Disaster has struck the state of Michigan and you've been called upon to help get things running again. Yep, that's the plot taken care of - on with the trucking!
It must have been one hell of a storm. Not only has it wiped out infrastructure and messed up the roads, it appears to have extinguished every living person, animal, and bird in existence. Or maybe they're all just staying indoors like good citizens during a pandemic, and essential workers (or possibly robots) are operating the lumber yards and warehouses to dispense wood planks and cement slabs in order to facilitate your job. And to hand out the occasional "Help I've lost my vehicle/oil barrels/special cargo" quest.
Unless you're playing multiplayer, the only other vehicles you see on the road in SnowRunner are parked cars and stranded trailers. It seems a little odd at first, being the only living soul around, but you soon get over it and swiftly become immersed in the gorgeous scenery and the gelatinous mud. Yes folks, we are back for a second time
to do battle with the very earth itself.
“Beautifully rendered and humongous maps containing wildly varied roads and tracks ranging from smooth highway to tyre-sucking mud, slick icy roads and deep snowbanks."
SnowRunner boasts such a huge amount of content and vehicles, with beautifully rendered humongous maps containing wildly varied roads and tracks ranging from smooth highway to tyre-sucking mud, slick icy roads and deep snowbanks, as to make the original game look like a simple proof of concept. The UI and controls have been updated, the winch has received a massive and much needed upgrade, and there's way more vehicle, cargo, and quest variety, making the game feel considerably more complete. If Spintires: MudRunner was a budget title, the sequel SnowRunner is akin to a AAA release.
All the vehicles, trucks and scouts (like the Chevy and Hummer), can be fully customised, cosmeticised, and upgraded. Upgrades like tyres and stronger winches are unlocked as you level up, but for others like engines, gearbox, and suspension, you'll have to explore the hidden paths and coastlines to find the goods. Happily the essential items like cranes, flatbeds, trailer hitches and fuel tanks are unlocked from the start.
Currency and experience are the rewards for completing tasks and contracts, but it's the XP you'll be chasing to unlock further customisations and upgrades for your vehicles. Money isn't a concern because all the trucks and trailers you buy or find can be sold for their purchase price, meaning you are completely free to sell some or all of your fleet and experiment with entirely new vehicles and customisations. No nasty microtransactions here. Or that age-old wisdom, “Once you drive that there truck off my Pappy’s lot, it’s value gone depreciate at least 20% depending on market factors and what not”.
The gameplay in this sequel of sorts to Spintires: MudRunner is refreshingly open and sandbox-y. You're free to take on contracts, perform individual tasks, or simply drive around admiring the scenery to your heart's content. It's a shame they neglected to include a photo mode in a game this pretty. Thankfully the map and navigation system of user-set waypoints is spot on, as you'd quite literally be lost without them. And if you find yourself getting tired of looking at Michigan, you can simply jump to the ice-shiny roads and towering snow covered mountains of Alaska, or start exploring twisted forest trails in Russia.
Top heavy cargoes, narrow off-camber 'roads', and mighty boulders with the power to topple trucks are just some of the obstacles determined to ensure your trucking life remains interesting. To say the game can become frustrating would be putting it mildly. When things do go wrong, and they will, it all goes down with spectacular destruction and cumulative vehicle damage.
“You're free to take on contracts, perform individual tasks, or simply drive around admiring the scenery to your heart's content."
Watching your fully laden semi slowly tip its load down a cliffside before throwing itself off is awe-inspiringly painful, and might tempt you to hard quit the game and reload, hoping like hell the last auto save happened prior to your disaster. But where's the fun in that? It's eminently more satisfying, not to mention immersive, to deploy a rescue vehicle to winch or crane your truck back on track and repack your cargo, before setting off to complete the mission. The sense of accomplishment sweetened by your daring recovery cannot be understated.
The game isn't completely free of bugs, issues, and minor annoyances. Players on the PS4 have had to contend with frequent crashes and corrupted saves, but that has been resolved as of patch 1.04. Co-op however is such a buggy mess of de-sync problems on all platforms I'm not even touching it for fear of losing vehicles, progress, and my sanity. I've experienced only a couple of minor issues in solo mode, like cargo falling through a trailer I had loaded with a different truck (detaching and reattaching said trailer prior to loading fixed it). Some twitchy steering and weird camera issues too.
For the most part SnowRunner has been a happy, bug-free, truck-filled playthrough. My trigger finger would disagree thanks to the lack of cruise control, turns out he’s not really cut out for the life of a trucker.
Sound design is a mixed bag. The ambient sounds when the engine's off are remarkably tranquil and relaxing, especially when you're parked up near a body of water. The sound effects when loading cargo, attaching trailers, and so on are satisfyingly solid, whereas the pants-filling loud THUNK! that occurs when striking an obstacle or hitting a rock at the wrong angle is jarringly out of place. Yes I'm aware I've damaged my truck, but that shouldn't necessitate a change of undies.
But that ain't the worst of it.
“Watching your fully laden semi slowly tip its load down a cliffside before throwing itself off is awe-inspiringly painful."
The engines, for an alarming number of vehicles, sound woefully unappealing and completely underwhelming. You might think
you're sitting atop a 16-cylinder turbocharged diesel beast, but that sense of power, of a barely controlled, snarling, whining powertrain is sadly lacking, thanks to the undercooked audio. The worst offenders simply loop the same monotonous drone every few seconds, no matter what gear you're in or how much load the engine is under. Most unfortunate, as you'll be hearing this pretty much the entire time. And it sure would have been nice to hear your truck exhaust braking down an incline, but maybe compression braking was too complicated a mechanic to include.
I'm not even going to mention the egregiously bland soft rock radio tracks, no sir.
Co-op bugs, weird camera angles, and sub-par engine sounds aside, I love this game. The huge variety of things to do with the 40-odd vehicles in the stunningly beautiful open world sandbox makes the game a joyful and (mostly) relaxing experience. And as the aural feedback is virtually non-existent anyway, lowering or even muting the volume entirely while loading up your favorite Spotify playlist is perhaps the best way to enjoy it. So sit back, crack a brewski, revel in the marvelous scenery, and haul a few loads. Just don't forget to pack your spare undies - you're gonna need 'em.