A question for you, if I may dear reader, to kick us off.
If I said to you, there’s a game where you can spend thirty plus minutes trying to reverse a truck and trailer into a loading bay spot, and for every time you botch it, the mud underneath your truck churns up until you can’t move in any direction, would you want to play it? What if I add that that’s pretty much all there is to the entire game and just to make it extra spicy, the camera is utterly woeful so the already challenging task is made into a battle of ultimate patience?
It may surprise you that there’s no right answer to that. For while most would shrink away from the thought of a nightmare parking scenario simulator, there is a niche for the likes of this game, the somewhat aptly named Spintires: Mudrunner. Because despite how drab that sounds, it is at least unique enough to cater to someone. Even if it isn’t always the most helpful simulator going.
What Spintires actually asks of you is to haul goods across some of the most unpleasant, undrivable terrain imaginable. If you’ve seen one of the hundred or so reality shows about Extreme/Gnarly/Tubular/Gruff Daredevil/Super Truckers then you’ll know the drill. While Spintires is ostensibly about driving, it’s core appeal is the struggle of delivering goods in the face of countless, daunting obstacles. Essentially, Spintires is like a reboot of Santa’s Christmas run where the snow and elves are swapped out for quagmires and bleak rural Eastern European towns, and the gifts are a bit less exciting.
The game leans heavily into simulation, with the psychics of everything being of utmost importance, especially where all that mud comes into play. Unlike the cross-country motorway deliveries of say, Euro Truck Simulator, there’s little in the way of proper roadways here, and over time, the terrain your journey takes you on only gets more hostile, requiring vehicles suited to the job at hand.
It’s no shock to say Spintires requires a bundle of patience and a steady hand. If there’s a thrill to be had here, then it most certainly comes from the knowledge that even the simplest deviation can be the root cause of your hauls demise. Crossing a river? The current could be strong enough to see you marooned. A wheel out of place going up a rocky outcrop? Say goodbye to your cargo. It’s a real triumph when you defeat your obstacles, but it isn’t always an easy, nor fair, ask.
This proves utterly frustrating in the game’s challenge mode, which puts you on a route with clear directives. I mentioned taking half an hour to reverse park at the top of this review, and it wasn’t flippancy, you will undoubtedly spend a long time fiddling about here, trying to fight increasingly poor traction, and hoping your vehicle’s tow line can reach a nearby tree or heavy object in order to pull you from the muck and mire.
It’d be less of an issue if that darned camera wasn’t throwing a strop. The default third-person camera is off-kilter, and switches directional control depending on where you steer it. The second camera is a cockpit view, and the glaring lack of mirrors makes it utterly pointless for anything but having a leisurely drive. When Spintires gets specific, its flaws hold it back. Luckily, it has something else going for it.
When you take a more freeform approach to Spintires, it can be a more relaxing, serene cross-country trek. There’s lots of lovely scenery, even if it is mostly grey, green, and brown, and the weather effects and night driving are highlights here, but that’s not got a particularly entertaining long term appeal to it in the way the recent theHunter: Call of the Wild did with its open world trekking. There is online co-op though, and attempting things with others offers a decent bit of teamwork-based banter to the rather grim escapade.
Spintires: Mudrunner isn’t a particularly accomplished sim. It does some things very well, but then misses the mark in certain key areas. As a result, it’s interesting to potter about in for a few hours, maybe try a few challenges, then muck about with others online. Of course, there will be some who will take to it like a pig to mud and glean plenty from Spintires, but unlike some of its sim peers, there’s not the same level of unusual thrill to it. There’s a solid base to it, and it is at least a slightly fresh take on the sim transportation game template. It works best as a freeform jaunt, because anytime structure accompanies the driving, the game mostly ends up dull and aggravating.