Release Date: October 31, 2017
As a simulation of driving through the mud, Spintires: Mudrunner seems to do a pretty good job of conveying just how difficult that job really is. But as a video game outside its niche it does very little to keep you come back with boring mission, activities, and some really slow pacing. Add in an incredibly lifeless world in locations that should be teeming with workers and animals, and you get the distinct feeling that developer Saber Interactive kept their view narrowly focused on all that glorious mud.
Look, Spintires: Mudrunner is one heck of an interesting game in terms of what it provides, but what it provides just isn’t for everyone. In fact, the game might be the most narrowly focused simulation games I’ve ever played. Add in the difficulty that’s weighted far more on the difficult side than I would have liked, and you are left with a unique game that sometimes gets stuck in the mud. But if you can get past some inconsistencies, this small game that’s just over a gig in size has a lot going on.
Gameplay consists of the player performing a number of tasks across some pretty huge, sandbox maps. It’s not an open-world, but the game does an amazing job giving you large worlds to play and get dirty in. Not to mention all those beautiful toys! You play in a mostly forest setting and are essentially the only logger on duty for some unnamed company. You outfit your trucks with all sorts of real-world equipment and take logs from the field to the mill. It sounds pretty boring, but that’s not really the case.
Sure, there are long stretches of just driving in the mud, but there are lots of other smaller objectives that help keep things interesting. Working cranes is a blast, learning what each vehicle and their accessories do is great, and exploring the levels to find new vehicles and objectives is pretty neat. The game also offers up the required tutorials that so many games ignore, and pushes you to take on the various challenge modes it features before you drive free, and these all serve to get you used to how the game works.
The mud, and how it interacts with your trucks, is the main crux of the game. Don’t expect to drive around like a madman as everything you do works like it would in a real-world setting. There is more depth to the driving than you might expect when first starting out. In so many driving simulators you might change gears and check your mirrors, but things don’t often go very far beyond that. But Spintires: Mudrunner goes well beyond that.
Things like understanding your trucks differential lock is vital, as is knowing when to active it and the all-wheel drive mode your truck might have. And since each truck you drive is different, you might have to take the same routes in very different ways if you don’t want to get struck in the mud, or washed out to sea. Manual shifting is also important when scaling mountain sides to allow for finer control over your ride. It’s all so technical that I fell in love with the feeling that I was actually learning something.
Understanding how to use the winch and knowing the best attachment points as well as understanding how your truck will react is a blast. Will that tree hold? Will I burn too much gas fighting the mud/water and get stuck out in the sticks? Is that river/creek deeper than it looks and flood the engine? These are all things you are going to be thinking about on every run. It sounds like a chore, but it really isn’t. The joy you get from scaling a cliff or fording a river is simply a delight.
While the core mechanics of Spintires: Mudrunner are as solid as they come, some of the design choices keep the experience from being a truly fantastic one. The biggest of these comes in the form of the camera that you’ll be fighting with most of the game. The camera plays like a third-person shooter, sitting just off-center from the truck. In smaller trucks and cars this works okay, but when driving larger vehicles you are often working blind. And god help you if you are towing a huge trailer. Sure, you can move the camera to adjust your view, but if you are in the mud or water this could be a death sentence to your rig.
So maybe the game just wants you to use the cockpit view like something along the lines of EuroTruck Simulator, but this isn’t the best option. The cockpit view is very spartan, not because of the trucks, but because the developers didn’t spend much time detailing things. Your hands will clip through the wheel as it turns, and most problematic of all, your mirrors don’t work killing the simulation experience. I don’t mean that they are broken, rather, there is no reflection programmed into the game. This kills any sense of simulation and is made worse when the game asks you to use the cockpit only in some challenges for get a perfect score.
Another issue is just how empty the world seems. You are working for a logging company, but you are the only human anywhere. There are no other workers roaming about, no people milling about, and not a single wild animal in the middle of the forest. It just all feels so strange when you stop driving for a minute and look around, especially when you notice entire tiny towns abandoned with cars strewn about on the road. Some people that stopped by while I was playing noted that it felt like some apocalypse happened and I was the last person alive, working my job as that’s all he knows. Another noted that they thought it was a horror title when driving at night , which makes everything harder, by the way
That said, what Spintires: Mudrunner does at its core is something to be commended. Getting your convey from point A to point B is such a fun challenge that if you are simply here for a simulation, you’ll be satisfied. Building ramps, winching trees, and using all sorts of specialty vehicles is a blast. Sure, it’s a very slow experience and that may keep a lot of people away, but if you loving making a mess in the mud, Spintires: Mudrunner should satisfy.