Spintires is, according to some, the “Dark Souls” of driving games.
I would, however, take issue with this comparison. Not because it has a total lack of horrifying, Lovecraftian monstrosities, but because, unlike Dark Souls, failing at Spintires is actually entertaining. My first few forays into Spintires: MudRunner, the latest incarnation of this off-road driving game, were pure, glorious chaos. Finding myself at the wheel of a jeep, my initial instinct was to take it off-road and head into the muddy wilderness. Mere minutes later, it was laying on its roof by a riverbank, taking on water as I laughed like an idiot at my incompetence.
Undeterred, I recalled the stricken jeep and and leapt (or rather teleported, since there’s no on-foot travel in Spintires) into the cab of a sturdier vehicle, a lorry of some description, and set forth once again. Things were going well, right up until the point I attempted to cross a small wooden bridge in the vast vehicle and plummeted into the river. You can probably see a pattern forming here, yet each failure is a learning experience. Each misstep will teach you a little more about Spintires: MudRunner’s mechanics. And every time you play, you’ll inch ever closer to mastery of the game’s Soviet-era machines.
Spintires will let you, should you so choose, plough across fields and through rivers which, thanks to the game’s attention to detail, is a superb spectacle. There’s certainly a striking contrast between Spintires: MudRunner’s beautiful, if damp, landscapes and the muddy mayhem that ensues when you try to traverse them. Individual chunks of mud, rather than mere textures, cling to your tyres as you push onwards, leaving furrows in your wake. Cross a river and your wheels will churn the water in an suitably realistic manner. Attempt to use your vehicle’s winch to extricate yourself from a mire and the tree you’re anchored to will bend and potentially break.
But while getting hopelessly and utterly stuck might be visually impressive, your actual objective is to transport loads from one location to another. Spintires: MudRunner is almost the polar opposite of Grand Theft Auto, rewarding patience and consideration. So if you’re tasked with hauling eight logs to a lumber mill you’ll first have to decide whether you’re going to use your lorry as is or attach a trailer, knowing that the latter will be more likely to tip over. Glancing at the map is also a sound strategy since you’ll need to determine an appropriate route to take, though even the “roads” marked on the map can turn out to be little more than soggy dirt tracks.
Tweaking your vehicle is also an option and while these routines may sound onerous, they make you all the more invested in your endeavour. The more time you put into Spintires: MudRunner, the more it draws you in; to the point where you’ll be willing to spend an hour slowly inching your way through a mud field just for the sense of accomplishment you get from finally delivering your load. Yes, you could have respawned and started again, but you have a reputation to uphold, dammit!
And by God, Spintires: MudRunner can be tense. Those aren’t words you’d normally associate with a game about off-road trucking but when you’re driving up a muddy slope you’ll be holding your breath every time your truck teeters even slightly. Spintires: MudRunner‘s physics are convincing enough that when your truck takes a tumble, you know there’s no-one to blame but yourself. And that’s just on casual mode; for the truly insane, who’ve been driven mad by the solitude of Spintires’ curiously pedestrian-free maps, there’s hardcore mode. Dipping into this and failing to deal with the tougher handling it imposed convinced me that I have no future as a professional trucker but if you’re a serious truck enthusiast you may well appreciate its presence. Others may also appreciate the game’s multiplayer mode, where you can test your driving skills with up to three others.
Spintires: MudRunner’s six maps are suitably varied in terms of layout and while they’re all set in backwoods Russia, they each present their own problems, but the same cannot be said of Spintires: MudRunner’s tasks. This updated release adds a number of additional challenges, each taking place on their own small maps, a welcome addition to the game. The six maps, however, only have you delivering logs, logs and more logs. Once you’ve got the logs in your trailer you’ll be paying rapt attention to ensure they don’t end up all over the road but driving back to get more is a little less engaging. There’s nothing to stop you hooking up a fuel tanker from the the game’s garage and go driving around the map but a few additional tasks would have been welcome.
It would be easy to dismiss Spintires: MudRunner as a niche title but in truth it’s surprisingly accessible. It can drag sometimes and if you think patience is a dirty word, steer clear. But for the most part it’s an engaging, messy time sink that’s well worth getting stuck into.