Review: Dakar 2
Posted 03 Oct 2003 at 21:53 by Andy
Whenever I manage to catch the Paris to Dakar race on Eurosport I have to say I'm always suitably impressed, especially watching from the comfort of my own home. Trucks, cars and even bikes battle it out covering an incredible distance over numerous stages. Considered by the majority of drivers as the ultimate test of skill and endurance the competition covers varied terrain and sometimes unpredictable weather conditions along with the constant risk of your mode of transport breaking down in the middle of nowhere. With this in mind Acclaim unleash their second off-road racer hoping to entice all those armchair drivers who seek something a little different than the usual lap based affair.
Though it's not one of the better looking racers I've encountered recently there are some surprising highlights tucked away on this tiny optical disc. The environments, for instance, look absolutely wonderful with a variety of lighting effects realistically altering the time of day you're driving in. This is especially true in one of the mountain sections, which takes place at dusk altering the look and feel of the whole game and increases the challenge of driving in these varied conditions. Better still is the Chateauroux section, which is played in a complete downpour making the hairpin-bend filled track wet, incredibly muddy and uniquely challenging. Where the visuals come unstuck though are the vehicles, which generally don't consist of nearly enough polygons to make them appear realistic on any level. They do suffer damage and the graphics will reflect this but the whole thing appears unfinished and it seems that a little more time with the modeling could have eradicated this problem completely.
The audio in Dakar 2 can be neatly split into three very different sections: music, vehicles and people. Music is generally regarded as an inseparable part of gaming and the UK company Psygnosis were one of the first to license 'real' artists for their Wipeout game, which appeared on the original Playstation. Acclaim has followed the other route here using a generic music library. This actually works very well with a wide variety of tunes ranging from foot tapping goodness to the less inspiring background type of stuff. On the more technical side the various vehicles; be they cars, trucks or bikes are equipped with suitable engine noises, which although unremarkable, all work well enough. Finally there's your co-driver who will shout out navigational directions for you to follow as you speed around the tracks. This can be a great help especially in courses with bad visibility giving you that extra edge to help you knock a few seconds off your course record. All this is played out with full Pro Logic 2 support and while Surround Sound might have been a better option, unlike F1 or any circuit based racing games, there are never really any other vehicles close enough for you to actually appreciate it.
Before you enter into any stage off the race you'll need to select your preferred type of racing vehicle. This could be a truck, car or bike but rather than the developers allowing any of these to be the outright choice for the casual gamer the vehicles have been balanced in the various strengths and weakness they process. The truck, for example, has a low centre of gravity making it very stable but because of its substantial weight it's also a little slower than the other choices. The bike on the other hand is very fast but lacks a co-driver (for obvious reasons) and tends to flip over when you hit even the smallest of objects. You'll also experience general wear and tear over the courses, which will substantially lessen your racing ability and more importantly your speed. The question is do you stop and waste valuable minutes while your support team fixes you up or cross your fingers and hope for the best.
The courses themselves have been well designed and the earlier ones make it very obvious just where to go with markers and checkpoints at very convenient intervals. Later on though, when you hit the desert, it's a whole different ball game. This is when you will need to rely on your GPS to get you from A to B. The problem with this system is that it only ever indicates the direction 'as the crow flies' as opposed to giving you any indication as the quality of the terrain, cliffs or sheer drops included. Outside of the Campaign you'll also be able to try your hand at the self explanatory Time Attack mode and the hugely enjoyable Multiplayer bouts. This is a split screen affair and as usual it's the highlight of the game because there's nothing more fun than playing against a 'real' opponent especially when you can actually mock them sat next to you rather than through a car window.
Because of its arcade style interface Dakar 2 has a real pick up and play quality about it allowing you and a friend (if you have one and an extra controller of course) to battle it out in an instant. There's a fair chance they'll beat you too because, unlike some fighting games where you'll need to commit to memory a truck load of complicated combos, Dakar 2 is simplicity itself. This could also be its undoing though as those gamers who crave the more in-depth driving experience may be less pleased with the arcade angle to the off-road racer.
X: Hand Break.
Y: Change Camera.
D-Pad: Menu Control.
Control Stick: Steering.
There are certainly a lot of races to enter in Dakar 2 but there's little in the way of variety and once you've completed the Campaign and Time Attack modes there's little to go back for in the single player experience. This could have been avoided by including mini games and arena modes to utilize the rich environments but as usual something, either time or money, halted development and the game was released. The multiplayer bouts however are seemingly endless in their entertainment value and most gamers' competitive nature will be pushed to the limit when it means cutting those extra two or three seconds off your best time.
Minor gripes aside, Dakar 2 is an incredibly enjoyable game and the GBA linkup is truly unique addition. It also happens to include the missing Gameboy version so anyone lucky enough to own a link cable and a GBA will actually get the chance to play it. Hopefully more developers will embrace this notion of adding extras via the link cable and Nintendo themselves promise a push for this feature during the run up to Christmas. Overall if you were dissatisfied with ATV 2 then you should probably give this a whirl. It could be just what you're looking for.
N-Europe Final Verdict
If you only have one Off Road racer on the GameCube this should be it.
GBA Link Up
Pick up and Play
Too arcade based for some?