This sequel is bigger and better in every way.
- Developer: Saber Interactive
- Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
- Release date: 28th April 2020
- Genre: Off-Road Sim, Sandbox
- Platforms: Xbox One, PS4, Windows PC
- Reviewed on: Xbox One X
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
SnowRunner is the sequel to the popular and well-received off-road trucking sim, MudRunner. Dropped into an expansive sandbox, there are numerous missions for you to attempt. In Mudrunner, there were only a limited number of vehicles and loads to deliver. For the sequel, they have expanded on every aspect of gameplay. More vehicles, more load types, more customisation and bigger maps. On paper, it is the perfect sequel.
It takes a while getting used to the more sedate style of gameplay in SnowRunner. Opening missions are quite short, involving just a short journey to complete your objective. As you progress, though, missions become multi-faceted and will require multiple trips to complete, as well as needing specialist load-outs for your vehicles to negotiate any obstacles in your way.
Scouting the terrain.
When you begin, it’s best to spend some time in your scout vehicle. Reaching watchtowers spread across each map opens up your view of the surrounding areas, revealing missions, tasks and upgrades. These upgrades are crucial when you begin, as they unlock upgrades for your vehicles.
At the start of the game, most of the vehicle customisations like off-road tyres and AWD systems are locked behind progression. This makes the first few missions very challenging. I tried to jump straight into missions and found myself constantly becoming stuck. I had hit a very literal barrier to making any further progress. You can’t get better equipment until you complete missions, but you can’t complete missions without better equipment.
Several overturned trailers and wasted hours later, I searched out some upgrades. Finding an AWD attachment for my big truck was a turning point. Previously impassible routes were now easy to overcome. After the glacial progress at the start, I was now steadily working my way through missions.
Keep on trucking.
When you first enter an area, the maps have many routes that are purposefully blocked by fallen powerlines, landslides, broken bridges or other obstacles. You can usually circumvent these with your scout vehicle, but in order to get your heavy vehicles through, you will need to open the routes as soon as possible. Learning which routes can be negotiated by which type of vehicle is important. It takes a lot of trial and error to learn which is the optimal route. Once you have it sussed out, though, you’ll be navigating like a pro.
When it comes to plotting a route, you don’t get any pre-plotted course. It’s up to you to decide which route to take. You can set markers along the route to keep you on track, but you will soon become more familiar with each area. Generally, you will only need a few markers to remind you of turn-offs you need to make. This flexible, open-world approach requires careful strategy if you want to succeed.
The best part of SnowRunner, though, is the excellent terrain simulation. Whether manoeuvring over rocks, mud, snow or ice, the approach is different for each. Traversing the more difficult terrain requires you to go slow and steady. Push too hard in deep mud, for example, and you will sink in deeper and become stuck. Fitting your vehicle with huge mud tyres and raised suspension will make navigating mud a breeze, but you are more likely to tip over on uneven surfaces.
Your ability to navigate obstacles is also affected by the size of your load. If you are driving across relatively easy ground, you can take an integrated flat-bed, as well as towing a trailer. Is it easier to take multiple small loads across tricky terrain, or take one mega-load the long way round? Taking bigger loads can be quicker, but you could lose your load if you become stuck. This introduces an element of risk vs reward that is as enjoyable as it can be frustrating if it goes wrong.
If you do become stuck, you can simply recover to the garage. You will, however, have to abandon any trailers or loads you have picked up. If you’ve spent an hour gathering materials, you likely won’t want to lose all your hard work. In this case, you will have to embark on a rescue mission!
Vehicles can be fitted with cranes that you can use to right any upended trailers or vehicles. Each vehicle also comes equipped with a winch. In addition to helping you overcome steep slopes or sticky bogs, it is an invaluable tool when you need a little help getting one of your trucks out of a sticky situation.
Being overly aggressive with your trucks or succumbing to accidental damage also has an effect on your vehicle. Repairs are automated whenever you return to the garage or refuel at a filling station, but it is also possible to carry out on-the-road repairs. Customisation allows you to fit some vehicles with a repair kit, allowing you to fix minor damage. Alternatively, you can just take a fully equipped maintenance trailer with you. There’s so much flexibility in how you approach the gameplay despite the simple premise.
Overall, it is a very slow-paced game, but it never becomes boring. You need to constantly adjust your planning to complete your objectives, and the steady stream of unlocks means you have new vehicles and capabilities at your disposal. With new equipment comes fresh opportunity to tackle missions via different routes, and it keeps gameplay exciting and varied.
SnowRunner has very well-engineered audio. Engines have a throaty, rumbling resonance, accompanied by excellent environmental audio. Mud squelches beneath your tyres, and snow has that satisfying crisp crunch. When you combine the occasional tweets of birds, the reactive sounds of your tyres over the various surfaces and the steady throb of your engine, it creates a remarkably soothing soundscape. If I had to highlight an area where the game could be improved, though, it would be by having a selection of radio stations to listen to. The background music is unintrusive and has a mid-Western bluesy vibe to it, but if they had the option to select from some localised radio with some classic rock, country or folk music to choose from, it would elevate it to the next level.
Looks good, too.
The gameplay on the One X is rendered at a highly polished 4k resolution. The gameplay areas are huge, but they are also packed full of detail. Rustic log cabins, tree-lined mountains, trailer parks, suburban towns and much more decorate every square foot of the landscape. Scenic vistas greet you at every turn, and all of this is accompanied by a full day/night cycle and dynamic weather.
Water-logged roads and river crossings not only provide an extra obstacle to pass: Fast-moving water looks exceptional, and it is far better looking in motion than in games with a far bigger budget. It’s the attention to the smaller details that really make SnowRunner stand out, though. Mud spatters across your once pristine truck. Smaller trees can be pushed aside or broken down if they are in your way. If you latch on to a tree for support when winching, they will bow and eventually break if your truck is too heavy. There’s so much here that all combines to create an utterly immersive experience.
Persistent deformation of the terrain is particularly impressive in SnowRunner. Frequently passing through the same area causes deeper ruts and mud pools to form, causing each subsequent passage to become more challenging. One particularly challenging area I regularly cross is now a rutted, churned up bog, filled with an overturned trailer and some concrete blocks I have been unable to retrieve yet. The trailer and cargo, however, is now a crucial winch-point that I rely on when passing this area.
SnowRunner is full of opportunity for this style of emergent gameplay. No two deliveries are the same, and even within the first dozen hours, you will likely have countless memorable moments. It is unashamedly a simulator, though. If you come into SnowRunner expecting to be blasting between deliveries, speedily scrabbling over obstacles, and fast-travelling from place to place, you will be disappointed. If, however, you are prepared for the long-haul (pun intended) and appreciate the depth of gameplay on offer, then there is no better off-road simulator.
Better with friends.
Something I haven’t touched on yet is the multiplayer side of things. SnowRunner offers four-player co-op, in either public or private lobbies. If you can gather a team of like-minded players, there are great opportunities for utilising teamwork. Whether it be towing your friend through a snowdrift, or using a crane to restore someone’s load, it adds so many elements to the gameplay that expands on what is possible in single-player.
Mission progress is tied into how far through the game the host is. The mission progress is only saved for the host, but any cash or XP earned can be brought back across to your own game. I found it very satisfying joining a player right at the start of the game and helping them overcome some of the obstacles, working together to remove a stuck trailer in one instance.
Much like choosing complementary load-outs in a team-based shooter, choosing trucks to tackle every eventuality can make or break your mission. Do you all take cargo and risk having to backtrack if one of you comes a cropper? Or, do you have a player operate in a rescue role, with a crane equipped truck? You can even split-up and tackle different objectives.
I was hoping you would be able to winch someone at just the right time and perform the gaming equivalent of holding on to someone’s belt while they try and run. The developers have made it so that you have to agree to the winch request though, which put paid to my plans for humorous winch related hijinks.
SnowRunner, admittedly, took a while to get me hooked. At first, I found myself frustrated far more often than I expected. However, after I got to grips with the gameplay mechanics, I found myself becoming more and more engrossed. Now, some fifty hours later, I can’t get enough, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer.
SnowRunner is everything fans of MudRunner will have hoped for. Everything about it is bigger, better, and more refined than its predecessor. It won’t appeal to everyone, with its often slow pace and lengthy missions. For those looking for an in-depth off-road simulation, though, it is fantastic. Excellent graphics, immersive audio and the well-balanced rate that new equipment unlocks keep gameplay fresh and varied. Throw in the excellent multiplayer, and this is a must-play for fans of the genre.