I’ve never played a game quite like SnowRunner, a follow-up to the cult hit MudRunner and part of the overall SpinTires series, from developers Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive.
In SnowRunner, you traverse the environment in a large truck, hauling equipment and supplies across dangerous terrain to complete jobs. As you start the game, the areas are in disrepair, with broken bridges, waterlogged roads and more. By accepting contracts, you’re able to improve the infrastructure around you and upgrade your fleet of available trucks.
The first thing I noticed — playing on an Xbox One X — is just how visually impressive the game looks. The scenery is gorgeous, whether you’re in the Michigan autumn or in the snowy Alaska.
The second thing I noticed was just how difficult it is to get a handle on controlling the trucks. I love racing games, and really driving around in just about any game. The handling in SnowRunner immediately feels foreign and unresponsive.
It gets better as you drive more, and realize that you need to make use of 4-wheel-drive capabilities and the winch to get out of tricky, muddy situations. I’ve driven off-road in treacherous conditions, and SnowRunner does a decent job of recreating the experience of slowly progressing up a muddy hill, or splashing through water in the road.
The question for a video game, however, is: Does ultra realism equal a fun experience? I’ll answer that in a second.
Your first mission in the game is to find a watchtower, and then repair a bridge so that you can reach your garage. There are watchtowers throughout the map, and like your average Ubisoft open world game, the player needs to visit a watchtower to unlock a portion of the map. SnowRunner has four large maps in each of its three environments to explore, with plenty to do in-between.
This first section is the game’s tutorial, and it behooves the player to play close attention to everything the game is showing you. It’s easy to get lost in the myriad settings and forget what to do. Early on, I could barely get around without sliding everywhere. Until I finally figured out how to switch to 4-wheel drive.
As it got dark, I drove around in the pitch black until I finally noticed the prompt for flipping on my lights.
For the various contracts, you might need to deliver a load of logs; or a certain flatbed trailer or a tanker filled with gas. To find the supplies, you’ll need to explore the terrain, then hope that the truck you have is the correct one for the mission you’ve chosen. Early on, as I drove my pickup truck around, it seemed I couldn’t complete any missions because I never had the right truck.
Another observation about the game: Unless you’re playing cooperatively (which I didn’t experience), you’re the only truck on the road. There are no other vehicles and no people. It’s like you’re the only person alive in a post-apocalyptic world where you’re working by yourself to repair everything. This does sap some of the realism, but is ultimately a good thing — if there were other trucks everywhere, I’d lose count of the accidents I cause.
Back to my above question — is SnowRunner fun? Well…yes and no. I truly enjoy exploring and finding the different watchtowers, and just trying to reach different places. Fulfilling the contracts is often an exercise in frustration for me, as I struggle to match the right vehicles for the job. I’ll concede that this is a player problem.
SnowRunner is at its best if you can sit down and play for hours and really get stuck into the gameplay. It’s a hard game to play between sessions with other games, as the simulation aspect really requires knowledge and concentration. It’s an easy recommendation if you are ready to get lost in the wilderness.