STAFF REVIEW of SnowRunner (Xbox One)

Wednesday, May 6, 2020.
by Kirby Yablonski

SnowRunner Box art In 2017 I reviewed a game called Spintires: Mudrunners, a simulation orientated off-road driving game. As a driving game, it was not your traditional entry into the genre given the off-road simulation aspect. I enjoyed it, but it was not without some faults and I scored it a 7.9 out of 10. Fast forward to present day and a sequel has entered the fray. SnowRunners was recently released on both PC and Consoles. The title of the game is a bit misleading though, as it is not focused on snow covered locations, but given the inclusion of the new weather that you will find in one of the three areas, I can see why they used the title they did. So, how does SnowRunner compare to its predecessor? Well, I would have to say it is much better than the original.

You will explore three different areas including Michigan (4 maps), Alaska (4 maps) and Russia (3 maps). Looking at these three areas, you know where you will be seeing the snow. You start in Black Rock, Michigan, an area devastated by heavy rains and a flood. As you progress through this first area, delivering items and/or resources to rebuild bridges or clear rockslides, you’ll also rescue stuck vehicles, recover and deliver various trailers, as well as deliver food and supplies to those who might need it. This is so much different from the original game as the tasks are more diverse, and it is just the beginning of the game. Black Rock also acts as a tutorial as you learn the basics of the game, and how to do many of the tasks required as you progress deeper.

One of the biggest ‘Quality of Life’ (QoL) changes from the first game is that you are free to go to the first map of all three main areas. The fact that you can go and explore each area early in the game is a welcomed addition to the gameplay, as the original title was more linear, forcing you to go map to map. Having three areas that you can visit early in the game will allow you to start to build up your money and XP, as well providing an opportunity to add some new vehicles to your garage to help you in future tasks. It also adds variety as you can start to explore each of the different areas which changes up the scenery.

You start with a basic truck, or what is called a Scout Vehicle, and you explore the map in search of watchtowers. These towers, once accessed, unveil a certain portion of the map, showing where the various contracts and contests are, as well as upgrades for your various vehicles. Contracts are tasks that are assigned by companies in the region while contests are random tasks that are a benefit to random people or groups. You are awarded money and XP for your efforts when successful. You can do these contracts and contests in any order if you have them unlocked.

Getting cargo onto your truck is where another QoL change comes into play. You have a cargo management menu this time around, and you can auto-load and auto-unload with the press of a button. Going through the various types of cargo is a breeze. In some missions you only need to arrive at your location and drive into the dotted box, and viola, you are done and given your rewards. I honestly don't remember the original game being this simple and efficient in this area.

Leveling up is quite straight forward; the more XP you earn, the more you level up. It is not a quick process though, as you will have to do many contracts and contests to earn the XP. As you level up, you open options to customize your vehicles. Some of these options are only available if you find the ‘upgrade’ on the map and region you are exploring. The amount of vehicle customization is staggering. From engines, gearboxes and AWD drivetrains to roof racks, bumpers, shocks and fog lights, there is a lot you can add to your vehicle to not only make it more suitable to the environment, but the specific task that you may need to complete. You can also buy different types of trailers should one not be accessible on the map.

Controlling the various vehicles will take some time for people to adjust to; however, I found that the control was better than in Spintires: Mudrunners. I also found that the in-game camera was easier to use. The camera has less movement when you are in dense forests or rock walled paths, and it will take some time to get used to the angle you have when towing a longer trailer. This is not a fault of the game though, as it adjusts for what kind of terrain is around you. Having a camera that is very agile is important in this game. You will need to view all the terrain around your vehicle to determine such things as ground clearance, how deep your tire(s) are in mud/water, or what may be impeding your vehicles momentum. It is not a perfect camera, but it is improved, and it is useful.

The physics in SnowRunner are quite impressive. You will notice how your vehicle handles differently on various surfaces or how different tires will affect your trucks handling on or off-road. Once you start travelling with a trailer loaded with concrete slabs or wooden planks, you can feel the difference in steering responsiveness, braking and even how your vehicle will handle when going up inclines. I must warn you that this is not an easy game. Sure, some of the contracts or contests are very manageable, but some are also extremely hard. You will not only have to experiment with different vehicles, but different routes to get to your goal. I was trying to do one contract, which was required to open the next map and spent more than a couple of hours on it and I only finished 2 of 3 steps before calling it a night. Given the physics and the realistic-simulation approach, you just can’t hit the accelerator and get from point A to B. You will have to feather your gas pedal, drive in low gear, line up your wheels on a path and at times hope for the best. And do not expect to get through the game’s 82 tasks that quickly, as some will have you stuck (pun intended) for quite some time.

There is a multiplayer component to SnowRunner as up to 4 players online (private or public lobby) can take to the same map and share duties. All will earn XP and money even if any of you have previously completed the task at hand. It is a nice way to do some of the more time intensive tasks that are made up of multiple sub-tasks. Things to note in multiplayer are that you must go into the game’s settings to permit your co-op friends the ability to attach a winch to your in-game vehicle. This will help you to get unstuck or get your vehicle back on its’ wheels when needed. The other thing that you need to be aware of is that any in-game progress is only saved to the host’s game save. If you manage to do a contract that you may not have done prior to a multiplayer session, and you are not the host, when you go to play single player again the contract you completed online will still show as not completed.

In terms of the overall presentation, SnowRunner gets a lot of things right. Visually, I found that each map within each region is highly detailed. From the water ravaged areas within Michigan, the bleak and desolate areas in Russia to the snow-covered maps of Alaska. There is variety between all the regions too, from open areas, dense forests, rocky and mountainous areas to water soaked and mud filled bogs. There is also an in-game day/night cycle. During midday you will get the light of the sun from above or bleakness of clouds and rain. As dusk approaches, the light can change colour as the sun falls behind the horizon. Once you get into the darkness of night, you will navigate with only the headlights of your vehicle to guide you. You can manually change the time of day too (12:00 am, 6:00 am, 1:00 pm & 8:30 pm). Overall, the lighting is amazing, as the shadows cast by various objects change with the direction and intensity of light. You can also be immersed in a morning mist that blankets the area after a mid-night storm. Water effects are notable to as you’ll cross running streams, a water and mud filled bog, and of course various lakes with narrow paths to navigate.

The 40 vehicles that developer Saber Interactive has included in the game are incredibly detailed, and that includes within the cab. When I reviewed Spintires: Mudrunners, one of my biggest complaints with the visuals was playing from the driver’s view (first person) and how it lacked detail. In SnowRunner the bar has been raised, as the inside of each truck seems to have been painstakingly recreated. Moving gauges, switches and various lights, and even some old school cooling fans can be found within. You will be spending a lot of time driving using the outside view (third person), and again, the level of detail is amazing. From worn paint, rivets in the metal, the axels and suspensions straining to get over rocks, exhaust pipes and the heat they emit, to the the mud flaps, bumpers and horns that adorn each truck, there is a lot to take in.

If I had to nitpick anything about the visuals, it would be the texture draw-in. This is more noticeable in outside the truck than when using the in-cab view. You will notice that rocks, fallen trees and/or various textures will pop-in while you are driving. You will also really notice this when driving slow (e.g. locked in “low” gear). I think that I may understand why this occurs, as everywhere you go is so detailed and so full of scenery and objects it almost lifelike. I played on the Xbox One X and it was noticeable, but the game manages to do a great job managing the detail in this manner. For those wondering, Focus Home Interactive has said in their forums that in terms of the Xbox One X, the game runs at 4K (3840 x 2160) / 50FPS approximately + console setting to revert 4K. On the regular Xbox One it will run at 1920 x 1080 / 50FPS approximately.

The audio pretty much matches the quality of the game’s visuals. Each and every truck sound different, from the V8 engine of the Chevrolet C/K Scout truck to the deep roar of the Pacific P16’s 12 cylinder diesel engine, every truck has a distinct audio footprint. You’ll also notice the creaking of a heavy duty truck’s cab as you navigate over the bumps and berms of any given forest trail, along with the sound of a trailer you may be towing, as it too struggles to get over the various terrain. Given the nature of the varied locales and environments you will venture through, there are various sounds to match each one, such as running creeks or rivers, the sound of a dam releasing water, to that of downed trees cracking under the weight of your truck, the rain falling or any of the regions animals making sounds. Finally, the music that plays during the game becomes background music that is never annoying or overbearing. It is akin to some upbeat, as well as mellow, country-rock and even what I have termed country-jazz.

SnowRunner is a huge improvement over the game that preceded it. It is also a title that can be challenging but yet rewarding. The visuals are top notch, the audio brings the in-game world to life and the control and game camera are much more fine-tuned. Yes, there are a few hiccups now and then, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. If you are looking for an off-road simulation game that is not only different from the rest out there, but one that will give you a challenge and a lot of gameplay, then you can’t go wrong with SnowRunner, as there is no better game in the genre.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 8.8 / 10


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