Spintires: MudRunner – Slow Paced Honest Fun – A Review From Scroo

I actually broke a guidline and pre-ordered MudRunner. I mean... No loot boxes, no pay walls, no nonsense and if you already owned the original Spintires game you'd get 50 percent off the already very fair $30 price tag.

I don't own the first game so I didn't get the discount but I don't care even a little. MudRunner is worth every bit of $30 and I'm very happy to support developers who still make games to be played and not to be cut into pieces to be sold as DLC and premium features. While I'm on that subject  -Please, everyone bow your heads in a moment of silent mourning for one of those last good developers: Runic Games. Runic wasn't creating "games as a service" style content and have been shut down largely because of it. So, sadly that likely means no more Torchlight or Hob sequels and certainly no new projects from an honest developer who deserved better than the hand they were dealt.


Okay with that said I want to talk about Saber Interactive's new title. Spintires: MudRunner is a physics based driving simulator where the player is put into the role of a logger who drives Soviet era vehicles through the Russian wilderness with the goal of carrying loads of logs to a lumber mill. The idea is itself sounds pretty bland. How exciting could that be? Well, let's look at the game in detail and hopefully I'll inspire some more folks to try this one out. Or if you don't want to read this go check it out on their site here. But maybe come back and read this too 'cos that would be nice of you.

Just Logging Huh?

Yep. Just Logging. Slow paced logging at that.

But here's the thing: That slow paced logging is extremely engrossing. Once you choose your map and trucks you'll (usually) start at a garage where you can then set those vehicles up the way you want. Options range from fireproof exhaust in order install a fuel cistern, to a crane for loading logs in your carrier or trailer, to repair trailers and spare wheels in order to fend off damage in the field.

Take a look at the map, plan your route and begin preparing for your trip. Take note of where log kiosks are located in relation to fuel stations and other garages. Pay close attention to how roads intersect with each other and what kind of terrain they go through. Or maybe don't use a road. Perhaps you'll want to use a smaller vehicle to scout the map first and uncover all the navigation watch points so can see everything and make more extensive plans. But make plans because wrong turns can lead to being stuck in the mud or the trees or worse, capsized with a loss of the current load and damage to your vehicles.

An unrelated but similar scene to the story below

Two difficulties are available: Casual and Hardcore and they're both challenging. I'll go into them further down but first a story of face-palms and triumph: When I first started Hardcore mode I made a wrong turn on a flooded road in a map called "The Bog" while carrying long logs (they come in three sizes). I should have stayed left but had somehow made the turn right after winching my truck and logs through this too deep, too muddy, veritable lake. I was finally making headway when I realized that I had spent the last 30 minutes winching myself into a dense forest with no way to turn around and I was running low on fuel. On top of that, winching myself forward had unintentionally landed my truck on a rock and I blew up the engine.

Face! Hello sir, fancy seeing you here! This is my good friend Palm. Oh you've met before? Happy to reacquaint you.

Luckily I had the spare wheel add-on so I was able to use the repairs that it gives to fix enough damage that I could at least start the engine again. Now in Casual mode I could have just chosen to call for a rescue and that would have been it. Lesson learned.However in Hardcore The options were:

  1. Drop the load and limp back to a garage to start over.
  2. Abandon the truck and load all together and just continue with a different vehicle.
  3. Fight my way through using the tools at hand.

I like problem solving so I chose the latter. After all I had got myself into this mess, there must be a way to get myself out.

As it turns out I had a vehicle carrying a fuel cistern fully loaded with 1400 liters and towing a utility trailer at the end of the road just a few hundred meters away. So I switched to that truck and drove it as close as I could to where I had gotten stuck on the opposite side of the trees. I parked, detached the trailer and proceeded to find a route through the forest that I could use to get the hopelessly stuck vehicle down the hill to the road below. It took me nearly two real time hours but with enough winching, towing and pushing I managed to drag my logging truck backwards through an opening just wide enough to free it from the cold grasp of mud and branches.

I switched back to the severely damaged vehicle and under it's own power I managed to back it down the hill and got it facing the right way on the road; though it was running on fumes and belching fire from the exhaust. Quickly I shut it down and switched to my fuel truck, hooked the utility trailer back up and pulled along side so as to completely repair and refuel the logging truck. Afterwards with a bit more winching around some too-tight curves I managed to make the delivery and man it felt great. I really wish I had it recorded because it would have made a great video.I think it says a lot for the dev team to have made this so there's always a way out if you want to do the work. Balancing at its finest.

Anyway the point is, "just logging" in this game can be pretty exciting even though it may sound boring on the outside. Also on a side note, this is up to a four player title. So that kind of experience I talked about above could have been even cooler to figure out with friends. Hopefully I'll be able to play this with friends some time myself 'cos I imagine it's pretty fun...

Difficulties

Okay here we are and as mentioned above there are two difficulties to play by.

Casual - Most of the game play is as it would be on Hardcore here but with a few things to make life easier. Your fuel consumption is generally lower. Engines have less tendency to stall. Damage won't change the parameters of your trucks. Differential lock is available whether using automatic or manual shifting. Log stations will allow automatic loading of logs onto vehicles and you can choose to recover at a garage should you get stuck like I talked about above.

Hardcore -Basically the opposite of casual. Damage will cause a truck to steer harder and the engine will be less powerful. Differential locking won't lock your front wheels as well as not being available in automatic gearbox mode and it will damage your vehicle on a hard surface. Navigation points won't show on your map so planning a route is a little tougher. Your wheels will bump steer and force sliding on downhill slopes. No more rescues. And finally, logging stations are no longer automatic, meaning you've got to load your truck with a tractor or crane.

Vehicles and Physics

MudRunner, uses Saber's own 3D and advanced physics engines coupled with Havok to create one of those most realistic feeling virtual off road environments I've experienced.

They call it "Real Time Mud" and it's pretty much everywhere. Roads are generally the safest option for travel but they're slick and often coated with thick, cake-like mud that will stick to your tires and greatly reduce friction allowing for sliding and loss of greater vehicle control. Off road might be a better option but it's risky. Struggling will degrade surfaces further and further eventually making them all but impassible especially for smaller vehicles. Branches and downed trees will impede your trajectory forcing your wheels to turn or making your truck track sideways as it follows the objects contours. Water on a surface can be as simple as a small puddle to drive through or as dangerous as a lake waiting to swallow you whole. Rivers tend to flow fast and those rapids have mass that can easily overturn your truck or drag you down stream. It becomes very evident fairly quickly that in order to get from place to place you'll have to move deliberately and tactfully.

Luckily there are plenty of vehicles for moving around ranging from the smaller Land Cruiser-esque 4x4 drivers to the larger trucks capable of handling the loads you'll be carrying, to the massive eight wheel drive all terrain behemoths that can do it all, if a bit less gracefully. Even a big articulated Skidder to load your logging trailers with. Each vehicle handles a little differently from the last. Some have more power, some with better river fording capabilities and some others are better for exploring and scouting ahead.

There's also a budding mod community already churning out new trucks and loaders and presumably maps will begin arriving shortly. I've even downloaded a mod myself. That's a big deal for me because I'm generally against mods since they almost always do little more than encourage instability and crashing. MudRunner just lends itself so well to the modding scene that I couldn't resist. I may even see if I can learn their tool kit myself at some point.

I would of course be remiss if I didn't mention that Saber have given every object in this title its own physics model. That means everything from the mud that so obviously carves out in ruts to the grass, trees, limbs, water... everything has some effect on your vehicle. If you hit a tree it'll move. Hit it hard enough and it may fall over. Except for big trees which will just respond with a quick shudder. Saplings will bend and break, sometimes even getting caught up in your wheel wells or become stuck in the frame somewhere. Smaller rocks will sink into the mud, or not depending on where you are. Grassy ground might hold you up better than the muddy road but once you break through that root structure you'll find yourself sinking into the muck pretty quickly. And of course I mentioned the dangers of water above. Things like fences around houses will crumble under larger trucks but may resist a small car at first. Then there are pumpkins. For some reason the only thing being planted and grown here are loads of the orange gourds and they smash under wheels just like they should.

Going full HAM trying to reach a navigation point here

Not to mention the vehicle physics. There's a lot of very real feeling frame flexing and suspension travel. Tires will bulge and deform when traveling over hard objects just like one would expect if they were driving in an area where under inflating them would provide more traction.

Maps and Challenges

This game wants you to learn how to play by playing. The tutorial teaches you some of the very basics: How to drive forward and stop, how to lock the differential and tow a trailer. But it then suggests completing challenges in order to hone your skills because they will offer elements that the tutorial didn't. There are nine challenge maps and six "campaign" maps. I hesitate to call it a campaign because there's no story or narrative here to follow. You just get put in an area of wilderness and set loose with the ever present goal of delivering sweet, sweet logs. Each map has it's own characteristics that make it decidedly different from the others while still feeling like you're in the same general place.

Challenges are meant to be taken on in one go and won't save your progress should you exit the map. They tend to be smaller and include goals like, cross a river, or climb a hill. My favorite is the Expedition challenge where you're given two small four wheel drive vehicles and told to find your way to the top of the mountain. With bonus objectives of fully exploring the map and making it to the top with both vehicles at night.

The "campaign" maps are much bigger but not huge. Maybe in the neighborhood of just over a square mile. But it can take a literal hour to drive that far in the conditions presented so they feel much bigger and have loads of options for traversal. Auto saving is constant and you can exit anywhere and return to the same place later on. My only complaint is that these maps will allow you to continue free playing after you complete the main goal of lumber delivery but will no longer save your progress at this point. So once you quit you can't go back without starting that map from the beginning.

I uploaded a few videos to the LP channel showing some game play in particular from map number six, The Deluge. This is a map mostly consisting of a wide, fast flowing river that must be crossed multiple times before completing the goal. My commentary is probably super boring but that's because I was trying to concentrate on driving and talking about it at the same time. Not mention two of those videos have a post-commentary because: issues. I'm still planning on doing a more fun rock crawling video soon.

Controls

Everything feels good here. Well almost everything. The camera is a bit of a nuisance requiring a bit of a pan before it will turn. There are some good snap-to movements using the D-Pad but you can't zoom out very far and most movement will change the camera's orientation before going where you like. Not so bad once you get used to it but it's not a very good free camera mode. I can imagine wheel and pedal users having a tough time with it. Mouse and Keyboard are perfectly viable and control everything just fine but I would recommend a controller. It just feels more intuitive. Not to mention it's hard to get that nice analogue feel of a gas pedal or steering wheel with a digital input device like a keyboard.

Sounds Options and Optimisation

The in game menu is simple, a few options in the form of sliders to adjust level of detail and gamma, change resolutions etc. No options for Vsync, FreeSync or GSync, it's just locked on PC at 60FPS and 30 on consoles. Options for controls are available and that's about it. But you know what? It works fine. I'd like to see some audio options and the unlocking of frame rates but honestly it's just fine.

I don't read Cyrillic so I lovingly refer to my fuel trucks as "The Nacho"

I happen to think MudRunner looks great but it's not winning any awards for visuals. Texture resolution is pretty low and the draw distance is hampered by lots of fog. The fog itself is pretty thematic considering the game location so it's not so bad. Film grain is heavy and though that helps the fog feel more realistic, I wish I could just turn it off. The game does run beautifully. I've experienced one or two brief hangs but nothing to write home about and no crashes or hard locks at all. Load screens are quick and once you're in a map there are no seams.

Lighting feels really good. It's not the most incredible, highly detailed feature but shadows are cast in real time and light rays are volumetric. The day / night cycle is nice if a bit brief, I do wish both would last a bit longer. Nice sunsets and reflections on the water are evident and turning on a vehicle's headlamps doesn't feel like a poorly made flashlight in a hallway shooter.

Look at those rear tires, cool detail

Vehicle details are the star here. Dents and scratches are seen in the body and paint and new damage provides new imperfections as a reminder that you effed up. Driving in the mud flings it all over and driving on the pavement leaves muddy tracks in the lane. Taking your truck through the water will clean the tires revealing a highly detailed tread pattern and a close look will show you rivulets of muddy water on the surface as it drains away. Water levels even show on the vehicles and logs you're carrying. It's a good feeling.

Sounds are important to immersion and there's no exception to that rule here. Every truck has it's own engine noise and for better or worse, I'm looking at you K-700, that's a good thing. Hitting the gas will allow you to hear the RPM's rise and fall and you'll notice a fair amount of gear whine while driving these old, super low geared work horses. Mechanical brakes will screech and air brakes will hiss while the frame and body panels rattle. Logs will shift while driving resulting in some pretty satisfying, even startling bangs and pops. Even turning the headlights on gives us a nice "tick" noise. Ambient sound is no different with the faint wind blowing through the trees, water rushing by and birds singing or crickets and frogs chirping depending on the time of day. Music is only heard when completing a goal or gaining achievements and it's pretty appropriate.

Conclusion

Well there are folks out there who argue the original Spintires is a better game. They say it has higher resolution textures, which I'm inclined to believe actually since it was a PC only release. They also say that the mud effects were better. I can't say since I never played the first game but I may still pick it up because MudRunner has proven itself to be a brilliant off road sim. The simulation part is lighter than I expected since the vehicle characteristics seem to be more of an average spread through them all versus a per vehicle simulation, but it's enough that you'll feel like you're in the driver seat.

With the environments available you'll find lots of ways to play even if none of those environments contain any snow or ice. Hopefully that will change. There are plenty of vehicles, 19 in total from the base game and more show up every day in the modding community.

It runs smooth and looks pretty darn good doing it. I'd love to see a high res texture pack release and that may be something that happens as Saber hinted a bit at a possible 4k conversion later down the line. Plus the price is right at $30, and only $15 if you already own Spintires. On top of all that it's a lightweight download at less than 900MB.

I've played now for 55 hours and I'm still enjoying my time in game. So I guess the question as always is, would I recommend it? Yes. To anyone who likes driving sims and atypical challenges, you're going to like this. I'm very happy with it and I'm probably going back right after I'm done here and play it some more.

System Requirments for Spintires: MudRunner are as Follows

MINIMUM:

    • OS: Windows Vista/7/8/10
    • Processor: Intel® Pentium Dual Core 2.0GHz or equivalent
    • Memory: 2 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce 9600 GT or equivalent
    • Storage: 1 GB available space
    • Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR GAME ACTIVATION AND ONLINE GAME. Gamepad Microsoft Xbox Controller for Windows. Confirmed Steering Wheel support for Logitech G25/G27 - Other models have not been tested. This game is a 32-bit application.

RECOMMENDED:

    • OS: Windows Vista/7/8/10
    • Processor: Intel® Core 2 Duo 2.5GHz or equivalent
    • Memory: 4 GB RAM
    • Graphics: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 470 or equivalent
    • Storage: 1 GB available space
    • Additional Notes: INTERNET CONNECTION REQUIRED FOR GAME ACTIVATION AND ONLINE GAME. Gamepad Microsoft Xbox Controller for Windows. Confirmed Steering Wheel support for Logitech G25/G27 - Other models have not been tested. This game is a 32-bit application.