If you've been playing video games for a few years, you may remember a racing game for the PlayStation 2 called Paris-Dakar Rally. It didn't sell very well, and it didn't play very well, either. In fact, the game played like an old NES racer, had graphics that could have been done on the original PlayStation, and had about as many options as you could count on one hand--even if that hand had only two fingers. Perhaps as an apology for that terrible first attempt, Acclaim has released a follow-up called Dakar 2. Although Dakar 2 isn't as polished or realistic as games like Colin McRae Rally or World Rally Championship, it is nonetheless an approachable arcade-style take on one of the world's most grueling rally races--and a significant improvement on its predecessor.
Mud, rain, river crossings, and rockslides are some of the situations you'll deal with during the game's 12 courses.
Dakar 2 isn't a complex game, either visually or in terms of overall gameplay. The scenery moves by at a smooth clip, and there are plenty of nice environmental touches, such as wooden bridges, flowing streams, and torch-lit tribal dwellings, but the texture quality and graphical sharpness aren't quite on the same level as in other games available for the current generation of consoles. Even so, the visuals in Dakar 2 aren't at all disappointing, because you still get to observe all the necessary details present in a rally race--in particular, dynamic lighting and shadows, splattering mud, and gradual body damage and discoloration. The game plays like many of the racing games you'll find at your local arcade, in that the controls are easy to pick up and the physics are a little on the bouncy end of the spectrum.
The selection of vehicles covers quite a range. There are three main vehicle classes: cars, trucks, and bikes. The car class is actually composed of lightweight pickup trucks modified with dune-buggy-style tires and suspensions, while the truck class contains diesel-powered big rigs. The class you choose has a clear effect on how difficult the game is. Dirt bikes are fast and light, which means they have a tendency to oversteer in sharp turns and bounce around on hilly courses. It's also much more common to take a spill on a bike than it is to roll over in a car or truck. The other side of the coin is the truck class. Dakar 2 is one of the few games to incorporate big-rig racing, and it's a welcome twist. Each truck is a modified dump truck or semi cab, which means that bouncing into the air or sliding around in the mud really aren't problems, thanks to the massive weight of these vehicles. Overall, the tire physics feel accurate. You can easily perform powerslides with a quad bike or car, and trucks pretty much have to lumber their way around each turn. In keeping with the game's overall arcade-style nature, the body physics are on the forgiving side. Pickup trucks and big rigs will bounce around a bit on the fringes of a road, but it's difficult to get them to turn over. Bikes tend to spin out when you oversteer or collide with other bikes, but not when you slam into barriers or outcroppings.
Dakar 2 is one of the few games that gives you the opportunity to race 10-ton big rigs.
As in other rally racing games, the punishment for accidents in Dakar 2 is damage--although the repercussions aren't so severe as to take you completely out of a stage. Your vehicle can incur several levels of damage to any of four different areas: engine, tires, suspension, or steering. As each area develops more and more damage, you'll lose the ability to control the vehicle or accelerate to top speed. You have the option to initiate repairs, but you have to be at a complete rest to do so, and stopping for repairs can eat away precious seconds. Smart driving and knowing when to drive at a reduced speed are the best ways to avoid accidents, but you do have the ability to adjust various handling settings on your vehicle before entering a race, which can significantly reduce the amount of damage you sustain in certain situations. The list of aspects you can adjust includes tire air pressure, tire composition, gear ratio, suspension type, and transmission type.