When considering the appeal of such a unique and strangely compelling game I recalled a buddy who, along with a pack of other like-minded dirt-worshippers, would hurl their hideously expensive four wheel drives into the bush for days at a time. Where, with strenuous determination and questionable judgement, they would attempt to strand themselves by submerging their vehicles in rivers, getting wedged between rocks, and floundering in lakes of mud. And when brute horsepower inevitably failed, winches, custom built ramps, and other speciality devices were employed to extricate them from their precarious predicaments.
Which, was probably the whole point.
These days there’s a simulator for pretty much any activity you can think of, including getting your all-wheel drive vehicle stuck in some mud. Sure Spintires: Mudrunner might look
like a truck simulator, but it ain't Mud is the real hero of this game. And it's everywhere. Every surface that isn't water is mud. It clings tenaciously to your tyres and will eventually replace them entirely as you slowly slog your way through the deep and squishy morass. Puddles of standing water and swiftly moving rivers that can overturn and sweep away your truck if crossed incorrectly will cleanse your tyres of the ubiquitous ooze - albeit only for a brief moment.
Because in Spintires: Mudrunner, there’s always more mud.
Coming from my previous reviews
I've become accustomed to racing and drifting highly tuned vehicles around well defined and solidly surfaced circuits. You know, roads. Spintires: Mudrunner could not be more of a departure from this. Race tracks have been replaced with meandering mud covered logging trails through dense forests. Precision steering is more like wrestling, the huge steering wheel reluctant to grant a modicum of control over your truck’s heading. Gentle throttle control is still required, but you're battling getting bogged rather than oversteer. Speeds are usually in the single digits and there's not so much drifting as there is sliding. Down embankments. Into rivers.
Spintires: Mudrunner begins with a brief tutorial that introduces a few of the basic controls and features, such as all-wheel drive and the winch, before you can access the whole game. Challenge mode is suggested prior to launching single player, as advanced elements like refueling and repairing need to be learnt. The various challenges are educational and surprisingly fun, with some particularly difficult to complete bonus objectives.
The main objective of Spintires: Mudrunner though is to haul logs from a log yard to a lumber mill on a variety of different maps. Whilst pursuing your wood-filled adventures you'll be utilizing an assortment of vehicles to carry the cargo, refuel and repair, and assist in the recovery of vehicles you may have stranded. All while alternatively coaxing and brute-forcing your trucks through quagmires of mud on what the locals laughingly refer to as 'roads'. Every map contains a number of trucks to unlock which can then be used to further your forestry journeys. There are also garages to discover. These are important as they allow you to customize your trucks purpose by adding log carriers, fuel tanks, cranes and so on.
Most of the trucks you use have all-wheel-drive and a locking diff to assist when traversing the treacherous terrain. Too much throttle when trying to defeat the implacable ooze leaves your tyres spinning and you questioning your choice of route.
Luckily you have your trusty winch.
The winch is a life saver and can be attached from numerous points on your truck to trees or other handy objects in the world. It's not a magic wand however and there will be times when you're up shit creek without a paddle. Literally. But no worries, all is not lost. Except your cargo. You can transfer yourself to another truck on the map and initiate rescue and repairs for your downed comrade.
Speaking of fellow comrades, the trucks in Spintires: Mudrunner are rendered nicely and I would like to say accurately. Having never encountered any of these vehicles in real or virtual life (as they can only be found in parts of the world I'm unlikely to ever visit) I'll just have to assume they are. With exciting and awe-inspiring names like B-131 and K-900 these Soviet workhorses are equipped with multiple axes and identical dashboards yet all handle differently. There are jeeps suitable for scouting new terrain, high-riders for crossing deeper waters, and a low-slung 8x8 beast that looks like it started life hauling ICBMs for Mother Russia.
The flip side to this is that the environments look somewhat average, and it doesn't take long to notice there are only a few different species of tree in the world of Spintires: Mudrunner. A consequence perhaps of the game’s incredibly small install size. The ever present mud looks great on the ground, but when clumped on your tyres appears rather generic and untextured. Water looks nice from afar but it's far from nice when it's washing up your windscreen in cockpit view (this is something to be avoided in any case as it's usually a harbinger of sinking doom). Waves and ripples generated by your passage through bodies of water look especially good, as it does streaming from your tyres and splattering your truck.
The physics in Spintires: Mudrunner are outstanding. Your truck bounces enthusiastically over rocks and ruts, slews and invariably rolls down the sides of gullys convincingly. Mud and other obstacles all react to the weight and movement of your vehicle and you can see the muck undulate and slither viscously as the multi-ton trucks plough through.
Camera control is a little weird until you get used to it and it doesn't zoom out quite as far as I would like, but it's workable for most tasks. Actions like hitching trailers and using the crane can however become tedious. Reversing and trying to park a trailer can be a trial with the limited camera, but the game is more forgiving and doesn't require a perfect alignment - I'm looking at you, Euro Truck Simulator. The addition of a camera drone or another view like birdseye or helicopter would have been most welcome.
Spintires: Mudrunner has a tiny 1.1GB install because there's really not much too it. There are no peasants wandering the woods or working at the lumber yards. No other vehicles hauling lumber or otherwise in motion. The fauna has become extinct and only birds remain. It feels like you are the sole survivor in a post apocalyptic USSR where the cold war turned nuclear hot. Which begs the question: why you are hauling lumber? And for whom?