When it comes to driving games, most people think of something along the lines of Forza or Gran Turismo. The cars are beautiful and the racing is intense. You fly around the course, trying to avoid disaster, hoping all the practice time put in will land you at the top of the podium. For those wanting a little more grit and grime, there are plenty of rally car or motocross games to sample, but if you are looking for something that would challenge even the largest 4X4, then Spintires: MudRunner is the place to look. Developer Saber Interactive has upgraded the original Spintires with new graphics, new maps, and more all-terrain vehicles. So let’s dig in and sling some mud! This is our Spintires: MudRunner review.
Most driving games that have an off-road component are on defined courses (Rally or Baja racing) or have an arcade/action style to them (Forza Horizons). Spintires: MudRunner offers gamers a more realistic all-terrain experience. It has a much slower pace than most driving games but doesn’t come off as boring due to the focus needed to traverse the hazards. All the vehicles have their own unique handling characteristics and their size and weight impact how they react to the varied terrain.
On PC you can play with mouse and keyboard, plus there is controller and steering wheel/pedal support. Mouse and keyboard steering was acceptable, but driving with the controller was much more intuitive (I did not try a wheel/pedal combo). While unwieldy at first, I ended up using a blend of controller and mouse/keyboard, as each option was better suited for certain tasks.
While driving, there is the typical cab view along with an external camera option. The cab view is my go-to option for most driving games, but in this case, it was underwhelming. While the vehicle models are well done, the interior of most vehicles is minimalistic. There is a generic instrument panel that is pasted on the dashboard, most times not sized or located within the space you would expect to see the gauges. None of the internal or external mirrors function, making it impossible to see behind the cab.
The external camera is not much better. Many racing games give you several camera points (above car, hood, tire cam, etc.), but those options are not available. Instead, you are given a free-floating360-degree camera with a limited zoom and vertical range. While this type of camera should give good situational awareness, without any preset positions it feels very clumsy and is oftentimes difficult to move it into a good position. Over time I have become more adept with the camera, but with so many other driving games getting it “right,” it is a major detractor.
Unlike the camera issues, the graphics are acceptable. As stated above, the interior cab models are horrendous, but the exterior vehicle models are well done. There is plenty of detail in the building textures, and there are plenty of background objects to make the world feel lived in. The color palette is a lot of muted greens and browns, but given the environment, you are in, that is acceptable. Overall, the graphics quality is a mixed bag, but as long as the gameplay is strong, then average, if not a little outdated, graphics is acceptable.You will start off by running through a quick tutorial that teaches you the basics of the game. You will learn how to control the camera (ugh, good luck), engage the differential lock and all-wheel drive (on vehicles so equipped), and utilize the winch to help pull you out of sticky situations. It also introduces you to the garage, where you can outfit your trucks with accessories such as fuel carriers, log carriers, trailers, and all sorts of other equipment. Lastly, the tutorial introduces you to the main “goal” of the game: collect and deliver logs to the lumber mill to earn unlock progression points.
After finishing the tutorial (or skipping it if you are a veteran of the original Spintires game), you can jump right into the single or multiplayer game, or attack the challenge levels to learn even more about the available vehicle functions. Each challenge, 9 in all, will have you using the chosen vehicle to complete tasks such as repairing and refueling a vehicle or delivering supplies. Each challenge has three additional bonus conditions to meet (don’t use AWD, time limits, etc.) if you so choose. None of these challenges will reward you with anything other than satisfying the inner completionism in all of us, but they do give a chance to improve your skill with the basic equipment before jumping off into the open world.
When you are ready, it’s time to move onto the open world maps. You start out with two of the six maps unlocked. At the onset of each map, only a small portion will be revealed, with additional sections opened up as you locate “watch points”. As mentioned above, you will need to deliver logs to all of the lumber mills on a particular map to earn progression points, which allow you to unlock new maps and vehicles. Move on to the next map, rinse, and repeat.
The concept behind MudRunner really is that simple, but let’s face it, you aren’t looking at this game because you want a deep story. You are here for the mud! And that thirst for the dirt will be quenched. There are some paved roads, but where’s the fun in that? Most of your time will be spent aimlessly exploring the maps, looking for areas that look impassable, then trying to figure out a way through.
Exploration is the true meat of MudRunners, and the experience is enjoyable. Each map, though similar, has its own distinct features and challenges. You are free to choose which vehicles are available to you on each map. To keep each map challenging, all maps and vehicles have a balance rating. You must keep the combined balance rating of the vehicles below the rating of the map. For those who want it all, Saber Interactive included the Proving Grounds, a smaller sandbox style map containing all the different types of terrain. You can spawn in any vehicle and drive around to your heart’s content.
Whether you are driving down muddy, washed out roads or creating your own winding path through a wooded area, you will have to constantly be aware of your surroundings as you methodically make your way across the terrain. Getting bogged down in a mud pit, becoming high-centered on a large rock or fallen tree, being swept downstream when you hit a deep spot during a simple river crossing, or sliding off a narrow path and rolling down a steep slope are all possible ways your joy ride can come to an abrupt halt. Even losing control and hitting large trees and rocks will cause damage to your vehicle, so you aren’t able to just drive around with reckless abandon. As you cause more and more damage your vehicle will begin to run poorly and eventually your engine will fail. Fortunately, the fun continues when you jump in a truck with a utility attachment and make the trek back to perform on-site repairs.
After completing the challenges, unlocking all the maps and vehicles, and spending several hours driving around trying to get yourself stuck in a bog, you still aren’t done. Players can create lobbies for 4 player co-op maps. And there is already a large modding community. Many of the mods from the original Spintires have been converted over, and I am sure there will be more to come. There are already additional maps, scores of vehicles, and improvements such as textures added to the winch line and new dashboards.
When all is said and done, the strong gameplay overcomes the flaws in the game. While the graphics are hit and miss, the modding community has already started making improvements. If you are tired of the typical racing sim, or are looking for a more realistic off-road experience, Spintires: MudRunner may be the game for you. And you won’t have to stop by the carwash when you get done.
Note: Our copy was reviewed on PC with a code provided by PR.
Compare To: Truck Simulator
OVERALL SCORE: 7.8/10
- Unique driving experience
- Strong open world gameplay
- Large modding community
- Mud, lots and lots of mud
- Mixed bag on graphics quality
- Clunky camera control