EVERY once in a while a group of people decide to go from Paris to Dakar. Rather than doing the sensible thing and flying there, they use whatever kind of motor vehicle they can find – cars, motorbikes or trucks.
Much of the terrain is like a small Bed and Breakfast on a cold, wet Friday evening. Inhospitable. Much of it is desert. This is convenient because it means that game designers don’t have to think about the colour of the landscape.
With the addition of a few hillocks, rocks, place markers, cattle skulls (desiccated) and ruined temples (desecrated), you have yourself a passable desert. Alternatively you could add half a ton of custard and have a passable dessert. Although a dessert wouldn’t have the obligatory strip of scrolling mountains two-thirds of the way up the screen.
At the very start you must endure a rather badly sampled tune, which is built from a very few, very long samples – and very muffled, to boot. Next you must do a colour code routine, which has a nasty habit of crashing even when you get it right, and then it’s on the game itself.
You must choose whether you want to drive a plain 4x4, modified 4x4, or a prototype 4x4. They all look identical, so you can’t go for the snazziest. The curious thing is, even though the basic machine uses diesel and the prototype uses high octane, they are all filled from the same pump, by the same mildly disreputable looking garagiste. What’s worse, all the engines makes the same noise, so next time your 16-valve sounds like a taxi, you’ll know not to worry.
And now to the game – I call it that, for it is customary to do so. What you have to do is follow two sparse lines of place markers along a curving and undulating route of uniform light sandy-brownness. The navigator has a map that it may be an idea to follow, showing roughly where you should be heading, and exactly where you are heading. These, more often than not, do not match up, so it’s all down to following the markers.
There are some rather bad ideas to follow, showing animated interludes between stages, and it would be better not to dwell on these, for they are, in the most part, a complete waste of time. There are also inter-stage stages, where you have a map, but it doesn’t actually tell you where to go. Pretty useful, huh? Just think of the fortunes to be made in blank maps...
And that’s the game. There is a competition to be won if you do very, very well. But I suppose if you can bring yourself to do very, very well in Paris-Dakar, you deserve all the praise you can get. But I’m just an average mortal with an average ennui threshold, and I couldn‘t handle it.
In motorsport you’d expect a certain amount of crashing to go on. But not the kind that quite often happens with Paris-Dakar – you know, the sort that involves flashing red boxes and Guru Meditation numbers. Sigh.