Spintires: MudRunner (or, awkwardly, ‘MudRunner: A Spintires Game’ if you’re going by the box art) is a brute of a game. In ten minutes, I’ve moved only 300 metres, and every single centimetre was a muddy slog full of toil and force. Every puddle, bog and tree did its best to slow me down. Yet, through all the hardship, I loved every single second of it. Spintires: MudRunner is easily one of the best driving sims available at the moment.
MudRunner is a definitive edition and remake of 2014’s Spintires rolled into one, and as such comes with a load of tweaks and improvements that truly do make it the superior version of an already great game. There are more vehicles that are lovingly rendered and suitably rugged, ranging from the small, manoeuvrable rides to behemoths that dwarf the environment and get by through horsepower alone.
The aim of the game is simple: deliver stuff – usually logs, but sometimes fuel too. The catch is that the surrounding terrain is horrendously muddy, boggy, wet, and forested, making navigating these hulking trucks, and protecting their cargo, difficult.
The mud squelches and deforms beneath their tyres amazingly, offering some of the best soft physics you’ll see in a game yet. But, more importantly, those exquisite physics aren’t just eye candy. As vehicles sink into the ever-present bogs, it becomes a very clever union of visual flair and core mechanics that make both the challenge and the visuals equally essential.
A very clever union of visual flair and core mechanics that make both the challenge and the aesthetics equally essential.
Even the best simulation games can be difficult to learn thanks to their technical language and complex controls. Spintires: MudRunner manages to take both of those common problems and successfully overcomes them, thanks to streamlined controls and a clever tutorial and mission mode. Sims have never been this accessible before.
The original Spintires was a PC exclusive with limited controller support. MudRunner is for consoles too, and as such has had its controls simplified somewhat to better fit on a controller. The result is something that, even on PC, isn’t a total arseache to handle, which is crucial when you’re panicking and fighting against the ground swallowing your truck up.
[The camera] often feels unnecessarily fiddly.
The one exception to this is the camera, as the vehicle often obscures the crucial bits of the screen to the point where you’re driving blind on unstable ground. While it’s still lightyears ahead of its predecessor, it feels unnecessarily fiddly compared to how slick the rest of the control scheme has become.
Those simple controls are joined by a tutorial and challenge system that really hammers home the game’s finer points. Crossing rivers, using the tether, repairing and fuelling vehicles and more are all walked through in challenges that are still engaging and tricky in their own rights. It would’ve been really easy, and entirely justifiable, for Spintires to laboriously hold the player’s hand through the minutiae of off-roading. However, the inherent nature of the terrain manages to turn the scenarios into self-contained actual challenges that are fun while also helping prepare the player for the main attraction: the sandbox.
Sandbox mode is where Spintires MudRunner really comes into its own. Delivering the logs is technically the main goal, but it’s such an unimportant thing in the face of the vastness each of the many unlockable maps offer. Along the way new vehicles can be discovered and unlocked, often leading to epic treks around to collect them all. Of course, Spintire’s idea of an “epic trek” is only a few hundred metres before getting swallowed up by quicksand, but that harshness turns what would in any other game have been a mid-sized open world into something feeling immense and insurmountable.
The magic of the sandbox mode is how it helps build emergent, player-driven stories. The trees creaking and bending as the tether just barely helps you ford a raging river, carefully weaving through the trees in a dark, mud-sodden forest, carrying out multi-vehicle rescue missions for your cargo, or simply admiring the bleak landscape are all incredibly memorable events that happen with no scripted story to speak of. This is what sims do; they make small-scale challenges seem like gargantuan achievements, and MudRunner is easily one of the best at one.
Small-scale challenges seem like gargantuan achievements.
What S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is to Fallout, Spintires: MudRunner is to Euro Truck Simulator. They share the same DNA, but a gorgeously grim environment and ruthless challenge push the former into its own level of greatness, despite a few technical hiccoughs here and there. MudRunner’s sandbox mode, simplified controls and engaging tutorial mode make it an accessible game for newcomers, but for driving aficionados, there is so, so much more on offer here.
As far as sims go, this one’s essential.
Code was provided for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC [reviewed]/Xbox One/PlayStation 4
Developer/Publisher: Saber Interactive/Focus Home Interactive
Release date: October 31
- Gorgeous, challenging environmental physics.
- Accessible to sim newcomers.
- Incredibly open-ended sandbox mode.
- A few technical hitches.
- Tricky camera.
An essential sim. Unique, great looking, challenging and accessible, this is an open-ended driving experience you won’t want to miss.