Dakar Desert Rally preview gameplay: Hands-on with Saber’s ambitious off-road racer

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Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview
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The first official Dakar Rally game in four years, Dakar Desert Rally is out on PC and consoles next week. Ahead of the release, we’ve gone hands-on with a preview build of the PC version to bring you some hands-on Dakar Desert Rally gameplay footage.

Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview

Compared to Dakar 18, it seems that Saber has taken the Dakar game series to the next level. Dakar Desert Rally is packed with content and looks stunning – especially on our 1440p monitor running in Epic settings, with realistic sand and water effects.

Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview
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On lower settings, the visuals still impress, although as you would expect textures take a dip in quality and the render distance is reduced. Dakar Desert Rally is also coming to PlayStation and Xbox, so we’ll have to wait and see how visual fidelity compares in the console versions.

Content galore

It’s no exaggeration to say that Dakar Desert Rally is packed with content. The early version includes cars from this year's race, the 2020's and even classic races for fans who grew up watching Dakar.

As for the vehicles, you can drive everything from cars and bikes, to trucks and quads. So, if you want to re-enact a specific event and race as a certain driver, you can.

In terms of progression, you start by unlocking a certain vehicle and are then tasked with completing a rally in the Suadi Arabian desert - the host of the famed Dakar Rally since 2020.

Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview
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Impressively, the team behind Dakar Desert Rally have faithfully recreated the real-life location in 1:25 scale, authentically recreating the dunes and rock formations that make the Dakar Rally one of the most challenging endurance races in the world.

That said, there are also some quirky game elements such as a crashed plane with a conveniently placed wing you can get some serious air time on.

An arcade and simulation racer in one

Whether you enjoy accessible arcade or realistic simulation racers, Dakar Desert Rally caters for the best of both worlds by offering three distinct modes: Sport, Professional and Simulation.

Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview

Sport mode is aimed at casual players familiar with games like Forza Horizon, with waypoints and a racing line to guide you. Unlocked at level 25, the hardcore Simulation mode, on the other hand, requires you to rely on Road Book instructions. You also can’t reset your vehicle, meaning you’ll have to find your way back on track if you get lost, adding precious time.

Not only this, but you’ll also have to make sure you get from one end of the route to the other intact – otherwise you’ll be spending many of your Dakar Points (the in-game currency) on repairs. Repairing is necessary in all modes but becomes increasingly less forgiving in higher difficulty modes.

Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview
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Another major distinction between the modes is how the racing takes place. In Sport Mode, vehicles race side by side and start in a grid at the start of a route. With multiple vehicle classes racing on off-road terrain, Sport Mode gives us strong MotorStorm vibes.

However, the more serious modes allow you to follow the real-life Dakar Rally's format, where the focus is on completing the stage in the quickest time possible.

You start at different times, but that doesn't mean you can't catch the other drivers of the same category or even different categories - you may run into trucks and bikes as you race around the dunes on your ATV.

Dakar Desert Rally

As well as online multiplayer, there is even an advanced roadbook editor allowing you to create your own routes and share them with friends online. This is a surprising inclusion in a Dakar game and we're excited to see what people come up with.

Release date

From our Dakar Desert Rally gameplay preview, this is shaping up to be a solid off-road racer and a huge step forward from Dakar 18. Dakar Desert Rally launches on 4 October across all platforms including PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, and PC.

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Pre-ordering the Deluxe Edition also gives you instant access to classic '80s Dakar vehicles including Ari Ari Vatanen's Peugeot 405 Turbo 16 and the the DAF Truck Turbo-Twin truck.