Spintires: MudRunner is not a game for the faint of heart. It is probably amongst the most brutal games I’ve ever tried to review, yet there’s something here in its bleak, slow, Eastern European commercial truck-driving that’s kept me coming back for more. Have you ever wondered how difficult it is to reverse a flat bed truck with a fixed rear axle through a muddy track? According to Spintires: MudRunnner it’s really bloody hard, and frankly I’m willing to believe it.
So Spintires: MudRunner is a driving game – it’s definitely not a racing game – and on the whole you’ll be attempting to traverse various difficult terrains in first gear. A brief tutorial sets the scene, though it doesn’t give the greatest first impression. First up, there’s the camera, which allows you to look at your vehicle in a variety of ways, apart from the most obvious and useful ones like directly behind your vehicle. There is a cockpit view which is generally more helpful, except that there aren’t any rear-view or side mirrors which could also be somewhat useful when driving a truck, or in fact almost anything.
Still, it’s something that you can acclimatise to, though spinning the camera too fast is likely to cause some screen tearing. Fortunately it doesn’t happen during normal play, and other than some pop-in, the game’s performance is largely solid. It did manage to lose my mid-level save data at one point though, which really, really hurt after ploughing through the mud for an hour.
Besides the usual driving controls, each vehicle is fitted with a winch to help you out of tough spots, and there’s a variety of secondary things to consider depending on what you’re driving. You can also switch at any point to any other vehicles you come across, as long as you’ve unlocked them, which can be handy if you’re running low on fuel in your current ride, or if you’ve become stuck.
Some of the vehicles are fitted with differential lock, which makes your wheels spin evenly but gives you less control, while an all wheels option is better for tackling the tough stuff, but uses more fuel. Largely, besides any tasks flung your way, it’s your fuel and your level of damage that you need to be keeping an eye on. Oh, and the road.
MudRunners offers up the muddiest mud tracks I think I’ve ever come across. While game’s like last generation’s Sega Rally and Codemaster’s premier Dirt series offer a pretty convincing take on the sticky brown stuff, MudRunners wants to drown you and your vehicle in it. It cakes your wheels, deforms as you truck sinks unevenly into it, and becomes a thick mire that you’ll have to winch yourself out of time and time again. The physics engine at work here is genuinely remarkable.
In fact, Spintires: MudRunner feels less like a driving game and more like a puzzle one. It’s an odd comparision to make, but it feels more akin to Snake Pass than it does to Dirt Rally, as you try and work out how to achieve the required result with the tools you’ve been given.
It is unforgiving though. I hate to throw around contrived comparisons but this is the Dark Souls of driving games – or Contra, if you’re of a certain age – and if you haven’t got things just right the game will eat you up and spit you out, even on Casual. It’s slow too, with multiple levels stretching out for miles as you take them on at a decidedly sedate pace. It’s not going to be for everyone, and is probably one of the most niche offerings out there, but there’s still something about it, and there’s a real sense of achievement when you’ve made it through an unexpected lake, or survived driving alongside the edge of a cliff.
You’ll be trundling through the Siberian landscape, across six open maps, taking out some of the country’s most robust vehicles, and it provides a window into this tough and unforgiving environment. There’s a real sense of the hard work that’s been poured into the game, and that it has – in part – been bred by the Russian landscape. I almost feel as though I know what it’s like to deliver logs across the country’s most difficult terrain, and that’s undoubtedly a triumph. It is bleak mind you, and even when the sun comes out it’s pretty brown. Still, there’s few greater joys than discovering a road after scrambling about in the mud for a while, and it can even feel peaceful to be out in the countryside on your own.
Spintires: MudRunner is utterly unique, and as a driving simulator of a niche field it is basically unparalleled. However, the difficulty level and lack of pace are likely going to make it a very niche game, while the camera is an extra challenge in itself. Still, there’s grit, determination, freedom and reward to be found here for those ready to wade in.
Version Tested: Xbox One S