehicle models look great. The physics and destructibility of them is fantastic. The environments really give the feel of grandeur and epic scale. The lighting sells the feeling of realism with sunrise/sunset especially impressive. You can’t help but marvel at the splendour of it.

Weather effects are also very impressive with racing through a lightening or sand storm particularly standing out.

Wild Weather

In the low light conditions of night however something doesn’t look quite right and it loses the realistic look of the surface textures. I also found some odd shadow behaviour in sunny conditions when racing with a vehicle equipped with a rear spoiler.

The sound of the vehicles is great with the different models of different vehicles having unique sounds. The soundtrack is probably limited but never felt it being repetitive. The game kept me zoned in on the racing

The one low point on the sound is the navigator voice which sounds quite robotic. I took a look back at the Dakar 18 offering and the navigator sounds so much more natural.

Performance wise I did encounter some significant slowdown when validating waypoints, which I had put down to background saving. What’s nice to see is that thankfully the dev team were quick to patch this and the issue is now fixed. They also added some UI tweaks which are a nice quality of life improvement.


There’s the challenge of getting 1st place with all five vehicle types (easier said than done) in each of the events which bags you a nice classic vehicle. Like Pokémon I wanted to collect ’em all.

Classic Car Acquired

There are 56 trophies to be had – 48 bronze, 5 silver, 2 gold and 1 platinum, some of which are quite the challenge. But this is the Dakar Rally right? Fitting that the platinum in is a tough one.

Online multiplayer along with the planned upcoming DLC additions gives added mileage to this racer.

Final Thoughts

Despite some performance issues and minor bugs Dakar Desert Rally delivers bags of fun. The stunning environments, wild weather and plucky opponents paired with the excellently realised sense of speed makes for some truly epic racing. Danger lurks around every corner.

If you’re a Motorstorm fan like me then the Sport Mode is most definitely for you. I am very interested to see how the develops over time and would like to see support for DualSense haptics and adaptive triggers added in the future.

Saber Porto, you very much have the attention of this arcade racing fan. I’m pleased to award Dakar Desert Rally the Thumb Culture Gold Award.


Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.

Thumb Culture

YouTube | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Discord | Podcast


[allkeyshop_widget_offers game=”103542″ template=”26″]

About Author