Acclaim did a good job of listening to complaints aired about the first Paris-Dakar Rally and made sure not to make similar mistakes in the follow-up. There still aren't that many opponents visible on the course--you can pass four other vehicles in the campaign mode and three others in the arcade mode--but the CPU-controlled drivers do a much better job of driving the course and competing, especially on the hard difficulty setting. In the campaign mode, there's also a time-based cutoff that you need to meet in order to advance to the next stage, which gives you something to shoot for even if you're well ahead of the other competitors in your group. Each of the game's 12 different courses has a variety of shortcuts and natural obstacles to watch out for, but unlike in the previous game, you're pretty much free to drive wherever you like within the nearby surroundings of each route. For the most part, the roads that are cut into each stage and the turn warnings announced by the radio crew keep you pointed in the right direction. Three of the game's courses are set in unmarked desert areas, where there aren't any cut roads or optimal racing lines. In these stages, you have complete control over the route you take to get to each checkpoint.
One of the most glaring problems with the first game was that the ASO-sponsored Paris-Dakar logo was visible in the lower left-hand side of the screen during the entire run of each race. In Dakar 2, there's a local area route map and a GPS pointer in this portion of the screen, which makes more sense. Although the series' graphics have been improved in every respect, it's the audio that has undergone the more Cinderella-like transformation. The radio crew calls out each upcoming turn and caution accurately and clearly, even when you aren't taking the route identified on the map. As in the previous game, the music is primarily stereotypical European techno with a smattering of African drums and vocals, but this time it's done in a style that sounds remarkably like that of the popular German duet Enigma. Dakar 2 has one of the most unique and listenable soundtracks to come along in quite some time.
If you're looking for a rally game teeming with features and options, Dakar 2 probably won't meet your needs. It's not a simulation, and you can't unlock hundreds of different vehicles. Compared with other arcade-style racers, however, Dakar 2 offers a decent amount of variety. There are 18 vehicles in total to unlock: eight cars, four trucks, and six bikes. The game's four play modes include a 12-stage campaign mode, a quick race mode, an arcade mode, and a multiplayer rendition of the arcade mode. The arcade mode includes time trial and reverse route options.
The terrain isn't as complex as the terrain found in other games, but there are plenty of nice details to observe, like this river crossing.
Like many games nowadays, Dakar 2 is available for both the Nintendo GameCube and the Microsoft Xbox. In terms of gameplay and appearance, the two versions are basically identical. The Xbox version has support for up to four players in its multiplayer mode and five short bonus courses in its arcade mode. The GameCube version supports two human players in its multiplayer mode, and instead of additional bonus circuits, it contains a set of a dozen course challenges that you can download onto a Game Boy Advance handheld. Even though the downloadable tracks are on par graphically with the other top-down-perspective racing games that are available for the GBA, this mode lacks punch because it never pits you against other opponents. Challenges involve beating a set time, gathering tokens, or avoiding obstacles.
Acclaim hasn't really done anything groundbreaking with Dakar 2. It's just a solid arcade-style rally racing game that happens to carry the license of a grueling 20-day, 6,500-mile road race that typically involves more than 400 competitors. Some people may take that to mean that the game should have more courses, longer stages, and dozens more vehicles visible during each race. There are other games out there if that's what you're looking for. For those of you who aren't as picky about the details, there's a passable amount of fun to be had right here.