The older I get, the more I like “slow” stuff—like TV where they’ll show nothing but a train’s journey, or wood burning. It’s not like I’ll just sit there using that as my sole means of entertainment, but I find it a great comfort to look over from a game or a task and see serene countryside. Strangely, I’m also starting to like my games that way. There is always room for the pulse pounding competitive moments, but sometimes it’s nice to sit back and enjoy the sights—especially if that game is mechanically satisfying. Games like Death Stranding and Elite Dangerous really check that “slow” box for me. SnowRunner is another one that fits that category. But “slow” doesn’t mean boring, and in order to be good, it has to be satisfying to play.
SnowRunner is the third game in a series of running trucks through mud. With the series starting at Spintires, and continuing Spintires: MudRunner, developer Saber Interactive’s SnowRunner is more of the same mechanically satisfying off-road adventuring that you’d come to expect. If you’re new to the series, it’s all about off-roading—but often in ways you probably haven’t considered. It’s not ATVs and rally races—often you’ll be trying to haul a load of cargo from point A to point B without getting stuck in the mud. It certainly gave me a new found respect for infrastructure.
There is a lot of mud in SnowRunner. Snow, too, but really muddy snow. Getting through the sticky morass is one of the challenges—and half the fun. Whether you’re scouting precarious mountain trails, or hauling loads of steel to repair a bridge, you’ll be battling physics. And SnowRunner’s handling of tires through mud, on road, snow, etc. is great. Getting out of, or through, an environmental obstacle is done in a way that is far more satisfying than any other game I’ve played—it’s just that good. It’s easy to get off-road gameplay wrong. (Take a look at our review for Overpass to see an example of how to screw it up.) But SnowRunner gets it oh so right.
Getting stuck in the mud isn’t the end of the road in SnowRunner. Every vehicle comes equipped with a winch. And where in real life, if you wanted to use that winch you’d have to get it out, and hook it up, SnowRunner doesn’t force such tedium (also, you can’t leave your vehicle.) In SnowRunner you essentially just shoot your winch out like Spider-Man’s web shooter.
Mudding around isn’t the only thing to do—SnowRunner has large, open environments full of reasons to explore. In fact, exploring each of the eleven maps is essential for progression. Progression isn’t exactly linear–there really isn’t a story, and while your reputation and experience level determine what assignments and upgrades are available to you, exploration is how you will find the rest. Assignments are varied, and can range from getting trailers out of the muck to hauling loads and even scouting out specific locations. Driving around in a scout vehicle is great fun, but it’s also an easy way to find upgrades (which you can later purchase) and entire vehicles—which saves money, which you can then use on customization and upgrades.
There are a ton of options for customization in SnowRunner, both cosmetic and functionally. If you have a heavy loader that’s getting stuck in the mud, you might be able to fix that problem by adding on some mud tires, or upgrading its engine. Running into deep water? Throw on a snorkel. There are a good number of cosmetic options as well—like different rims, and other accessories. The only thing that’s disappointing about the cosmetic options is the lack of paint jobs.
If you want to play SnowRunner with a wheel, you can most likely do that. Most peripherals are supported, and as much as I’d love to play SnowRunner with a wheel, I don’t have one. I was stuck using an Xbox One controller on PC—but it works out great. My only complaint was I couldn’t seem to find a place to remap, or even look up comprehensive controls in the UI. That could very well be an oversight on my part (like when I overlooked the fire groups setting in my Mechwarrior 5 review—oops!). It was pure luck that I discovered how to switch from third to first person. And despite the fact that I usually love playing games in first person, SnowRunner is a bumpy ride, and much more comfortable with an external camera. But if you do decide to go full first person, you’ll be delighted to find that all of the interiors are rendered and gorgeous.
I spent all of my time playing SnowRunner in solo mode, but if you find like-minded friends, you can get together with up to three other people in cooperative play. In solo mode, if your vehicle gets stuck you’re forced to recover back to a garage, or get another vehicle to pull it out. In co-op mode, you can just have a friend pull you out. I’d love to get a four player convoy rolling in SnowRunner.
I’ve really loved my time with SnowRunner—and it’s definitely not at an end. I haven’t seen all there is to see, nor finished the projects I wanted to finish. But I’m not in a hurry—it’s a nice, slow grind. But a satisfying one, with some of the best physics-based off-roading I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing.
SnowRunner is available now on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC as an Epic Game Store exclusive.
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