It really doesn’t seem that long ago that I was driving my trucks through the mud and filth in Mudrunner by Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive and in all honesty, it really wasn’t. The game offered so much and I constantly keep going back to it even now.
It seems however that the guys at Saber weren’t quite done with their original Off-Road Driving Simulator and behind the scenes they have been working hard on the follow-up to what ended up being one of my personal favourite games to release over the last few years. The only issue that I had with the game was that it was relatively small. What I mean by that is that once you had completed your initial tasks on each map available, that was it really. You could go back to each map and alter difficulty levels to suit and try to aim to get max ratings on each area, but once you had done that there wasn’t that much more to offer the gamer. It seems they listened to my inner thoughts..
For starters, the map area in SnowRunner has more than tripled in size from the original game, but thats not all. In Mudrunner the idea was to deliver logs to logging camps around the map, which did start to become a little stale after a while. The repetitive nature of the game could start to drag a little which would leave me playing it again for a few hours at a time and then changing game coming back to it again at a later time. I have had SnowRunner now for 5 days and haven’t stopped playing and if I am being honest, I haven’t completed the game for this review. Now normally I will always complete games given to me for review before posting my thoughts about them, after all, you can’t give an honest opinion about a game (especially story driven games) before you complete them in their entirety. I can safely give an honest opinion on this game from the hours I have sank into it even though I haven’t finished it. I know for a fact that I won’t finish it for a good few months, it is simply that great in scale and content!
You start off the game with a nice little tutorial based in Michigan. The idea of this is to talk you through the basic settings whilst driving your vehicles and using the various gearbox settings. Each vehicle that you drive will all have different settings which I will get to in a little more depth as I progress in this review. Progressing through the tutorial it introduces you to your first task which needs to be completed; a local bridge is out, and you need to deliver the materials in order to fix it and drive on to the next part of the map. You start off in a small 4×4 truck driving to a Watchtower (which were a part of Mudrunner) to reveal more of the map. When you enter a map there will be areas that are just black and no information of the roads and terrain available until you either explore that area or drive up to a watchtower which will reveal that part of the map. Once that is done it directs you to a much more suitable vehicle to transport the materials needed and then directs you to the areas where you can load up your truck and deliver until the bridge is repaired. Once this is done then the next part is to direct you to the areas garage which is your base hub. Once you have unlocked that, the game then talks you through travelling to different areas of the world of which there are 3 in total at the moment. From that point onward the tutorial ends and it is up to you to do what is needed. I do suggest (and the game does as well) that you don’t try to jump straight into the other areas of the world until you have levelled up and have access to better vehicles which can take on the terrain that each part of the world offers.
So, a few days ago we released some tips on SnowRunner as published by Evgeniy Sorokin, Lead Producer at Saber Interactive, and trust me, give that article a read and take note as they are very helpful for the overall game. Where Mudrunner had us all delivering logs around the various maps, SnowRunner has expanded on that greatly. They have ditched the log idea in favor of various materials which are needed around the areas. Your journey will see you delivering Fuel Tankers, Semi-Trailers, Bricks, Wooden Planks, Concrete Blocks; the list goes on and obviously each loaded cargo has a different effect on the vehicle being used to transport it due to its weight.
Each area within the game features set contracts that you will need to complete, but there is also a host of side quests to take on. You will spot them on the maps when you unlock Watchtowers and can range from rescuing a stranded vehicle somewhere to rebuilding bridges or clearing roads blocked by fallen pylons or rockslides. To say there is a few missions is an understatement; Michigan has a total of 82, Alaska with 74 and Taymyr, 59 giving you a total of 215 separate missions. Certainly enough to keep everyone busy for a very long time. If you want to know exactly what the game holds (and this isn’t a spoiler).. You can unlock a total of 12 vehicles which would never be available to buy no matter what level you climb to unless you find them in the wilds. There are a total of 54 Watchtowers to find and 65 upgrades to discover and unlock; more on those later.
Now, where Mudrunner had pretty much all the trucks available in the game from the start and you could unlock any extra ones you needed by gaining stars on the levels available, SnowRunner has ditched that concept. The idea of the game now is to complete tasks for the locals of each area as well as contracts set in place by companies (as above). Do this and you will receive reputation which will level you up (you also receive that for unlocking Watchtowers and discovering trailers in the wilds) but you will also receive cold, hard cash which can be spent on purchasing new vehicles IF your level is high enough to have unlocked them within the Truck Shop which is available from your base garages. You can also sell vehicles that you find around the maps if they don’t suit what you need from them, for instance there are trucks that can only operate with rear-wheel drive. These are great for driving on roads to deliver items, but as soon as the going gets a little rough they will struggle. I personally don’t use them. The other thing that becomes avaialable when you find them are contests. Simply put the game will task you with something to do and you will need to beat certain timescales. There are also other things thrown in for fun like ones you have to do just using the cab view to give you a bit more challenge.
I said Garages in the plural sense. In Mudrunner you would have to transport the building equipment to unlock the garages in the game, but there wasn’t really that much you could use them for. In SnowRunner your Garages are essential (and already in place on the maps) and here’s why. So, you start off in Michigan with the game and you would think that like Mudrunner the map that you see in front of you is the entire area that you have to work through. Nope, guess again! If you open up that map you will see at the bottom right there is the option to press Square to open the ‘Global Map’. Will be something else depending on what platform you are playing on, but I am reviewing on the PS Pro. When you open that up you will see that the great State of Michigan is broken down into 4 separate maps which are connected by tunnels. To get to the joining tunnels you will normally have to rebuild damaged bridges or complete numerous other tasks first before the map allows you to drive to them. The further along in the game you get, the longer the deliveries and tasks will be, eventually leading to deliveries from one map to another and seriously, give our tips article a read for help with that as some maps don’t house a base or Fuel Station for your trucks.
Within the Garages you can retain a vehicle or 2 to use around the world. You can move straight to Alaska or Taymyr as soon as you unlock the first Garage, but as I said above, hold off on that temptation. Each area of the world has its own different style of terrain, and Alaska (as you would expect) is predominantly snow, which is where the game gets its name from, but if you jump straight in you wont get very far with your basic vehicles. This is where upgrades come into the game.
Every vehicle you either discover or buy can be upgraded in various ways. My favorite vehicle at the moment is the 4×4 that you actually start the game off with, the Chevrolet CK1500. When you start off the game it is in its most basic form. The more Watchtowers you open up, or the more you travel around the maps, the more you will find hidden upgrades for the vehicles. Not all upgrades that you find will necessarily work on the vehicle you are currently using and when you do get to the upgrade location it will give you a list of the vehicles it does work on. When you take your vehicle inside the Garage there is a Customize option. Within that menu you can kit out the vehicle you want with all manor of options to help it cope with the terrain in the game. As an example..
..my Chevrolet has a standard engine still fitted and it deals with the environment pretty well, including some steep gradient inclines. The gearbox is still the stock one, but when I move on to Alaska I will be fitting the SnowRunner box that I discovered which will leave the car in constant low range, but will be able to handle the snow. I raised the suspension, fitted bigger tires that can handle the deep wet mud and fitted a snorkel so it can drive through deeper rivers than it would normally be able to. Within the customize menu, there is a whole range of tires to fit to your vehicles, all of which will handle different types of terrain differently, my 6 wheel trucks at the moment are limited to only having the basic road tires, but the higher your level within the game, the more will become available to buy and to move on to Alaska, you really need to be levelled up sufficiently to fit snow chained tires.
The other thing with Garages is that if you are out on the road and you flip your vehicle, rather than have to send another vehicle out to try and get it back on its own wheels and running again, you can just recover the vehicle. This will send it back to the nearest garage, but remember where that garage may be. It could be a case that your recovered vehicle is sent back to a garage which is 2 maps away from the one you need to be on so it does pay to be really careful and judge the terrain ahead as well as study the map before you head out to a destination and also drop route markers so that you don’t get lost in the expansive areas.
What Saber Interactive have done here is what most developers of a series of games fail to do a lot of the time. They have taken everything that was fantastic about Mudrunner (which was a lot) and moved it over to SnowRunner, and left out the few bad points of the game. They have kept the basics of the original game the same and not really altered them too much so that it would ruin what was already a great game. The beauty in this game is not just in the scenery that surrounds you everywhere you look, but in the attention to even the smallest detail. Pay close attention to how your vehicle moves through deep muddy pools and see how that mud is dispersed by the tires and how it is also churned up behind you. The more you use the same dirt tracks, the more the ground is destroyed. Drive over it as hard and as fast as you can and the muddy tracks will churn up fast making it harder to traverse the next time you need to use that route. Take your time using the low range gearbox settings and using the scenery to attach your winch to the help pull you out of difficult times or even being stuck so that your wheels are spinning and digging you deeper into the ground and you wont destroy vital transportation routes.
The game features single player obviously, but in the same way that Mudrunner did, it also features an online mode where players can take their vehicles which they have retained from within the games Garage and take them to the roads with up to 4 players online. Its a mode that I haven’t been able to try out at the moment. I am presuming that Saber haven’t fully launched the servers for that just yet as I have tried to get into it, but the game wont let me.
The graphics within the game are great. OK, they are no real works of art like Death Stranding for instance, but work very well for the game and the vehicles really do look great down to the small details. I did notice a few graphic pop ins as I was playing, for instance, some road markings would magically appear on the black top when I got close to them such as painted crossings in towns. Also, in the second part of Michigan when you approach a dam, there was a big chunk of the wall from that dam that just appeared out of nowhere, but since I started playing Saber have already released patch 1.03 which does seem to have rectified those issues at least for me, but with a game of this magnitude there really is no major issues. You can see nicely ahead of you on the route you’re taking depending on the time of day enough so to plan where to put your wheels accordingly and I didn’t see any graphic pop ins anywhere else from what I mentioned. There is no lag or framerate drops, even when you start to feel a little restless and drop the hammer of the vehicle you’re driving on a road surface, but be warned that if you do decide to do that you will take damage in places from the road surface as well as easily loosing control and smashing into barriers that line the roadside.
I did encounter a couple of annoying issues for me, but something that won’t affect the game for everyone else at all. I like to have my camera pointed at a certain angle so that I can see clearly my surrounding, what’s ahead of me, but more importantly where my driving wheels are pointed. Your wheels don’t just automatically point in a straight forward direction as soon as you let go of the left thumb stick as most other driving games do, they stay where you left them. If you don’t keep a track of where your vehicle is headed, especially in more difficult terrain, it is easy to get stuck. I found that in some instances pulling long trailers as well as some of the repair trailers the camera would jump out of where I wanted it to be to hover above the vehicle. This is simply down to the trailer being a solid object and the camera isn’t able to pass through it in the game the same as it does do with trees that would obscure the view, and it also does the same thing with solid rock faces at the side of the road which I understand. Like I said, it probably wont be an issue for literally everyone else, but it was for me at times.
As for the way the game sounds, its brilliant. All the vehicles have their own sounds down to the squeaking of the suspension and air brakes kicking in as well as the sound of the air suspension in some of the larger trucks. Jump inside the cab for a drive and view the game from that perspective will not only give another element of difficulty to the game, but really did take me back to my time driving trucks. OK, the ambient background music can start to get a little repetitive and annoy at the best of times, but surely thats what Spotify is for? You can take your own soundtrack on the road with you. Rather than the Americanized Bottle-Neck Blues playing I lined up my trusty Shvpes playlist [2 separate links there for you] and away I went (trust me, give them a try).
The thing that kind of annoyed me about the music however was when you eventually decide to start exploring Taymyr. For the people of the world who aren’t exactly sure where that is, it’s in Russia. So while I was in the area my playlist stopped and in came the background music from the game. It was still the exact same music from when I was driving round America and Alaska. Why couldn’t they have added some Russian styled music? Even when you get close to buildings you can hear music from what I guess is radios on play inside them (happens on all the maps, listen out for it), something tells me that the Russians wouldn’t really be listening to the kind of ambient music the game is playing. I would have preferred something different from what I had been listening to for the best part of 12 hours before I opened up my Spotify.
SnowRunner is one of those games that we all really wanted, even though you may not realize it. For me, I was really happy with Mudrunner and as I’ve said, I still keep going back to it, but it wasn’t until I heard that it was getting a sequel that I started to get excited about it. Mudrunner offered so much from a small game, but above all it also left a great deal that could be exploited and developed into a huge game that a lot of people would want to get their hands on. SnowRunner is that game and the effort that has gone into it shines through brighter than the early morning glare from the low sun in the sky through your trucks windscreen.
Add to all of that, even the loading screens are packed with information about the trucking world which I really did find interesting and we really do have a great game on our hands. For me the game warrants a 9.5/10. There are a few issues that I have explained which is personally stopping me from giving it a 10, but this is one of the best games I have played in a very long time, and one that I will be playing for a very long time to come as will everyone that picks the game up. Not to mention that Saber Interactive have already stated that the Premium Edition will include SnowRunner and its Season Pass, granting you access to the base game and all future DLC packs – new vehicles, new skins, new missions, new maps to explore and more, this promises to possibly be the largest game released for pure land mass
Reviewed on the PS Pro
**PLEASE NOTE: AIR Entertainment were supplied with a review copy of the game. This has in no way influenced my views on it as per our Review Policy**