Expeditions: A MudRunner Game

Expeditions: A MudRunner Game

Roads? Where we're going, we won't need roads.

Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game

We’re no strangers to Sabre Interactive’s MudRunner series – the superb timesink off-road sim has taken up far too many hours in our gaming lives over the years, and for good reason.  Occupying a niche space, they’re driving games that aren’t about going fast or refining racing lines; they’re about brute force, power, and knowing when to not drop a wheel into dodgy looking ground.  From the original MudRunner to SnowRunner we’ve been all in for the paced and methodical gameplay the series has offered.  Now the developers have shifted gears to bring us Expeditions: A MudRunner Game which on the surface looks to be a similar proposition, but actually has fine tuned the experience to be more accessible.  That doesn’t mean that it’s become easy to master, only that the structure and approach have softened a tad.  Focus Entertainment are renowned for their AA catalogue and producing fun games, usually on a budget, but can this one climb out of the valleys and crest the peaks into the mainstream?

Switching up the setting and channelling the inner adventurer in all of us, Sabre Interactive this time have decided that the core of the game is about exploring the remote and vehicle unfriendly areas of the world in the name of science and discovery.  Gone are the tasks of hauling logs between sites and managing trailer loads, and instead it homes in on the most fun element… traversing the terrain.  You’ll be heading out from your upgradable base camp with only what you can carry in your truck and the skills you may (or may not) possess to keep yourself upright and out of deep rivers, and will spend quite a lot of time hoping that you’ll stumble across a fuel cache because these beasts guzzle gas whilst they’re chewing up mud and scrambling over rocks.  With each mission coming from different interested fictional organisations, and some even linking together or prompting a side quest, there’s a feeling of an underlying reason for why you’re driving a 4 tonne truck up a cliff; but really you’re doing it simply to see if you can.  Those familiar with the previous entries in the series will feel at home pretty quickly with Expeditions: A MudRunner Game as it’s definitely evolution than revolution, though the focus and approach to the challenges is new.  Its premise is straightforward – pick a mission, select an off-road vehicle, drive from one point to another and complete the task – yet carrying it out successfully is easier said than done.

Whilst the co-op mode isn’t up and running yet to get a friendly helping hand, there are plenty of gadgets to use, and they’re on hand from the tutorial missions meaning getting stuck isn’t always a failure.  The main ones are a drone to scout the area, binoculars to search out locations in the distance, a winch to drag yourself around, and a water depth gauge.  These are all about planning the route and assessing the risks in any crossing.  Ignore using them at your peril because you’ll end up in a mess.  Sure, any time you’re in too much trouble you can recover to a base location, assuming you’ve discovered one, though in reality you’ll want to try and continue the journey because getting 20 mins into a task then tipping the 4×4 over is a bit of a pain.  Each of the core gadgets can help avoid disaster, and if things go properly sideways there are tools available that might help.  Anchors and jacks are finite use tools that either let you create a winch point anywhere or right the vehicle and reposition it, and are an absolute blessing in the uneven and treacherous maps.  Alongside what’s stowed in the truck you’ll come across air drops and settlers where you can trade for top ups of gear or resources – though trade is a generous term for taking all their stuff and giving none in return.  There’s also the chance to find upgrades out in the wilds that will bestow new parts and equipment when you’re back in the garage, and here lies a key principle for success in Expeditions: A MudRunner Game.

The upgrades seems a little innocuous at first, and that could be said for a lot of Expeditions: A MudRunner Game menu systems – they don’t exactly scream instructions on what to find where and how to make the most of it.  Discovering new parts to provide damage protection, extra storage or decorative stickers are great for a visual overhaul, though the real improvements come from the engine, gearbox and tyre upgrades.  To start with the base set of vehicles are functional if lacking in the oomph you would typically want, and it doesn’t take long to start improving the engines to have more power; the suspension to add higher clearance; or the winch to gain extra distance or an independent motor.  Once you suss this out the wilderness becomes a little tamer and you begin to understand that whilst the mission is the priority for map progression, it’s not going to make any of them easier, and the game does like to really mix up the difficulty levels rather than have a smooth increase in challenge.  Some missions require specific vehicles and equipment, like a metal detector or seismic activity monitor, and you’ll be locked into that “loadout”, for want of a better word.  Spend a bit of time earning cash with the side quests, as well as new unlocks, and it’s pretty easy to get the transport in the right condition for the job on the board.  Taking it a stage further there are the added Specialists who you can recruit for each outing and they bring perks along like reduced damage, increased ranges on some of the gear, or more tools to use.  Setting up before setting off is absolutely critical to the chances of success, and taking a bit of time to understand what the game doesn’t tell you is essential.

Out in the rocky landscape things handle pretty much as you’d expect – you get stuck in mud and can’t gain traction on inclines.  Go too fast and you’re likely to hit something unforgiving and need to start a repair tab at the next base camp.  This is where Expeditions: A MudRunner Game comes into its own, and what the previous games have excelled at.  Navigating the terrain requires care, attention and forward planning, and you’ll need to pay attention to the transmission more than you realise.  Mud and fords are tackled through slow speeds and dredging as much power out of the engine as possible, and low range with a locked differential is pretty much the only choice.  Dry but fragile slopes can be run at with a bit of pace and fingers crossed for luck, though letting some air out of the tyres may improve the traction and mean you can ease off the throttle and be more considered with the path.  Finding combinations of the gearing, tools and inflation is part of the puzzle of crossing the map, and being aware of what is under the wheels at all times is a necessary piece.  Fortunately there are plenty of visual clues from squashing rubber to disappearing treads, and go too deep in water and there’ll be a hazard line to help understand if you’re about to flood the engine.  All of these appear outside the cab, so whilst a drivers-eye view is immersive, you’ll probably want to be on the external camera most of the time.

Controlling your chosen vehicle from an outside view isn’t too tricky, and veterans will well remember the steering and effort that has to go into that.  Wheels don’t zip back to the centreline in these trucks like they do in road cars, so there’s a lot of input required to keep things under control.  A wheel and pedals setup for your PC/console is ideal to counteract that, though is far from essential.  Just go easy on the loud pedal if you’re not going in a straight line… and even then go easy as a bump here and there can be enough to send you careening off course.  With large maps densely packed with different types of obstacles there’s a lot of time spent analysing the surroundings, and to help a decent waypoint system is on hand that ends up being used a lot.  Of course, until you reveal the map there’s nothing to look at except the inky black of the unknown, and herein lies one of the bigger navigation issues.  Some missions are set to venture from one map to another to reach the objective, and you need to discover that transition point, but it’s entirely possible to start some of these more complex journeys not having a marker or direction to head in.  One in particular had me searching high and low until I ran out of fuel before (several hours and missions later) I realised I wasn’t even looking on the right map.  These could be better signposted or explained to avoid an element of frustration.  Heading out on a task costs money in both taking part and buying in tools and resources, and whilst the rewards are more than enough to cover it, missing out due to a lack of guidance which is available on virtually every other expedition can feel a bit demoralising.

If we’re talking downsides, there really aren’t that many that I’ve come across in my reasonable play time so far.  Mostly it’s been texture loading for the surface I’ve been driving on, not too distracting; or environmental items missing completely leaving gaping holes in the ground until you get practically on top of them.  Every now and again the jack to reset the rig doesn’t let you select the location you want, even when it says it’s valid; and there’s a chance that low rock you’ve driven over multiple times will suddenly become impassable without some winch support.  None of these are particularly problematic though, and the game seems stable throughout.  Have I completed Expeditions: A MudRunner Game fully to see if anything else doesn’t quite work as it should?  Hell no, there’s over 100 hours of content to go at before the season pass and the mods are taken into account.  The latter is interesting as currently it’s mainly additional vehicles that have come from the previous titles that modders have brought over, and as some are free it reduces the need to head out and rescue stranded trucks to add them to your roster.  The Tumbler from the more recent Batman films is actually quite nice to see in its natural environment, though it doesn’t really have much going for it in storage capacity so it might be purely a scouting option.  As far as I could tell the mods don’t have an impact on progression or trophy/achievement acquisition, or at least no warnings popped up.  It’s going to be interesting to see what else appears when the community has had more time to flex its imagination.

Visually and audibly Expeditions: A MudRunner Game is a great looking and sounding game, delivering the environments with a sense of place and atmosphere.  The two core areas – the Grand Canyon and Carpathians – are distinctly different and provide unique experiences, whilst the day/night cycle makes things all the more interesting.  Tip: if driving at night is becoming too difficult to see the terrain, you can skip forward to dawn from the map screen with a press of a button.  It’s these types of additions: time skipping, easy waypoints, tools and gadgets, focused missions, etc., that make the case for it being a more accessible game than some of the others.  I’m not naïve enough to think that this is everyone’s cup of tea, it will still appeal to a relatively small market, but it’s a really well put together title that knows what it needs to do to keep you interested.  The slower pace and considered gameplay in a driving game continues to be strangely relaxing, and it’s very easy to give over your precious free time to fording rivers and winching up hill climbs.  For a relatively low entry price this is one for the long haul that’ll keep on delivering with the base game and additional content, and will provide a fun challenge for wannabe off-roading geological scientists everywhere… yep, it’s pretty niche.

A PS5 review copy of Expeditions: A MudRunner Game was provided by Sabre Interactive’s PR team, and the game is available now on PlayStation, PC, Switch and Xbox for around £40.

The Verdict


The Good: Loads to do | Dependable physics | Slow pace is relaxing

The Bad: A fair amount of texture pop-in | Not for the time poor | Sometimes hard to work out where the objective is

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Co-founder & Editor at Codec Moments

Gamer, F1 fanatic, one half of the Muddyfunkrs DJ duo (find us over on Hive Radio UK), MGS obsessed, tech geek.

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