Snowrunner – Diesel Powered Accomplishment
PS4, Xbox One, PC
Video games are a wonderful medium. They empower you to save the world from alien invasions, visit fully realised fantastical worlds, and achieve feats we would never consider doing in real life – such as driving a big ol’ truck across precarious terrain.
For some years, the popular American Truck Simulator and Euro Truck Simulator games have been bastions of the hardcore transportation genre, focusing on hyperrealistic depictions of moving cargo by way of hulking diesel-powered vehicles. SnowRunner occupies a unique space in this niche field, impressively offering the realism seen in trucking sims in addition to many gamified open-world elements.
In fact, SnowRunner’s game loop is synonymous with many of the techniques popularised by western triple-A open-world games throughout the late-2000s and 2010s. For example, SnowRunner commences in rural Michigan with much of the map obscured, requiring you to visit watchtowers to uncover your surroundings. While humming Bob Dylan to yourself, driving all along the watchtowers also populates the map with additional discoveries such as new vehicles to recover, money-earning contracts and tasks to complete, plus countless other secrets. With each location of Michigan, Alaska and Taymyr respectively each packing in four areas to traverse, SnowRunner is absolutely huge and overflowing with a truckload of content.
While most driving games focus on the thrill of speed and competition, SnowRunner’s strong sense of satisfaction derives from mastering its dangerous roads. From slushy mud, jagged rocks, slippery snow and perilous bodies of water, every road boasts the potential of being seconds away from disaster. Even approaching a corner too fast while lugging a heavy payload of logs will likely result in a devastating rollover. Amazingly, SnowRunner conjures an astounding amount of tension from low-speed manoeuvres due to its commitment to realistic driving and how much rides on each weather-worn road.
SnowRunner is the thinking person’s driving game – it punishes every misjudgement, requiring you to always consider the landscape ahead and plan for many different scenarios. This planning begins with your equipment; which vehicle, tyres and tuning you choose all impact the likelihood of success.
Even with well-suited equipment, SnowRunner constantly challenges how you approach each route. For example, mud is one of the main early adversaries; try to go too fast or approach it from the wrong angle and you’ll quickly find yourself bogged. Manually changing to a low gear and enabling AWD or various other wheel-locking mechanisms helps to navigate tough terrain. It’s damn satisfying conquering a machine-versus-nature challenge, mainly due to how much effort goes into every delivery.
Thankfully, when you inevitably do get stuck, there are various tools to get you out of a pickle. Your winch will be one of the most helpful tools, which can be quickly attached to a nearby tree or structure to pull you out. However, it’s important to factor in the weight and force required to free the bogged vehicle; trying to winch from a small tree will only result in ripping the tree down while your wheels keep spinning in the sludge. Alternatively, smaller scout vehicles are available to tow trucks out of trouble. Keep in mind this requires swapping vehicles via the map and driving all the way to the location of the accident – there are limited fast-travel options in SnowRunner.
It’s frustrating not being able to fast-travel vehicles to one another to quickly deal with issues, with fast-travel limited to hopping between discovered garages. However, SnowRunner deliberately encourages thinking routes through and getting it right the first time, adding to the sense of achievement that comes with succeeding. On one hand, adding in features to expedite vehicle recovery would take away some of the realism and risk SnowRunner champions. As a last resort when stuck, trucks can be recalled at no cost to one of your unlocked garages, but the real penalty is having to start anew and losing the time taken in the process. This is SnowRunner’s ultimate punishment, as it tests your patience and time commitment. On the other hand, having some extra assists and fast-travel options would be handy to avoid starting all the way from the garage each time.
Another aspect SnowRunner doesn’t quite nail is easing truck newbies like myself into its tough, mud-covered world. While there are some early tutorials and how-to codex listings to read through, some of SnowRunner’s more advanced components, such as vehicle upgrades, are more hands-off in nature. What would help open SnowRunner to a potentially larger audience is a more in-depth and longer series of tutorial contracts to further demonstrate how to get the most out of your vehicles.
For example, an interactive tutorial that ensures you equip the correct vehicle parts before taking on a more difficult route would have saved me hours of grief. I kept getting bogged in one area of the map, but couldn’t afford a better truck; little did I know that I overlooked what tyres I was currently using. Equipping a set of mud tyres gave me enough of an edge to get past the unassuming mud path of peril – being forced to change tyres as part of a structured mission would have reinforced this as an option earlier on. Plus, some tyre options are locked for purchase until discovering them in the wild, which is counterintuitive considering these upgrades are often in difficult-to-reach areas.
Aside from some early learning issues, I found SnowRunner’s camera to be slightly too loose and unwieldy to control at times. This makes wrestling with the road beasts-on-wheels slightly more challenging, especially considering angles are vital to tackling the environment. Thankfully, this isn’t too much of an issue, but tightening the camera to better stay behind the vehicle would ease the metaphorical load.
Beyond SnowRunner’s gameplay, there’s a real rugged beauty to its environments, with harsh terrains contrasted by lovely rural vistas to gape at. Most importantly, it’s always clear when a road will create a navigational challenge; approaching a soft road will see mud flying up from spinning wheels, plus the road density is noticeable enough to inform you when to change gears. This visual feedback adds to SnowRunner’s realism in a way that enables proactive driving, making you feel like a real trucker.
Or at least I assume so, having never regularly driven anything bigger than a hatchback in my life. Let me dream!
Snowrunner was reviewed on the PS4 with code kindly supplied by 5 Star Games Australia