Just over two years ago I took a look at a game that I loved even though I found it incredibly frustrating to play on my own, Spintires: MudRunner. It was a game in which you set out on a number of long-winded quests which involved getting stuck in the mud, jumping between vehicles to use their unique abilities, and using your winch to forcefully pull yourself out of ‘sticky’ situations. SnowRunner is the sequel to this dirty game, offering a bunch of new hazards such as snow and ice, as well as improved mechanics and a freaking ginormous set of sandbox environments to play in!
Developed by Saber Interactive (who have done some really fun and initiative games this generation) and published by Focus Home Interactive, SnowRunner takes everything which was great about the first ‘major’ release in the franchise, as there have been a few spin-off titles, and enhanced almost everything for this sequel. Be prepared for a few Death Stranding comparisons as I grab my wellies and take a look at SnowRunner.
There is no story within SnowRunner, you begin the game within your first basic truck and are shown how the various gameplay mechanics work throughout a decent hands-on tutorial. Although the game doesn’t really get into too much detail about the various mechanics and certain features, you’ll quickly pick up the game through trial and error as this is a game where everyone creates their own strategies and prefered pathways as they progress. However, the concept of the game is quite simple, on paper…
SnowRunner is essentially one big set of fetch quests. You’ll begin on the first map with everything blacked out other than the various watchtowers. Your first decision within the game is “do you try and unlock all of these first, showing the entire map and where the collectables and missions are located, or do you take on a mission and reveal the map as you drive around?”. The majority of the missions will require you to drive a truck to a depot, pick up a certain material, and then use it at a waypoint on the map to either satisfy the quest-giver or to build bridges, remove rubble, or destroy debris, creating safer and quicker roads to travel down.
There are a few similar, yet different tasks too, such as pulling deserted vehicles out of the lakes or mud and then returning them to either unlock them for your own use or get rewarded with money and experience. One thing to keep in mind, if you pick up the game, is that if you have to deliver a trailer to a waypoint then it’s a specific trailer on the map. I spent a long time buying and delivering a trailer, thinking the game was broke when it wouldn’t take it. Then I realised that even though they are what the quest-giver wanted, they wanted a specific deserted one on the map.
One of the biggest (and I mean biggest) differences I first noticed when playing SnowRunner over MudRunner, is the world you play in. There are three regions to explore, Michigan is full of mountains and very muddy, Alaska is covered in snow and ice, and the Russian wilderness of Taymyr is bumpy and also muddy. But, that’s not all. MudRunner has a total map size of around 8.25km2, SnowRunner has a total size of 30km2! This game is freaking huge.
As such, each region is split into multiple linked areas, allowing you to drive to various travel points and move to new areas within the same region, sometimes as a requirement as certain resources may only be obtainable within certain areas – it almost turns the game into a puzzle aspect as you need to map out and plan the most efficient and safe route to get from A to B to C and back again. However, when jumping from one region to another, so from Alaska to Michigan, you can only take your stored trucks with you – this is another big mechanic which caused me a little headache.
Although the game takes you to Alaska during the tutorial, it highly recommends you go back to Michigan asap as you don’t have the right tires for the snow (something we Brits hear all the time). Unlike MudRunner, each map doesn’t give you the basic starter trucks and trailers, you have to unlock or buy your trucks and then store them within your garage. If you move to another region without having any stored, you have none to use in the new and exciting sandbox! So, you’re encouraged to take your time and only move on once you feel you’re ready.
Your perfect truck
There’s a lot of customisation within SnowRunner, yet it’s gonna cost ya! At first, you only have the standard components, a few visual options, and a rather big range of paints to pick from. But, each area within each region has upgrades to find, new components which will only work on certain vehicles. So, as long as you’re picking up everything you come across or that the watchtowers tell you about, you should be able to pimp out your rides with tires that are more suited for certain conditions, new gearbox mechanics, a snorkel to breath underwater, stronger and longer winches, and more powerful engines – as long as you have the money.
Essentially, SnowRunner becomes much easier the more you play it as you’ll start to not only create a fleet of vehicles that can withstand the harshest of weather conditions, but you’ll also build new roads and shortcuts so you can avoid a lot of the hazards as you’re driving around.
Speaking of trucks, if you’re playing on your own and your truck gets stuck and there’s no tree in range to hook onto (so you can pull yourself out), you can either give up and teleport it to a garage for free, or you can jump into another truck and come to the rescue, pulling it out with the winch and saving the day. You can also equip your truck with various components such as cranes, fuel tanks, a flatbed, or more. Although, one thing I liked is that any vehicle (scout car or truck) can share its fuel with another one within its vicinity. So, no need to pull a large fuel tank if you just want to give another car your blood, so to speak.
Army of one
Although the game is most likely best played with friends (I wasn’t able to do this due to owning it pre-release), I personally thought this sequel was much more forgiving for solo players. Sure, you’ll find yourself stuck in the mud or water a lot of times, resulting in you furiously shouting at your TV as you wiggle the controller and hope the damn thing magically wobbles its way to freedom, but you also have the trusty winch to save your life once again. I can’t recall how this worked in MudRunner, but in SnowRunner you can either hook onto things manually or automatically – which is awesome.
If you want to be precise and strategically pull a certain corner of your vehicle (or its trailer) over to a certain tree or post, then you can pick the exact point on the truck and what item you wish to be connected to. Then, hold Triangle and watch as two becomes one. Alternative, if you just push Triangle, you’ll automatically hook onto whatever post, tree, branch, or vehicle that is in-range based on the direction you face the camera. This was a Godsend when I got stuck and had to keep hooking onto new items as I sludged along at about 2mph.
Once you’ve found the various gearbox upgrades you can also switch your vehicle into AWD mode, using more petrol whilst obtaining the benefit of much grippier tires. This, combined with the magnificent winch above, enables you to save yourself from throwing in the towel early on so many occasions. But, if you had a few more friends or strangers in your game, helping you out, I’m sure you’ll make it through the missions much faster – unless they’re useless and you have to constantly save them.
The phenomenal physics
When I first played MudRunner, the first thing I did was purposely drive into the mud so I could simply watch the mud physics in play. If you got stuck, the more you spun your tires, the more mud flew around, you began to sink, and the debris would build up all around as a real stuck car would do. So, my first point of call in SnowRunner was to drive into a lake, a mud pile, snow, and onto the ice – how did they feel?
Water Physics – these are beyond anything I’ve seen for a very long time. Not only does the resistance and force feel heavy and realistic, but the water effects as it ‘hits’ your vehicle and moves around the structure is perfect. Then you have small details like blowing your powerful horn whilst knee-deep in water – it causes the water around you to temporarily ripple due to the sound waves. Also, if your engine conks out, or you run out of fuel, mid-swimming lesson, you’ll begin to float away with the flow of the water. TL;DR, I liked the water physics.
The Mud – personally, although the mud within SnowRunner looks great and is a bastard to get through, it didn’t feel as awe-inspiring as it did in MudRunner. I imagine it’s the same, using the same or a modified physics engine, but it just didn’t feel as sloppy and dynamic as last time. But, don’t get me wrong – the mud still causes issues as you try to drive through it with the wrong tires, it’ll have you for breakfast and not let you leave if you don’t have support from a winch, and you’ll easily dig yourself into a hole if you move too slow and spin your tires furiously.
The Snow – surprisingly, the snow is only on the Alaska map and you can’t really go and explore there until you’ve played a decent amount of hours – I think I played about 10-15 before I went there. As you’d probably expect, the snow works just like the mud, only it’s white instead of brown – in case you’re not aware of its colour. Snow has a double-whammy effect when acting as a hazard as some clumps of snow have mud underneath, meaning you’ll not only get stuck once, but twice, requiring bigger tires, a stronger winch, or buddies to give you a nudge sometimes.
Ice – much to my surprise, you can drive over the lakes in Alaska due to them all being frozen. Thankfully, I’ve yet to find any which crack if you’re too
fat heavy, but you do slide all over the place if you’re not being careful. Hover, due to them not allowing you to get stuck in the currents and washed away, these aren’t as bad as the water hazards in the other two regions.
Other than the weather-based obstacles you’ll need to overcome as you go back and forth, delivering resources and saving sunken vehicles, the terrain itself can be a bastard with steep mountains, flooded roads, maze-like tree placements, and small winding roads which will result in you becoming a write-off if you slip and fall off them. As such, don’t be surprised if you find yourself losing hours upon hours of time simply completing one or two missions.
If you’re worried about running out of things to do – don’t be. There are 215 missions for complete across all three regions, 54 watchtowers to find, 65 upgrades, 11 vehicles to unlock by saving and finding them, and a bunch of very, very long-to-obtain trophies. There are also a bunch of ‘contests’, these are similar to the standard tasks but you’re timed and the faster you are, the more rewards you get. So, if you’re looking for a game to play whilst we’re all currently in lockdown, a game that will easily last a few months and entertain those who love simulation and realistic mechanics, SnowRunner is for you!
Another neat feature is the trophy monitor. You can see all the actual trophies you’re trying to earn, along with details on how to earn them. What’s good about this is it displays a percentage of how close you are to earning it. So, if you have to ‘Own every American Vehicle’, then it’ll say how far along you are – I’m at 13% for that one.
Ultimately, the game is very relaxed on what you do and when you do it. There’s no ‘campaign’, story, or narrative, it’s just you and a bunch of requests for you to leisurely look through and cherry-pick the ones you like. However, there is some progression as certain missions won’t unlock until you reach set levels, and the game will warn you if it thinks you need a certain component such as a crane. This is why I believe it’ll be much more fun with mates as it’s a free-for-all muddy and snowy sandbox for you to drive around in and help each other out.
PC Exclusive feature
On launch, I’ve been advised that the PC version (which is Epic Game Store only atm) has full mod support, allowing people to make their own vehicles and possibly even maps and objects. There was a snippet of information that said the mods could make their way over to consoles at some point, but as of today – this is PC only. If you weren’t aware, games like this and Farming Simulator have a massive fanbase on PC as well as modders who create awesome content all the time.
As far as I’m aware, based on promotional materials, the PS4 Pro edition (which I’ve reviewed) runs at 4k and 30fps (like the Xbox One X version). Visually and performance-wise, the game ran fantastic with no slowdowns (other than when you’re stuck in the mud and your whole world comes to a stand-still), and every vehicle and environment looks very realistic. However, there were some people on Twitter today saying the base PS4 edition had crashed on them a few times – but I’ve not experienced that at all.
Also, I’m happy to say that the developers have implemented an invert y-axis option – if picking this up on disk, be sure to update to see this option.
There was one bug that should be fixed soon – you can disable the HUD so you can take pictures and feel more immersed. However, once you do, the winch no longer works. I expect this will be fixed very soon though.
A personal request from me would come in the form of locking the time of day. The game has a day-night cycle and it looks great in all stages. But, all you have to do in order to change the time is to go to the map and push Triangle and watch it flick through various set times within seconds. I found myself doing this a lot as I prefer to drive during the day when it was bright.
Music-wise, SnowRunner has a pleasant soundtrack that is comprised of upbeat and energetic country-like music tracks which fit the simulation aspect perfectly. This, combined with the sploshing of the mud, the grinding of the winch, and the trickle of the water all fully immerses you within your new role of local delivery-guy.
Whether you tackle the harsh weather conditions with friends, or you brave it alone, SnowRunner will challenge your determination, patience, and strategic thinking. Fans of the climbing and slow-paced movement aspect of Death Stranding will most likely find pleasure in the purposefully clunky, realistic, and heavy controls and mechanics within this game as well. Although the one key aspect of the game is to go from A to B (via very stressful pathways), it’s a very therapeutic and relaxing game in which you become both mentally and physically more adept the longer you play. This isn’t your standard no-physics simulation game, this is about as realistic as you can get without having your living room covered in mud, water, and snow.
If you’ve not seen this series before, Spintires: Mudrunner and its American Expansion are also out on the PS4, Switch, PC and Xbox One, a game more focused on mud physics and cooperative gameplay. However, SnowRunner is almost four times as big, has enhanced and modified controls and physics, delivers balanced gameplay no matter how many people are playing, and three distinct locations with multiple linked areas. Both games are very relaxing, frustrating, challenging, and huge time-sinks, so I’d recommend them both if you’ve not played either.
The Future: As of day one, you can also purchase the Season Pass. There’s not a lot of info on this yet but it promises “4 phases of new content to be released in the future, including new trucks, new maps, add-ons and more” as well as an exclusive Sabertooth skin upon purchase. If the expansion is as big as the American DLC was for MudSpinner then it’ll be worth picking it up. But for now, I’m going to wait for a few of the phrases to drop before I make a decision.
- - Almost four times bigger than Spintires: MudRunner
- - Enhances everything from the previous title whilst refining the mechanics
- - Visually the game looks incredible on the PS4 Pro
- - The physics are next-gen almost
- - Lots of missions and tasks to keep you busy for possibly months
- - No toggle to keep the time of day you pick
- - Early on it's quite frustrating as your truck is a bit naff
- - Some people may find it repetitive due to the nature of the game (maintenance simulation)