Dakar Desert Rally – Gameplay Tips and Tricks

Some tips and advice for those who might be older or at least drive like they are older. Or have reaction times measured with a calendar. In other words, people like me.

What Vehicle Do I Start With? Which Control Option Do I Use?

This is a rather basic question but has many nuances. And part of the answer depends on what controller you are going to use. While I’m sure it is possible to race with keyboard + mouse, I’ve never tried it in DDR and haven’t for many years in other games, probably not since Pole Position.

If you have a gamepad controller like those for the Xbox or Playstation (I use an old X360 controller myself on the PC) then you are equipped for all five vehicle types. However, a controller is best for the bikes and the quads. Still, nothing wrong with using it for the other vehicle types.

Be very aware that using a gamepad controller has been a challenge for many.

Funny enough, I believe the steering options are backwards! So lowering these options actually makes the car MORE sensitive with its steering and raising them makes it less sensitive.

Change your Controller Steering options to what I mention below, it makes a WORLD of difference on how twitchy the vehicle is. Put Steering Linearity at 1.00 and then adjust your steering sensitivity between 50 and 100, the higher it is the slower the front wheels will turn. I personally like 75 for sensitivity and 1.00 for Linearity. I also added a 10% deadzone, just to have some wiggle room with my joystick.

If you have a wheel+pedals set that the game currently supports (there are quite a number that aren’t currently supported, but hopefully updates will start adding those in) then you’ll probably find that it is easier to drive the SxS, car or truck with them. I use a Logitech G920 myself and aside from lowering the strength of the feedback from 60% to 40%, I use the default settings.

So which vehicle is the best choice at first? I’d recommend the SxS. Slower than the cars, but more stable than the bikes and quads. And stay away from the trucks at first, they are a handful!

Advice on Quads and Bikes

I’m making this a special section since there are quite a number of folks who swear that the quads cannot be raced since they are so uncontrollable. Yet I’ve raced quads on many stages successfully. Part of the secret is the settings in the game for the controller mentioned above.

And part of it is the tuning for the quads. What I use is shown below. I’ve lowered the tire pressure and tightened up the steering angle. These changes will make the quad more manageable.

However, the biggest effect in controlling the quad is to drive it more carefully. Quads are sensitive on dirt and are very sensitive in sand. Move the steering stick gently. This means you’re going to have to plan your turns earlier so you don’t have to jerk the stick at the last moment. The way I visualize this is to image that the front wheels aren’t on a smooth surface (which they aren’t in the game) but instead alternately dig in and skip over the surface. So if you happen to change direction suddenly when the wheels are digging in your quad will snap around. Minor corrections to the steering angle works pretty well.

The other really important thing to remember about the quad is when you are jumping over a rise or a crest or a dune or practically anything. When the front end hits and the wheels are turned (you have steering input), then it is likely the quad will snap around. So if you are in the air, release the steering stick and let the wheels point forward.

Again, a lot of folks are going to think I’m full of #$%^&$, but I’ve got in hours of stages on the quads and have won a lot. It’s about patience and practice.

So what about bikes? Same rules apply from above. Bikes will dig in and snap turn if you over-control. Ride gently!

Sport Mode

There are three game modes. Sport mode is the first you’ll probably try and it can be very frustrating for those of us on the more, err, life experienced side. All the competitors are released at once and your vehicle will be in a random position. And, no matter your position, several competitors will inevitably blow past you. You’ll try to speed up and duel with them and that will probably end in a crash.

A lot of people bad mouth Sport Mode, saying it isn’t really rallying and it is too arcade-like and more of that ilk. True, it isn’t like really rallying, but this is, after all, a game. Professional Mode and Simulation Mode are more like the real Dakar rally, but they are also very intense, time consuming and sometimes less than fun. Sport Mode appeals to me in two ways. One, I can blow off some steam throwing my vehicle around racing against other opponents and not having to worry about some much navigation. And second, and probably even more important, Sport Mode really hones your driving skills. It’s one thing to be driving by yourself during a stage, but if you are trying to dodge wild-eyed opponents, vehicles from other classes, blizzards, lightning, etc, you really learn how to drive at 10/10ths.

So what to do? First of all, remember that driving in this game requires lots of practice and patience. You are not going to be very good at first, but you will soon develop skills that will help you get faster and more importantly, be more precise in your driving.

Sport mode is focused on driving, but navigating still has to be done. Most of the time when you reach a waypoint, the next one is in view, however this is not always the case. You need to be paying attention to the navigational clues at the top center of the screen.

As I keep emphasizing, you’ll get better with practice and sometimes the best way to learn is to drive slowly. Do a rally but don’t worry about your position. Let those hotshot AI drivers zoom away and concentrate on figuring out how the symbols on the top of the screen correlate to what is happening ahead of you.

And in Sport mode, you have a secret weapon! Those hotshot AI drivers and riders have the skill set of Wiley E. Coyote. They may be fast, but inevitable they will drive into rocks, over cliffs or into each other. The longer the rally, the more likely you’re going to finish up front because your AI opponents are accumulating lots of repair time!

Professional Mode – Overview

Professional mode is the meat and potatoes of Dakar Desert Rally. It involves doing some serious navigation. To get a good introduction to navigation I can recommend the Guide “Roadbook tutorial (Video)” by RED. I’ve inserted the YouTube video below.

Again, I’m not going to give you blow by blow advice on how to navigate in Simulation Mode for two reasons. I forget the first one, but the second reason is that you can safely ignore most of what you see in the roadbook.

What? Aren’t all those little symbols important?

Well, no. And for the primary reason that you are going a zillion miles an hour (or kph) and don’t have time to study each little box. And for those of use older and maybe without the best of memories, there are just too many things going on. I have read that the time compression for Dakar Desert Rally compared to the real thing is five to one. In other words, what happens in DDR in one minute would be what would happen in the real rally in five minutes. I don’t know how accurate that is, but I figured out from my experience in DDR that I’m going through something like four to five waypoints every minute. There is just no way I can possibly keep up with everything being presented in the road book.

And I don’t need to…

Professional Mode – Bikes and Quads

I’ve divided up the rest of the discussion on Professional Mode into two parts because of one major difference, the co-driver. In bikes and quads, there is no co-driver. There is nobody telling you to drive this direction or turn left or warn you about figures. Nope, it’s just you, the open world and the roadbook.

For those whom this guide is aimed at, the older, less rocket-fast-reaction set, Professional Mode on a bike or quad is about learning to balance looking ahead with looking at the roadbook and looking at the CAP and kilometer display at the top. The most important thing to learn from the roadbook is, where am I going and how long before the next step in the roadbook? You don’t care if there are power poles or trees or camels nearby, you only care which way to go.

And this can be made even simpler. There are only three types of paths that you are going to follow. The first is an established road or trail, something that looks like you would know it was a road even if there were no tire marks on it. This is noted in the roadbook with a capital “P”. That’s french for “it’s a road”. You’ve seen a lot of those in Sport Mode.

The next path you’ll be following is traces. These are literally traces left by tires in the dirt or sand or heaven forbid, snow. If a roadbook box says “follow traces”, then follow those traces.

The third path is trickier, but logical. If there is a roadbook instruction to “Qt traces” or “Qt P”, then that means to quit following the traces or the road. There should be a number, highlighted in yellow, in the center box. That’s the heading, or CAP, that you need to follow. You follow that to the next waypoint

OK, so it’s not quite that simple. In the image below, you can see in the middle set of three boxes, in the box on the right, the instruction “Qt traces” then right below that is a “P”. That means quit following the traces and instead follow the road.

Finally, let’s expand on that number highlighted in yellow. If there is the word “MOY” highlighted in yellow below it, it means that the heading/CAP is an average, which means your either following traces or following a road. If there isn’t a MOY below the number, then that number is the actual heading you need to follow.

There are a lot more nuances to the roadbook, but really the best way to understand them is, yes, practice and practice. And drive slowly. Look at the roadbook, then look at what you see as you go, and learned to associate the terrain up ahead with the symbols in the roadbook.

Oh, one tip if case you’re feeling like you might be getting lost… look for helicopters. These are overflying other competitors as well as yourself. If you see a helicopter, odds are good it’s either somewhere you’ve been or somewhere you ought to be going.

Professional Mode – SxS, Cars and Trucks

As I mentioned above, the difference with these vehicles is that these have a co-driver yelling in your ear. 

The co-pilot reads the road book, he doesn’t give wrong instructions.

I think a common misconception is that people expect him to give directions in a WRC style, corner by corner, but the roadbook doesn’t have every corner. Each waypoint is multiple kilometers away.

How it goes is that after passing a waypoint, he reads the next. For example, it might go “4km, prepare to turn right, rocks, danger 1, downhill”. The road you’re following might have multiple turns in between, the navigator doesn’t know about those, he only tells you about the roadbook. He’ll repeat it once more at 2km away, and one right before, then as you pass it he’ll read the next waypoint in the book.

Another example that can be confusing at first are intersections. Imagine a Y intersection where you have to take the right path. You are currently driving with a cap of 0 degree. The roadbook will have written on it a cap of 90 degree. That roadbook cap is the heading you will have after the turn. The navigator, on the other hand, will say “keep right, cap 15”. That’s because cap 15 is where you need to head when entering the intersection. This is useful at complex intersections with 3-4 or more path you could take.

Finally, if you miss a checkpoint, meaning you were driving too far away for the game to register it, he will say you’re heading the wrong direction. After a while of saying you’re getting lost, he will eventually give you a cap to return to the last known waypoint. However, if you yourself got back on track and think you know where you’re going, you can keep going, and when you reach the next waypoint, the navigator will stop saying you’re lost and go back to reading the roadbook.

What I’ll add is that while your co-driver is a great help, you must keep an eye on the roadbook. The co-driver can get a little behind and then his calls will be somewhat confusing. As the human driver supported by an AI navigator, you need to remain aware of what waypoint in the roadbook you are driving to and what you are expecting to find.

Volodymyr Azimoff
About Volodymyr Azimoff 13310 Articles
I love games and I live games. Video games are my passion, my hobby and my job. My experience with games started back in 1994 with the Metal Mutant game on ZX Spectrum computer. And since then, I’ve been playing on anything from consoles, to mobile devices. My first official job in the game industry started back in 2005, and I'm still doing what I love to do.


  1. Overall very nice guide! I would just add some simple vehicle tuning for folks like me, who doesnt use hardware cheats in racing game! Somewhere in Steam discussions someone said this:
    Front Anti-Roll Bar to 1.687
    Rear Anti-Roll Bar to 1.759
    Basically it solves all the nonsense with any car.
    There is other little tweaks that could help too:
    Handling around 43% and Brakes around 73%.
    Steering Angle between 25-27, Suspension 125%,
    And Tires pressure always MAX except Classics (as thats what gives you speed).
    This setup makes all vehicles drivable with an ease without hardware cheats.
    Would also add on Quads that best thing to do is:
    Tire Pressure MAX (because speed)
    Steering angle 25-27 (as that seems to be golden middle)
    Both Front Wheels Toe and Angle to -1.0 (to make you more stable at high speeds or/and turns)
    And Brakes ether all the way Up or Down (depends on the track)
    And a bonus tip: When mid air, RELEASE throttle before landing!!!

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