Coming from developers Saber Interactive and publishers Focus Home Interactive, Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds is the definitive edition of the all terrain traversal sim that includes all existing DLC and two new maps. Off road enthusiasts rejoice as here is a game that celebrates difficult conditions, where wide swathes of mud and deep rivers are challenges rather than roadblocks, and where slow and steady wins the race. Is there enough in this version though to entice in those who haven’t experienced the world of extreme lumber hauling before?
It isn’t the most obvious subject for a game isn’t logging, though that’s fundamentally what MudRunner is about – driving around the countryside, collecting logs and moving them to a lumberyard. Doesn’t sound that exciting does it? If it was just heading down a nice piece of asphalt road from one point to another then it would be pretty dull, but this takes a more realistic route and has the most bountiful areas located a long way from civilisation. Herein lies the core gameplay: get to the right site, grab the cargo and head back out without getting bogged down. There’s no timer outside the day/night cycle, no checkpoints to hit, just the machinery capable of eating up any surface put in front of it and the need to gain the ability to read the terrain ahead.
Vehicles are the heroes in MudRunner and there’s almost every class you can think of covered, as well as some you’ve never heard of. From standard two wheel drive cars that can barely make it along a mud road, to 8 wheeled semi-amphibious monsters that can ford rivers; there’s a truck for every situation. It acts almost as a puzzle element in the game where you need to figure out how to get to certain areas with the right equipment. One thing they all have in common though is that the handling is dictated by the environmental physics with traction and progress determined by what’s under the wheels and how adeptly you manage the controls. How well this is translated is probably the biggest surprise of the game because it works very, very well.
There are a few more options than the average driving game to get to grips with, right from starting the engine up and releasing the handbrake. Heading into the wilderness needs all wheel drive and locking diffs to make sure the tyres get the best chance of purchase in the slippery conditions. Advocates of manual gears will be happy too, it’s pretty much essential to get used to them, though not for speedy changes, more for managing engine revs. Using the right analogue stick to select a gear, usually first, there’s the ability to set degrees of power so that low range can be used to maintain a constant rate of movement. Understanding how to get the most out of this will be the difference between success and failure, particularly when heading up steep inclines.
Not content with moving a variety of trucks around difficult landscapes, there are multiple types of trailers to tow and each is used for a specific role. Whether it’s refuelling, hauling smaller cars or taking away logs, they add an extra challenge to control but are invaluable to progression. Hitching them up is a simple case of aligning the right points and connecting them through the advanced menu, which is also used for activating any special abilities the current vehicle might have, or switching to another nearby form of transport. There’s a winch available pretty much at all times that’s setup to be simple to attach to any nearby anchor points, and is essential for when you’ve taken a wrong turn down a cliff face or realised it’s not exactly sensible to go through swamp in a Jeep in the dark. It’s fantastic in a convoy too where it can be used to tow smaller vehicles through bigger obstacles, or right a toppled car.
For a relatively small install footprint, there’s a lot of detail in the world and vehicles, or maybe it’s the movement and reaction to uneven ground that makes them seem more realistic. Whatever the reason, it looks good and runs smoothly. Lots of the undergrowth is destructible and it’s not unusual to find branches wedged underneath the chassis or protruding through a door frame. Mud looks like mud, and the way it coats the wheels and splatters the bodywork conveys the tangibility of it. Most of the time the car and truck bodies stay static with only cosmetic damage applied in an accident, but the real work is being done with the driving mechanism. Watching the axles bend and the wheels toe in and out as they hit resistance in rocky ground, or seeing one corner lifted in the air as everything gets a bit unbalanced is satisfying in the way it mimics how a real world offroader handles. It’s clear that there’s a been particular care and attention paid to the driving and how that manifests itself.
Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds is a bit of a hidden gem for those who’d give it’s definitely unique gameplay a go. It’s well put together and surprisingly compelling in the objectives it sets, whether it’s the open ended maps that just turn you loose in the world, the nicely conceived challenges that act as additional tutorials, or the multiplayer. If you’ve played the original release then you can get the DLC pack to add an extra two sandbox maps modelled on Montana and North Dakota, and whole host of additional US vehicles. If you’ve not got the base game and are thinking that you want to take on brutal logging roads in heavy machinery, then it’s a no brainer.
A PS4 review copy of Spintires: MudRunner – American Wilds was provided by the Focus Home Interactive PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, PC, Xbox One and Switch for around £30 depending on the platform.