The Paris-Dakar Rally is a race of endurance and skill covering well over 6000 miles and lasting 17 days. This PS2 version of the grueling contest boasts realistic physics, a variety of racing vehicles, and authentically modeled 3D environments. While virtual drivers must often adopt an "anything goes" approach as they speed ahead through the diverse, unpredictable, off-road environments, skill and strategy must be employed to avoid hazards and keep the vehicle running smoothly. Even minor abuses build up over the two-week contest. Barreling through too many potholes can ruin a suspension. Those tumbleweeds seem light and insignificant, but hitting too many off them might crack the windshield. As in the real-life race, an important part of the game is managing the little details to keep the car and its driver moving ahead across the long haul.
In the summer of 2000, Acclaim, with the help of developer Broadsword Interactive, released what is arguably the worst Dreamcast racing game ever created, Spirit of Speed 1937. That game was so unplayable that it later went on to win GameSpot's award for worst game of 2000. Now, barely more than a year later, Acclaim and Broadsword Interactive are back with Paris-Dakar Rally--an ignoble and halfhearted attempt at off-road rally racing.
On paper, Paris-Dakar Rally suggests quality. Similar to real life, the game's arcade and campaign modes split the route up into 12 significant portions, which are then broken into four smaller pieces for easy consumption. To tackle the route, there are 26 different vehicles in four different classes originating from 10 different manufacturers. Thus, the game sports 4x4s, motorbikes, buggies, and quads from such leading manufacturers as Mitsubishi, Toyota, BMW, and KTM. For fine-tuning, you can even adjust a number of vehicular characteristics, including suspension stiffness, shock absorption, ride height, gearbox, and tire pressure. Besides the insulting lack of a multiplayer mode, or even a two-player mode, Paris-Dakar's schematic is solid.
However, once you get into a race, theory falls by the wayside and the game shows its true colors. No matter which vehicle you choose, be it a bike, ATV, buggy, or truck, they all drive the same. Bouncy, floating, and high-flying physics are the order of the day. In fact, although a 4x4 is best suited to the terrain of the race, motorbikes are much faster. This lack of realism extends to the track as well, as your distance from the course's midline has more bearing on speed loss than actual terrain makeup or obstacles. Speaking of obstacles, the littlest rock or dirt pile can send your vehicle flying--even if it's barely a few inches thick! Fret not, however, as you get a limited number of repairs that you can trigger at any time, more of which can accumulate during the liaison stages spread intermittently throughout the campaign.
If only the game had a diverse multiplayer mode or a competition-filled arcade option, these flaws might be excusable--but it has no such modes. As such, the fact that Paris-Dakar Rally is a rally title at heart also means that it's chock-full of extraordinarily repetitive and dull stretches of terrain. There are barely more than three other vehicles on the course at any given time, among a field of more than 300. Ultimately, this combines with the unexpectedness of crashes and spinouts to make for a remarkably overdrawn and frustrating experience.
In keeping with that frustration, Paris-Dakar Rally's visuals are equally cruddy. Thanks to a visible draw-in plane, blurry textures, and woefully simplistic polygonal scenery, the 10 locations--ranging from Paris, France, to Dakar in Senegal--run the gamut from just plain to just plain ugly. Whether dirt, gravel, grass, or water, the majority of the game's textural detail is flat. To make matters worse, the stupidly huge Paris-Dakar logo remains onscreen during the entire race--regardless of which camera angle you select. Surprisingly, in light of all this, the game's vehicle models are actually somewhat crisp and complex, right down to the paneling that ruptures as you absorb damage. The ATV and dune buggy models drawn from the Kawasaki, Yamaha, and KTM stables are particularly impressive.
As for the audio, well, if you can tune out the cheesy, stereotypically Arab-inspired pop music and the flat sound effects, you're left with an in-car navigator that is the epitome of dullness. "Long right, opens," and, "Hard left, dropping," are rather useless comments when they're both ill-timed and lacking energy. It's almost as if the developers listened to Infogrames' Test Drive: V-Rally and decided to implement a quick mock-copy.
If only Paris-Dakar Rally were an exact copy of Test Drive: V-Rally. Regardless of how passionate you are about rally racing, or just the ASO-sponsored event itself, it's doubtful that you'll tolerate Acclaim's mockery of the sport.
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