STAFF REVIEW of Spintires: MudRunner (Xbox One)

Thursday, December 14, 2017.
by Kirby Yablonski

Spintires: MudRunner Box art When looking at our list of those games that still needed to be reviewed, I came across a title called Spintires: Mudrunner. I checked out the game’s trailer and discovered that it is a title that is not your traditional driving game, and I thought “why not”. Yes, like so many driving games out there, you drive vehicles, but these vehicles are off-road monsters that can tackle some pretty rough terrain. It’s a game that actually makes you think when playing, as you navigate through muddy trails, tree lined dirt roads, deep water puddles, and even cross a river or two. It’s also a game that when I first started playing, I hated, but after an hour or two I started to see the ‘hook’, shall we say, and I was somewhat enamored by what Saber Interactive created.

Spintires: Mudrunner is not a new game per se, as it was released on PC about 3 years ago. By gaming standards, it garnered quite a following, and this indie game has been a hit for quite some time. Publisher Focus Home Interactive thought it might make a good console title, so they got it ported over to the Xbox One, and it has made the transition pretty well. There are a few modes for players to enjoy, including Single Player, Multiplayer, and Challenge mode. What you must know is that it is not a game that holds your hand. There is a tutorial, but it is as basic as they come, and the game even tells you to check out the challenge mode to ‘learn’ more of how to play. I was like WTF, to learn how to play I must play a mode that isn’t teaching me, instead it’s a mode where I need to face challenges with a pass or fail. And fail I did.

The very first challenge has you driving a truck, with a trailer, and you need to deliver that trailer to a marked destination on your map. You need to back it in and line it up perfectly straight when you drop it off too. Well, I can say that I suck at parking a trailer, as I never got it to line up the way they wanted me too. I spent an hour trying to do this, but to no avail. I kept failing and restarting. Needless to say, I was very frustrated, and I just had to stop. With this negative experience under my belt, I thought would try the single player mode, and I kept my expectations low.

The single player mode does not have a story, but it doeshave some sort of purpose, as you are tasked with delivering logs to the various lumber mills on the map. There are six maps for you to play on, and you must strategize and do well on each map to open the next one. The logs that you deliver can range in size from small, medium or large, and the larger the load of logs you deliver, the more points you earn when delivering them to each lumber mill. It sounds simple to do, but it is far from it. Let explain.

To get your vehicle from the garage, to the lumber yard, where you get the logs, and then to the lumber mill where you’ll drop them off, you’ll have to venture through various terrain on each map. From mud, sand, water, and paved roads, to an open field just asking to be driven across, there is a lot of territory to cross to reach each of your destinations. Oh, and it is not just about pressing the accelerator and going from point A to point B. You’ll have to gauge how deep the mud might be, or how deep a river crossing is and how strong the current that goes with it is. You’ll have to take into consideration how heavy your truck is too, as well as your load of logs when you get them on board. You’ll have to look at the ruts on the path, how steep a hill might be, even how big the rocks and debris (e.g. cut down trees) that are in your way may impact your forward progress. You’ll have to take many things in to consideration, and that’s just regarding the route you choose to reach your destination.
Once you are well on your way, you may find that your truck (and trailer) get stuck somewhere, like a particularly deep mud hole or when you are trying to cross a river, or your trailer may tip over, and if full when this happens, it spills your load of logs too. But don’t worry, it’s not game over. You can get into other vehicles, come to the vehicle that is having trouble, and tow them out of the mud or water, using your trusty winch. You can also right your tipped vehicle back on its wheels (or the trailer for that matter of fact), and get it going again.

Did I mention that you cannot see the whole map at the beginning either? And that there is a full day/night cycle? Yep, you have to traverse the unknown to the various “watch points” on the map. Once you get to each Watch Point, a section of the map opens to your view. This is important as you will discover where new lumber mills are as well as the various places to pick up logs for delivery. You’ll also find more routes to get to your destination. The maps are useful too, as they show where water crossings are, as well as where the forest is too ‘thick’ to venture into, as well as some of the various terrains. As for the day/night cycles, the game really does take on not only a different look at night, but the way it feels to navigate across the maps becomes a bit tougher too.

Although the main crux of the game is delivering logs, you’re not only limited to just putting log-hauling add-ons onto your truck, as there are other uses for your various vehicles. There are fuel stations along each map, and you can refuel your vehicle there, but should you run out of fuel, you can head back to your garage, get a new truck, put a fuel carrying attachment on to it, come to where your truck is out of fuel, and refill it. You can also attach trailers that are like mobile homes, and you can then transport them to the other garage(s) on the map in order to unlock it for future use. Back to logging, the really adventurous can attach log cranes to their vehicles and actually pick up logs on their own and place them into the bed of a truck or onto the trailer.

The vehicles are key in this game, as you have quite a small, but varied selection of trucks to use. Some are lighter and not that powerful, while others are big brutes and have the horsepower to go with them. Of course, being heavier and more powerful is not always better, as you might just get stuck when you least expect it. You’ll learn what trucks are good for what, such as those that can carry small logs, those that can carry medium logs, or even two loads of such (e.g. in the bed of the truck and in a trailer), and of course there are those that can carry the longer logs. And be careful, you truck takes damage too, from driving over large obstacles too fast or going over a drop and hitting the ground hard. Although you can carry ‘repair’ points via truck add-ons, you may need to return to your garage to fix it before carrying on.

It’s strange how addictive this game really is in single player mode. It’s not a game that gets you all worked up, as it is even somewhat relaxing while you navigate over the various terrains that lie in front of you. Watching as your truck, and trailer when it is loaded, make it way through the tough looking sections is strangely mesmerizing. I found that when I played the game that I wanted to make the best time and take the best route, and when things started getting tough, I wanted to persevere and complete my task no matter what, but it didn’t get me frustrated when doing so, as there were a lot of different things I could do with the different vehicles.

If there is one big hiccup when playing the game, it is the in-game camera. Simply put, it is ‘wonky-as-hell’ as it is hard to control, and very hard to get just the right view to use. And when you try to adjust it, it can even get harder to control as it seems to have a mind its own as you try to get it to one spot and it just won’t cooperate. There is an in-cab view, and it is neat to play the game in this view now and then. Going over the crest of a muddy hill, you only see hood of the truck, the tops of the tree or side of a mountain, until you reach the apex, and once you start going down, all the scenery becomes viewable, including what obstacles may or may not be in front of you; however, the outside camera is such a frustrating aspect, it in some ways outweighs the good of the in-cab view.

Should you want to try something different, feel free to play the game in multiplayer. This is where Spintires: Mudrunners really shines. Up to four players can take to a map as you try to complete the same tasks that you complete in single player. Where this becomes so fun is that you can separate the duties, and have various people doing various things. In one such party, me and one friend were delivering logs to the mills, while a third person was opening other areas of the map via the ‘watch stations’, and the fourth person was taking the mobile home like trailers to the other garage to open it up. It was fun just chatting, telling each other of what a certain route was like, and we got things done quite quickly. We even used one of the party members to play the role of ‘tow-truck’ to get a truck or two unstuck and out of the mud. It was a fun experience, and fairly lag free too.

Challenge mode is, as I talked about earlier, the area where you are tasked to complete various challenges. This does add some life to the game, and mastering the challenges can be quite the task. The game itself scores you in all modes with stars that represent how well you complete each map or challenge. Funny thing, the less stars you get, the better you did, which is totally opposite of what people expect. You can also challenge each map by playing in hardcore mode. This has a lot of features disabled that you get when playing in casual mode, such as being able to skip the night cycles, or have your differential mode on your truck activated at all times, as it can break under such prolonged use.

Visually, the game can look incredible most of the time, but there are a few things that bring this area down too. First the good. The detail of each vehicle, along with all the add-ons you can install, is quite impressive. The wear and tear of the trucks is evident, as you are logging in very rough areas, so the trucks don’t look pristine. There is a lot of attention to detail too, such as paint wearing off, the odd spot of wear, and the metal looks very realistic. The physics involved in such things as slogging through the mud to making a river crossing is very incredible. There will be many times it looks as though you’re going to get stuck, only to see a wheel hit a dry section of the path and your forward momentum starts again. Going through the water is also impressive, as hitting a fast rushing river will cause your truck to follow the current, and you can see the struggle as you try to get your vehicle to the other side, and out of the water. The environments are fairly good looking too, from the trees, rocks and all the debris that may lie on a road, to the transition of day to night, and the glow of your taillights on the metal of your vehicle at night. The various surfaces, from sand, mud, grass and pavement, also look good, and seeing the tracks you make in particular areas of the map is impressive.

Where I was really disappointed was the in-cab view of the vehicles. Unfortunately, they are all the same, even though each vehicle is distinctly different. The dashboard is identical looking in everything you drive, and it looks like it was simply pasted to the inside. Although it was functional (e.g. moving gauges and whatnot) It was plain, low poly, and even the arms and hands of the person driving looked low-def. I think they could have done more regarding inside the cab of each vehicle, but they did not.

As for the games sound, it too is done well. From when you first fire up any of the in-game vehicles, the sound of your trucks suspension creaking as it goes over any of the rocks or trees laying on the road, to the sound of sloshing through a particularly deep section of mud or the splash of water as you start to drive through one of the many river crossings. Add to this the sound of nature all around you, from the swaying of trees, the sound of a rushing river in the distance, to the sound of critters in the forest, during the day or night. All in all, the sound is pretty good for a game like this, and it adds to the overall presentation.

Spintires: Mudrunner is a game that I was pleasantly surprised with, even after my first hour with it in the challenge mode where I I got so frustrated; however, once I started to play the single player mode, the game’s addictiveness and depth started to show. It has some pretty good visuals along with some pretty good sound too, and the game’s controls are fairly intuitive, unfortunately the in-game camera when playing in the outside view is very annoying and quite hard to control, causing more frustration than it should. There is also the concern of longevity, as there are only 6-maps, and playing in Hardcore mode to stretch the playtime may not be for everyone. The word on the street is that there is some post-game release support coming, but we don’t know what. In the end Sprintires: Mudrunner is a pretty good game, more simulation than just driving, and it definitely isn’t for everyone given the fact that it really does feel like a niche title, but don’t let that scare you, as it still is a fairly good game even though it’s not a mainstream game.

Overall: 7.9 / 10
Gameplay: 7.9 / 10
Visuals: 8.0 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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