In the dark of night, the snow flutters from the sky while a gentle mist blankets the valleys of Alaska. Turning the headlights on reveals a dense forest previously shrouded in darkness, with the white snow reflecting the light to brilliantly illuminate the wilderness. While it’s largely lifeless, the forests of Alaska are brilliantly mimicked in this title, as are the hills of Michigan. The murmur of idling diminishes as a shift my truck into first gear and click into motion. Driving my Chevrolet truck through the crisp snow that clings to the muddy backroads, the sound of crunching snow is somehow overwhelmed by the sound of my vehicle. While my truck sounds great as it drifts across ice and through mud, most of the sounds are unrealistically similar and immersion breaking.
Gameplay Teaches the Value of a Winch
The immersion I get from observing the world around me is broken as the crunch of snow that I’d expect from a game so heavily focused on snowy experiences is missing. While the collision sounds with trees and signs sound like crumpling paper, there’s little that differentiates the sound of driving on snow compared to driving in mud. While the visuals of SnowRunner’s Alaska, Michigan and Taymyr (Russia) are an impressive upgrade from MudRunner, the sound design is lacking. Gamers can explore the three huge maps with up to three of their friends to do big expeditions, teaming up to tackle some of the biggest contracts. There are dozens of difficult contracts you can complete solo, which is mostly what I dabbled in, but teaming up with others to explore the world breathes more life into the empty streets. This is an open world sandbox that encourages exploration and exploring with friends always makes a game better.
While you’re forced to start SnowRunner on square one with a basic truck, you can add upgrades to your engine, swap your tires, make adjustments to suspension and more. Being one of the definitive vehicle experiences on the market, SnowRunner doesn’t disappoint with how drastically even the most subtle changes will affect your experience. Some upgrades are important to contracts such as a crane for loading cargo and others require specific vehicle types such as a Scout or heavy machinery. Being able to change your truck for free by locating some on the map, some of the best vehicles are purchasable which encourages me to do as many contracts as I can. There are forty vehicles to choose between that includes brands such as Chevrolet, Ford and Freightliner that will keep you building bridges and fixing pipelines to unlock.
One of the most important things to do in SnowRunner is unlocking the map by reaching watch towers that are hidden in the wilderness. The map is initially shrouded in darkness like the best real-time strategy games, which is another aspect this game encourages exploration as it will show you where the nearest watch tower is without giving you the optimal path to get there. You won’t want to go to a tower that’s beyond the reach of your viewable map however because you might not see a pipeline or train track that fully blocks your path there. The pathfinding of SnowRunner is basically non-existed. When you select a destination, it forms a path to it like games such as Red Dead Redemption and GTA V but without following the in-game map. Basically, if you follow the line that the pathfinding selects, you’ll eventually end up in a river, lake or snowbank. Navigation is further hindered by the lack of a mini-map, forcing you to constantly open a map. This may be part of the vehicular simulation but I’d at least appreciate a compass to help mitigate the amount of times I’m opening the map. There isn’t a proper speedometer outside of first-person mode either, so get used to seeing hands on a steering wheel. It truly feels like jumping back in time, before the days of GPS when you got maps at a local tourist information centre to find your way around.
A Step Up From MudRunner
The physics and advanced realism of Snow Runner are similar to the Forza series but it lacks many of the features that modernized the simulation genre. For example, Snow Runner would benefit by having a rewind button similar to Forza. While this would simplify the experience a bit and diminish the importance of a wench, it would help reduce the small mistakes such as not shifting to a lower gear sooner or turning the wrong way into a dip in the road. There’s no question that the driving feels realistic from the road to the mud and snow, but because of that, there are many small mistakes to make. While I have problems with the lack of improvements to simulation driving made by Turn 10 Studios with Forza, I’m still happy with the improvements Saber Interactive have made to their formula. After hours of getting stuck in and unstuck from mud pits in SnowRunner, I feel like with the right truck and wench, I could go mudding like the most seasoned woodsmen.
SnowRunner brought out the kid in me when completing contracts. It reminded me of playing with Tonka trucks in the sandbox, but instead of sand, it’s snow and instead of Tonka, it’s real-world branded trucks and heavy machinery. While the realism kept me thinking like an adult, the mud running familiar to the series and newly introduced ice and snow mechanics make building bridges and fixing roads feel more interesting than other games. I enjoyed many aspects of SnowRunner and see the improvements that Saber Interactive has made with the new entry into the series. After tackling mud and snow, it’ll be interesting to see where the next title treads. It feels like they took a big step from MudRunner to SnowRunner and if the next step is just as big or bigger, it may be the perfect vehicular simulation game.
***Xbox One code provided by publisher***
- Beautiful environments
- Realistic physics
- Vast Open World Sandbox
- No Mini-map/compass
- Bad sound design
- Getting stuck simulator