Stuck at home but still want to get off-road? Why not check out SnowRunner, the latest off-road simulator that focuses on skills rather than speed.
TL;DR: while the physics aren’t entirely accurate, SnowRunner does require the same thinking approach to offroading you’d use in real life. It is an enjoyable, slow-paced game for patient players, interspersed with moments of real excitement…like offroading in reality!
What’s good: graphics, conceptual approach required to succeed, it’s an offroad game, easy to get into, upgrades on the way.
What’s bad: realism could be a lot better, no current support for steering wheels on Playstation 4, would like more hints.
Snow Runner Specifications
Price: RRP$79.95 Platforms: Available on Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Can be played with a controller, steering wheel optional.
(Disclosure: The company behind SnowRunner provided us with a code to get an early go at the game to produce this review. The game went on sale on the 28th April)
I’m not much of a gamer, other than being a big fan of car racing simulators of which there are plenty to choose from, and some are decades old. By comparison, the 4X4 side of things has been rather neglected. But now we have SnowRunner, which is a development of an older game called MudRunner, which was developed from a game called Spintires.
SnowRunner is an “open world” game, which means you can go anywhere, anytime, with no restrictions or time limits. The objective of the game is to complete tasks and missions for which you earn credits, and you use those credits to upgrade your vehicle or buy more vehicles, which you then use to complete more difficult missions. Exactly how you do that and the order you do it, is largely up to you. The missions pretty much involve transporting things from place to place, for example wood to build a bridge which you then drive over, or rescuing scientists stuck on a hill (I haven’t solved that one yet!).
The game provides several types of challenge. First, there’s the strategy – which missions should you take on and in what order. Do you spend money on minor upgrades, or save up for a bigger purchase? Then there’s the tactics for each mission – which vehicle to use, how, the route to get there, and so on.
It’s easy to let hours slip by playing the game, and you do make progress. Of course, when you do complete an objective it’s all the sweeter because of the effort taken, so the game appeals to those with a longer-term, patient mindset, not those after a sugar-hit fix of fun.
The vehicles vary from the Chevy 1500 you’re given at the start, all the way up to large 8×8 trucks. You can also buy and use trailers too:
There is a multi-player mode, so you can form a team of four to complete missions.
There’s two aspects to the realism – the strategy, and the dynamics. Form a strategy perspective, Snowrunner is great. Decisions such as taking a short but difficult track to get to a location instead of a longer but easier road are exactly true to real life. The modifications are quite true as well, for example improving your tyres gives you better traction, and it makes you upgrade the suspension for a lift before you can fit much larger tyres.
The decision making is also realistic at the obstacle level – how will you get your car through an obstacle? Where to winch, and how, the planning and execution, and also the frustration! Just like in real life, rushing ahead leads to disaster, and persisting with the wrong plan just doesn’t work. I think Snowrunner is great for teaching people how to “think 4X4”.
When we come to the car dynamics level, SnowRunner is not a realistic simulator in the same way, say, iRacing is for race cars, or even the likes of Gran Turismo or Forza 7. But it is, as far I know, the most realistic 4×4 simulator. If you know of any better, please let us know by leaving a comment below.
The vehicles are too capable in mud, somehow able to just keep plugging along even when sunk to the chassis. Despite the game making claims, I didn’t find much difference in throttle control, and you’re not really able to use momentum, it’s all kind of one speed only.
There’s no concept of airing down tyres and you cannot seem to select different gears which, even in an automatic, is an important technique for off-roading. Braking isn’t well implemented either, can’t seem to lock the brakes if you get it wrong, and that skill is critical for hills. Even the part-time 4×4 cars have “AWD” as an option, but that should be 4×4 as they’re not designed to run in 4×4 mode on high-traction surfaces. And there’s no transmission windup. And the winch pulls you fowards even at amazing off-centre angles.
I’d also like to see some nod to environmental care. Missions can force you to drive literally off-track, and that’s not what we do as responsible 4X4 owners. Could even make it part of the gameplay – tracks get closed if over-used, or during winter, and you need a permit to access certain areas.
All that said, SnowRunner is still a lot of fun, and real enough to be interesting to 4×4 drivers, especially at the tactical level when you approach obstacles, and I need to spend a lot more time on the game to fully explore its rich depths.
This is a US-centric game, so you’re not going to get much in the way of vehicles from Toyota, Nissan or Land Rover, but the game will be developed over the next year with new content. You do get a variety of American utes and trucks, though. It’s a nice change from the Soviet-esque vehicles available in MudRunner.
I would absolutely recommend Snowrunner to any 4X4 enthusiast and non-gamer like myself. You’ll appreciate the mental challenges, and definitely find your 4X4 skills of use in the game.