Xbox One, PS4, PC
April 28, 2020
Focus Home Interactive
The mud. The darkness. The morning light that greets you. The snow and the rivers and the forests. These are just some things that made SnowRunner such a visually appeasing game to play. SnowRunner is a realistic driving simulator developed by Saber Interactive that sees the player traverse around three different open world maps. You, an unnamed protagonist, are needed to reconnect the world through finding and delivering materials that help with drilling operations, connecting power lines and building bridges. The game is all about finding the right kind of vehicle to make the treacherous delivery of these materials so that you can gain awards, cash and further access to the world.
This game is my first foray into a driving simulator (that is if you don’t count endless hours of Mario Kart on my SNES when I was ten, which I do not). In starting SnowRunner I didn’t know what I was in for. I’d visited a number of online communities that were super excited and counting down to the games release date. Most of these players were hyped due to playing Saber Interactive’s 2017 release MudRunner, a game that received glowing reviews for its realistic and challenging off-road driving simulations. The closest I’ve been to driving a truck was wearing trucker caps in my early twenties (remember when they were so cool?). Also, I’m not that big into cars and trucks. My little blue Suzuki Swift gets me from A to B and that’s just fine with me! However, after watching the trailers for SnowRunner, I wanted the opportunity to play a game that was so far away from what I usually play. I think it’s important to try all sorts of different genres of games, because hey, you just might find yourself enjoying the unfamiliar.
The world of SnowRunner is my favourite thing about this game. It is lush with colours that bounce and play with the light. It is unforgiving with its mud, lakes and mountains that will not yield to just any vehicle. It is a world where only you, the vehicle and it exists.
There are no NPCs in SnowRunner. There are no other vehicles. This may make the environment sound boring, but it actually adds to the calming nature of the game. The world is there just for you to explore, to improve on and to challenge only you. “You” are a bearded man who sits behind the steering wheel. You cannot move yourself outside of your vehicle so in the game, you and your vehicle are one entity. A cute little touch is when you leave your vehicle unattended for too long your little dude falls asleep! Arms crossed, eyes shut and head slightly tilted, it shows how comfortable he is in his enclosed environment.
There are three global maps for you to explore. First, Michigan, USA, which is covered in mud due to recent downpours that have destroyed infrastructures and driven locals out of their homes. Michigan is the starter region and it’s where you’ll get the hang of how the world around you works. The Michigan area is covered in forests and lots of off road paths. It’s where I realised that it’s important to pay attention to all the road signs. They aren’t extremely obvious, but they give you hints as to what environmental disturbances lie ahead, like construction and flood damage. Another thing that you become aware of very early on in Michigan is the importance of watch towers. When you visit these, they open up the shaded areas of the map around it, making these areas and their markers visible.
Alaska, USA is next on the map. You’ll have an opportunity to visit this area fairly early in the game. However, the terrain here is a bit more challenging than in Michigan. Here you’ll find lots of snow and sludge. So you’ll have to be prepared and leveled up enough to have the right vehicle for the Alaskan contracts.
The last region is Taymyr, Russia, which gives a nod to the Russian landscape featured in SpinTires: Mudrunner. Its landscape is a lot more barren than the others and reminds me a bit of the environment in a Fallout game. Dystopian, overgrown and dangerous.
The only things that you really have full control of in SnowRunner is your choice of vehicle and what contract you wish to pursue. Your starter vehicle is a Chevrolet CK1500 pickup truck that has 4WD capabilities. By pressing L1 you can cycle through your auto controls and select low gear, automatic, neutral and reverse. By pressing UP on your D-Pad you can attach trailers, assess the damage done to your vehicle and also attach the most important machinery in the game – the winch. This will help you get out of sticky situations such as being completely stuck in mud.
For me, gameplay in SnowRunner came in two forms. The relaxing feeling of gliding along the open road, Southern American rock providing a soothing soundtrack as I made my way over puddles and up muddy paths. The second form was one I didn’t like so much. This was one of frustration. Due to the fact that my vehicle would get stuck. A lot.
Even when I thought I was sorted, that I had the right truck and the right attachments, I once again found myself stuck in mud as quickly as Trump applies fake tan in the morning. This obviously took away from my enjoyment of the game.
Another frustrating feature of the gameplay was the games inability to really tell you what contracts you should be doing based on the vehicles you have in your possession. At one point, I couldn’t attach a trailer to my heavy duty GMC MH9500 truck. I then realised that I had to change to another heavy duty truck just around the corner. The game did not tell me I had to do this or even that I was able to drive that truck yet.
So, I attached the trailer and it’s happy days, off to a farm where I dropped it off and I’m rewarded. My dopamine levels high, I decided to complete another mission. Deliver a fuel tanker. Easy! Up the mountain I went towards the tanker. This is going well – I’ve just had to use my winch once! I reversed up to the fuel tanker and…. I didn’t have the right attachment on my truck to connect it. The game didn’t tell me that I needed a special attachment and isn’t telling me where I can get it. Frustrating, to say the least.
It was moments like these that led me to spend time clicking through the menus trying to find answers. I just wanted to be cruising again, in my happy place, with the music and the scenery! But there I was, watching my driver doze whilst I tried to figure out what the hell I was supposed to do.
If you do find yourself out of fuel or you’ve totaled your vehicle, the “restore” feature is an absolute lifesaver. It restores your vehicle to the garage where it is fully repaired and fueled. The only problem is that if you have your vehicle loaded with supplies, they will be lost. By including this feature it’s obviously trying to make you take your time. You strategically have to figure out whether you have enough petrol to go to the next mission, or alternatively, find a station and fuel up.
Your choice of vehicle is what will make or break your SnowRunner experience. Pick the right vehicle to match the terrain and you’ll be right to get the job done. Plus you can customise these vehicles with new parts, colours and designs. You’ll also find trailers scattered around the world that you can pick up and deposit in your garage for safe keeping.
The garage is where you can keep up to six vehicles at a time. It is also where you can use the world map to “deploy” your vehicle to the two other main regions of the game. By completing contracts you get cash, which you can then spend on buying more suitable vehicles. These vehicles range from pickups, to heavy and medium trucks, logging trucks to six-wheeler amphibians. Frustrations aside, SnowRunner really lets you go at your own pace, which makes it a pretty low-stress game – as long as you’re not left stuck with your wheels spinning.
- Gorgeous visuals
- Contract aren't timed so you can complete them at your own pace
- Vehicle customisation is fun and creative
- Soundtrack really adds to the calming atmosphere of the game
- Finding contracts that are suitable can be confusing
- Being bogged multiple times can be extremely frustating
- More markers to find suitable equipment are needed
SnowRunner is the game equivalent of a warm milk before bed. It lulls you with its twangy guitar soundtrack, rugged roads and realistic landscapes. It’s the kind of game you play to chill for a bit, let your mind wander and enjoy the serenity. I wish that the developers had included more markers to guide players to the equipment that they need to complete contracts. This would have made the game a lot less frustrating and smoother to play. Overall though, SnowRunner is a relaxing game with a gorgeous open world to explore that people may just need in this time of uncertainty.