Most of you out there will be familiar with wheel-to-wheel racing sim games. If you’re even more well-versed in driving simulators, then you may know Euro Truck Simulator 2 or its American counterpart. But what about living out your fantasy as a hard-working backcountry cargo hauler, where you can actually drive off the pavement, and sling some serious mud? Then you have the Spintires series, whose latest title was MudRunner, developed by Saber Interactive back and released back in 2017. But this isn’t that game.
This is SnowRunner, the next sequel in the series, and it’s a great game to buy if you’re looking to get your (digital) hands dirty. It released earlier this week for PC on Windows 10, Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
Starting your muddy journey
I’m a PC gamer at heart, so I sprung for the Windows version. That offers the opportunity to talk about one of this game’s strong suits — the graphics. Some “simulator” games look like complete and utter messes right out of the box, but the SnowRunner developers paid immense attention to detail, and it shows. I cranked the graphics up to their high setting, and this game looks awesome. As soon as you start off, you’re planted right into a mid-’90s Chevy Silverado C/K 1500 pickup to begin exploring the world (more on that below).
Now, there are multiple types of vehicles to explore the interconnected maps, of which there are currently three. From the wilds of the Black River region of northern Michigan, you can head to Alaska almost immediately after starting the game. Eventually you’re able to travel to Russia, but you’ll work with the same types of vehicles no matter where you are.
Light vehicles like the Chevy Silverado C/K and Khan 39 Marshall (based on the UAZ 469) are meant to be scouts. They’re faster, but can’t haul cargo. From there, you’ll move up through various highway and off-road trucks to really get your hands dirty and complete the wide range of tasks and contracts. SnowRunner’s tutorial guides you through the basic gameplay — controlling your truck, how to navigate the map, cargo management and so on — before leading you to your first garage.
Finding and using different vehicles
While you’re out exploring the world, you’ll find different kinds of vehicles and upgrades. Certain upgrades — suspension lifts, bigger tires and the like — are meant for certain trucks, and you can access all those customization options from your garage. You’ll earn money and experience by completing tasks, which unlocks different trucks to further complete tasks and open up the world.
When I say ‘open up’, I do mean that literally. Some routes are blocked off to begin with. In short, Michigan’s roads are a complete and utter mess when you first start. Apart from shaking the teeth out of your skull when you drive on them (my sympathies for you guys up there in Michigan), actual debris and washed out bridges will block your path. You can ford water…but it’s not always possible and you risk getting stuck or killing your rig if you bite off more than you can chew.
While some other sims play along a similar formula — haul materials from point A to point B, blah, blah, blah — this one puts in a bit of a twist. You can actually see the results of your work, like repairing the bridge below or sorting out the downed power line above. What’s more, you’ll actually be able to explore further once you get the obstacles out of your way.
It wouldn’t be a sequel if you didn’t get stuck…a lot
So, the graphics look excellent and the gameplay is pretty solid. Mind you, using a mouse and keyboard for steering and throttle control isn’t ideal, so I’d recommend having a controller or steering wheel setup handy if you’re playing on PC. Part of the reason I mention that is because technical driving is a huge part of SnowRunner. Screw it up, and you will get stuck. Even if you don’t screw it up, you’ll still get stuck, but it’s really frustrating when it happens and you’re not able to recover a trailer you were hauling through the muck.
Fortunately, most vehicles have a winch equipped (and it’s an option in the garage). But sometimes the mud is too deep, your vehicle’s too heavy and you don’t have the right equipment, and that sucks. On that front, SnowRunner does quickly teach you that having the right equipment for the job can make a massive difference.
See that thick, glutenous mud in the screenshot above? I foolishly decided to haul this trailer full of steel beams up a mountain to a work site where I could drop it off. This was my first time hauling a trailer in the GMC MH 9500, which does not come stock with all-wheel drive or off-road tires. The game tells you this is a highway truck and you probably shouldn’t take if off-road, but I thought I thought a bit of grit, determination and ingenuity could get me through.
I was wrong.
The game is technical, but reasonably forgiving
Through failure, we learn our greatest lessons, and I learned the GMC was a terrible truck for this job. Happily, I stumbled upon the International Harvester Fleetstar shown below, upgraded it with all-wheel drive (it already had a locking differential), and I made much better progress.
That’s another high point of SnowRunner: The game doesn’t seriously punish you if you make a huge mistake. I leaned the GMC over on its side and rolled the little Chevy Silverado down a mountain. You won’t be able to turn the wheel and steer-flip your way out of trouble (I tried), as the engine will stall if you’re not upright. However, one quick key press and you can “recover” back to your garage — free of charge. If you run out of fuel, you can also fill up again without charge.
You’re more or less free to choose your own path beyond the initial tutorial. While you have to earn money and experience points to unlock new areas, contracts, tasks and upgrades, you aren’t shoehorned into doing a linear series of missions. You can explore the map at your own pace. The game even has four-player co-op, though you can’t do two people on the same screen.
My greatest frustration, besides crashing
If you’re into sandbox simulator games and love trucks, then SnowRunner will no doubt offer hours upon hours of entertainment. My little ordeal with getting the trailer stuck in the mud took hours to figure out, with strategic use of the winch, hooking up and unhooking the trailer, and sacrificing a few trees. Like I mentioned earlier, the steering controls are a bit wonky with a keyboard and mouse, and you’ll get more precision there with a controller.
Besides that, my only gameplay-related complaint are the vehicle headlights. The game does advance through a day-night cycle, so you can drive at night, but you won’t want to. The headlights on every vehicle suck. Fortunately, you can toggle what time of day you want through the local map, but it was annoying to keep having to switch over to “morning” so I wouldn’t have to use the headlights.
Besides that, there were a few attention-to-detail bits that annoyed me. If I’m going to immerse myself, I really want to geek out in the realistic experience. But things like the Chevy’s shifter column staying in park when I was driving along and the driver flailing his hands all over the wheel anytime I made even a slight correction while on the interior camera view was not ideal.
Verdict: It’s a lot of fun, even if I’m not a great trucker
SnowRunner is a fun game that is challenging, yet accessible to those who want to get into it. The minor annoyances didn’t put me off the game, and I’m sure I’ll spend plenty more hours working up to some of the trucks I really want to try out.
The base game is on sale now at around $40 for PC and $50 for Xbox One and PS4. A season pass is also available (bundled into the “Premium Edition” for another $20 with more DLC content.
As a matter of disclosure, the game’s developers did provide a free copy of SnowRunner for us to review, and paid for a sponsorship spot on TFLtruck in the video below: