Spintires: MudRunner-American Wilds Review
Release Date: November 27, 2018 (previously on PS4/X1/PC/Switch October 23)
Developer/Publisher: Saber Interactive/Focus Home Interactive
Platform: Nintendo Switch (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 4
There's a certain sphincter-clenching realism to driving that you don't get when playing video games. There's no Gran Turismo or high-end NASCAR racing game that recreates that first time you find yourself on an unstable road with notable consequences. Even in off-road rally style games you might crash and your only problem is losing a bit of your winnings. Nothing quite encapsulates the first time you slide off a road into a ditch, deciding whether you can power it out and not damage the car, if a buddy could help push you out, or if it's time to call the one who pays for your insurance and share the bad news. Here’s the first game that’s gotten close to that feeling for me.
While Spintires: MudRunner-American Wilds’ name sounds like a traditional dirt rally game, the reality is far from it. You are tasked with driving a series of real-world off road and work trucks to complete tasks like picking up loads and delivering them. And while that sounds simple and boring, the reality is also far from that. MudRunner is closer to a job simulation than any sport, and has more real-world intricacies than I've seen in any other game.
MudRunner's main draw is around the detail of the engines and traction, and the realism of water and deformity of the mud you are grinding through. There is very little pavement in the game and you don't really spend a lot of time on it. You have to ford through shallow rivers and your vehicle reacts appropriately. You work your way up muddy hills and have to figure in your all wheel drive, differential locks, and perhaps even grappling up the hill with a tow cable. On top of all this you have to manage your fuel, as you also suffer from that real-world stress of running out of gas mid-job. Get stuck in the mud or on an empty tank and you find yourself transferring to another vehicle to pull yourself out of the mess. Luckily, you can locally or online team up with up to three other individuals to get the job done.
The danger, and the physics, are real. I've never realized just how bad I am at backing up a trailer until I played this game. I pinned myself in a triangle several times just trying to back out of a corner I got stuck in, and had a few instances where I attempted a hill I couldn't get up only to find I couldn't go back down where I was either. Sometimes the only reset available to you is way back at base, killing half the work you just did. MudRunner is unforgiving, and feels as if it would draw the Farming Simulator crowd on how much it focuses on real-world scenarios. I think some of my favorite parts of the game are the real-world vehicles. It's not often you get a major company like Ford to allow their vehicles to look not-so-pristine in a video game. Attaching a trailer, you can see the side panels wobble around when empty. Load it up and you can watch your load shift depending on how you take a hill. With the mud deformity you have to watch how you go through a section not only to survive the way there, but to not kill the hill so as to where you can't get back. When you have to overcome a certain route several times it can go from easy cruising to hardcore winching depending on how much you've torn up the landscape.
With ten maps, thirty vehicles, and all previously released DLC, Spintires: MudRunner-American Wilds has plenty to dig your teeth-or tires-into. I only got to play the Switch edition, so I can't say much if there are graphical downgrades or such. The Switch graphics are plenty wonderful and multiplayer is handled very well even for the so-called lower powered system. I wish for some quality of life upgrades, like a rewind feature or a GPS that could map the optimum directions to your goal. Rewind would kill some of the sphincter-clenching realism, and I doubt any real-world GPS could factor for muddy roads this extreme. As a video game I do want it to be easier to be more "fun," but I suppose if you are going for realism, then you've come to the right place. Spintires: MudRunner-American Wilds is nothing like you may expect it, but you'll get a challenge you haven't had before in a video game and not in real life since your first year behind the wheel after getting your license--personal OR commercial.
-Realistic feeling mud and water effects
-More management than usual in driving games, from differential lock to gasoline rationing
-A full game with a full bevy of DLC means maximum game at minimum pricing
-Fun idea for teamwork and asymmetrical gameplay
-You will get stuck, you will have to deal with it. It will suck. But that's the point.
-Not a pick-up-and-play arcade game. The more you know about engines, traction, and how it works the better
-I wish the GPS could be more gamer-friendly
Special thanks to Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive for providing a copy of Spintires: MudRunner-American Wilds for review!