Snowrunner - the much-anticipated follow-up to the niche offroading sim Mudrunner - is finally out, and while the core experience of plugging through virtual mud is largely the same, there’s substantial innovation and improvement everywhere else that makes this more than just a rehash of the same ol’ game engine with new vehicles, textures and environments.
Per the title, a large part of your offroad adventures in Snowrunner take place in the frosty climes of Alaska, but that’s just one of the three enormous maps on offer in the game. Did you think Mudrunner was a bit too short, too one-dimensional or too spatially limited for your liking? Well, Snowrunner is the polar opposite.
WHAT YOU NEED TO PLAY SNOWRUNNER
Snowrunner is available on PC, Xbox One and Playstation 4, and can be played without a gaming wheel. An internet connection is required for its co-op multiplayer mode, as there is no two-player splitscreen.
HOW MUCH DOES SNOWRUNNER COST?
Right now, Snowrunner is available as a digital download for $77.95 on both the Playstation Store and Xbox Live. It's also available in physical form at all your regular gaming retailers. Looking for the PC version? That's digital-only for now via the Epic Games store, and costs US$39.99 (AU$62 at time of publishing).
WHAT’S SNOWRUNNER’S GAMEPLAY LIKE?
We’ll forgive you if you didn’t think much of Mudrunner. The vehicle selection was almost entirely made up of decommissioned Soviet military trucks – and not even officially licensed ones at that – almost every map resembled the worst kind of mosquito-infested Siberian swamp, and the only mission you could perform was delivering logs from a stockpile to a sawmill.
If Mudrunner were our only experience of Russia, we’d surmise that the country’s entire GDP came from turning tree trunks into planks. It was VERY log-centric.
But now we have Snowrunner, and after the bleak mud-scape of its predecessor it is a veritable breath of fresh air.
There are now three different environments to drive around in: Michigan, Alaska and - for those that miss the waterlogged landscapes and logging sites of Siberia – the Taymyr Peninsula. You’ll likely spend the bulk of your time in Michigan as it has the most missions available (a whopping 82), and it’s a good primer before you get into the slippery and treacherous Alaska map.
Alaska also has plenty to keep you busy with 74 missions in that map alone, while Taymyr follows up with 59 missions. On top of that, the playable area is simply gigantic. Mudrunner offered up 8.25 square kilometres of swampland for you to enjoy… Snowrunner delivers a huge 30 square kilometres. That’s not quite GTA5 levels of freeroam area (that title gives you an amazing 127sqkm), but it’s massive considering you're never travelling quickly.
And then there are the missions. There’s now huge variety in what you can do with your vehicles, with eight distinct mission types from delivery, rescue, refuelling, repairing and more, with 21 different kinds of cargo. Is a town running out of food? A bridge needs repair? Oil workers need supplies? You can help them all, and the variety in the scenarios makes you feel like you’re not just alone in a big map, but that your actions have a positive effect on your environment.
You even have a physical influence on the map, depending on which missions you select. Landslides and downed bridges can be fixed with your assistance, which removes impediments to travel and opens up new areas of the map. For example, electing to clear a roadblock earlier in the game could mean that transport missions in the area can be done via a tarmac road instead of a muddy and rutted trail, so being strategic in your mission selection will make your life easier in the long run.
As for the driving, well, if you’re accustomed to cutting fast laps in your driving games then Snowrunner will definitely be a big change in pace. Is it not much of a challenge then, crawling around in low range? Well, actually yeah it is. In fact, this is one of the more challenging driving games around thanks to the game’s simulation of mud physics.
That’s right, the ground you roll across is far from solid. In fact, unless it’s a tarmac road then almost every surface can be deformed by your vehicle as you use it. Do you use a particular track a lot? You might notice it’s getting more and more rutted with each trip, and if it’s muddy you’ll see that surface move around your wheels and chassis in a realistic way.
Stop on soft ground for any length of time, and you’ll see your truck slowly start to sink up to its axles – faster, if you’re carrying heavy cargo. It’s mesmerising to watch the physics engine do its thing, and you’ll quickly learn that plowing head-first into mudholes is never a great idea, as is applying full power when stuck and just churning up the dirt into an even bigger mess.
You WILL get bogged. It’s only a matter of time. Thankfully you have your winch to help you out, and provided there’s a solid object to hook it to then it’s normally possible to extricate yourself. After a while you’ll get good at winching while moving to sustain your momentum, winching yourself from tree-to-tree like a Chevrolet-driving Spiderman.
Other times you’ll get horrifically stuck, but here’s the thing: you’re never really driving just one car. You can switch between every car you own on the map in an instant, meaning you can hop into another vehicle and drive it over to your stranded one. Attach your winch, yank it out and you’re back on your way without having to re-spawn in your garage – which could be a massive setback depending on where you need to deliver your cargo to.
Recovering stuck vehicles is hugely satisfying in itself, and akin to a solving a puzzle. Sometimes all you’ll need to do is switch into all-wheel drive, low range and activate diff locks to get out, but not every vehicle has that. In fact, the starter truck is just a 4x6 with open diffs, and it gets stuck a lot.
Replacing it won’t be a problem though. You’ll come across new vehicles around the map, which you can then add to your personal fleet after repairing or refuelling them, and if that’s not enough then there’s a full menu of 40 vehicles that you can buy – 18 of them officially licensed reproductions of real-world vehicles.
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There are also plenty of modifications to make those cars and trucks your own. Some are cosmetic, but most change the capability of your vehicle substantially. Things like grippy mud tyres make a massive difference, as do differential lockers, snorkels, cranes, fuel tanks, bigger engines and more.
Spend a bit of money and you’ll soon have an unstoppable cargo-hauling rig, although every vehicle is at the mercy of fuel economy… which is universally terrible. Watch your fuel burn and be clever about the route you take, lest you run out of juice and have to respawn far from your objective.
Siphoning fuel from one vehicle to another is an option however. As always in Snowrunner, there’s no one ‘right way’ to complete a mission – it’s all down to your own ability to plan and execute. Couple that free-form ability to gameplay with the sheer volume of missions available to you, and Snowrunner should keep you occupied for months.
ARE THERE ANY DOWNSIDES TO SNOWRUNNER?
While the juicy graphics are generally lovely to look at when the sun is out, there does seem to be a slight framerate hit when panning the view to a previously un-rendered area, or looking out over large sections of terrain. Snowrunner should look fantastic on high-spec PCs though
Avid offroaders might also poke holes in some of the dynamic modelling, especially as jamming the brakes on while rolling down a mud-slick incline isn’t anywhere near as fraught with danger as it is in real life. On the flipside, it’s difficult enough keeping your offroader shiny-side up without having such ultra-realistic braking physics, and while the near-magical ability of your winch isn’t exactly accurate either the game would be a whole lot less fun if it was.
And besides, accurate physics matter not when you can’t use a wheel. Even though its predecessor Mudrunner allowed you to steer via a wheel, the pre-release version of Snowrunner we tested wouldn’t allow us to use our Logitech G920 - or even recognise that it was plugged in. The developer says the interruption of COVID to their testing schedule saw them unable to fully validate wheels ahead of launch, but that Thrustmaster’s T150, T-GT, T-300 and T80 should function.
We expect that more wheel support will come with the first batch of updates, but be warned that you might be restricted to a gamepad or keyboard initially.
That’s not great, especially as the steering input lag on the gamepad is pretty horrific and winding off lock after making a turn often amounts to guesswork. It also doesn’t help when driving on muddy or icy roads and the back suddenly steps out – best of luck catching a slide with the gamepad.
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As for the gameplay itself, it does take a while to build up momentum – and we’re not just talking about motivating the heavier trucks in the game. A lot of vehicle upgrades like mud tyres, diff locks, more powerful engines and longer-reaching winches must be unlocked through levelling up, which means a lot of missions will need to be carried out first with the starter trucks and their frankly hopeless road tyres.
It’s a bit of a grind in the beginning, especially as most missions can take a solid half hour or more of play, but once you get the first few unlocks and a few more trucks in your fleet you’ll start to enjoy Snowrunner a lot more.
But like experience points, accruing in-game currency also takes a while. Smaller contract jobs only pay a couple of thousand, and with the bigger, more capable trucks and modifications costing tens or hundreds of thousands, you’ll need to knock over plenty of bigger contracts to put them in your garage.
VERDICT - 9/10
Snowrunner is an electronic sandbox with virtual Tonka trucks for grown-ups to play with, and despite the unbelievably slow pace it’s hugely addictive, engaging and challenging. You’ll want to keep exploring and keep hauling, while getting stuck won’t prompt you to throw your hands up and power-down your console, but rather adopt a more analytical approach to try and figure out how to extricate yourself in the simplest way possible.
The multi-vehicle aspect of the game is also fantastic, and we can’t wait to test out the co-op multiplayer mode as we suspect it’ll be even more fun messing around with mates – even if it’s only just winching each other out of trouble.
How fun can an offroading sim be? Even if you don’t identify as one of the 4x4 crowd, there’s a good chance you’ll find plenty to enjoy in Snowrunner. There’s a good chance you’ll get hooked, like a winch cable around a tree trunk.