Back in 2014, I stumbled upon an off-road sim game entitled Spintires on the PC platform. It was primarily a sandbox for some mud flinging fun with a variety of vehicles that had me reminiscing back to my even older fondness for a similar game called 1nsane, also on PC. That game eventually evolved into a full multiplatform release and rebranded to MudRunner. From a clunky sandbox, it found footing with objectives and a broader offroad playground. Now, from the muddy depths of that hardcore simulation off-roading playground, comes the sequel, SnowRunner from Publisher Focus Home Interactive. Poised to drop you into snowy lands as the title might give away; will this release gain traction on the Nintendo Switch platform, or will we find ourselves buried in over our heads?
Much like its predecessor, you’ll kick off SnowRunner with some basic vehicle driving and mechanics tutorials that’ll help gain you some footing. It’s immediately clear that the game hasn’t detoured even the least bit from its hardcore off-road sim roots, and even in my starter pick-up truck I was given, I had found myself setting winch lines to get through a watery bog right in the starting area 15 minutes into my new game. This game doesn’t really hold your hand via in depth tutorials, so newcomers may face some steep challenges early on. Mastering things like your differential lock and gears will thankfully come a bit later after you’ve discovered and unlocked a few new vehicles, but beginners should expect a level of challenge in driving right away.
With Spintires objectives were very loose and nearly non-existent. MudRunner helped build a better foundation, and SnowRunner has gone a step further and made much more accessible objectives and goals within each of its playable regions. Still, the contract system in which you apply for jobs and thus create those objectives becomes overwhelming quite quickly, and without having attempted to explore a good portion of any of the maps, you may find yourself struggling to accomplish any jobs within your first few hours. That’s because of a more open-ended sandbox structure that doesn’t do a great job of relaying the expectations and difficulty level of any given contract that’s currently available.
It’s definitely worth noting that exploration in the regions is still key. The game teaches you early on that you should explore and find watchtowers, which (similar to Ubisoft games like Assassin’s Creed) will cinematically unlock a chunk of your map with key areas to focus on in order to complete contracts. What the game doesn’t help you a lot with is in how to weigh each of these fundamentals. In my own playthrough I first started chasing contracts like crazy, but found that I couldn’t complete most. I then hopped in my trusty pick-up truck again and set off exploring, but also realized that this vehicle was certainly not hearty enough to get everywhere I wanted. Now this is precisely why SnowRunner is fun for many…It’s the challenge of attempting to navigate the inhospitable terrain, be that mud or deep, snowy trails. You, as the player need to accept this route of exploration and experimentation right away to really enjoy this style of game.
Once you do start finally progressing, you’ll discover more vehicles that can be utilized and sent to garages to use across the various regions in the game anytime you like. There will be advancements in the gameplay mechanics where you’ll have opportunities to manually load logs or beams from a crane onto a flatbed hauler trailer prior to setting off. You’ll also work to manage your differential, winching, All-Wheel-Drive, and gearing to help aid you in trail blazing even the most grueling of areas. Also, unlike a typical racing game, when you press left or right on your Control Stick, the steering doesn’t reset back to a default straight position when letting go. Instead, it acts similar to boat wheel in that you’ll be manually adjusting your steering as you drive. This provides the benefit that when you’re off-roading you have a strong granular control of your vehicle, but does come with the slight drawback that on road surfaces you’ll be driving a bit squirrelly.
In terms of overall content, SnowRunner has aplenty in nearly every category. There are three main regions to play in: Michigan, Alaska, and Russia, and each of these regions breaks down into several sub-regions to also explore and complete contracts and objectives in. There are a total of 40 vehicles, many of them waiting to be discovered and subsequently unlocked too. They will range from large haulers, to loaders, trailers, and other off-road varieties that become a blast to play in the various regions. Furthermore, you’re also given the ability to customize these vehicles with paint jobs, mechanical upgrades across the board, loads of visual upgrades and modifications, and even some in-cab trinkets to display should you choose to go the route of a proper sim and do your off-roading with the in-car first person view.
While you can certainly head out into SnowRunner solo and still find server based special objectives that happen weekly right now, you can also team up with some friends for co-op. Either online co-op or even local LAN co-op, it’s sort of a game changing experience when you need to look after your friends, and they to you. These modes do utilize your single player save and you’ll need to have some vehicles stashed away in your Vehicle Storage setting from within your garage so that you can in fact play cooperatively. I will note that my time with the online co-op mode proved unreliable in that I lost connections frequently that would disrupt any progress I was making with the random players I was linking up with.
Finally, there is a Trials mode, which includes a handful of challenges that, when completed, you’ll be rewarded with in-cab trinkets, like bobbleheads to show off. It’s a nifty tertiary mode that’s somewhat fun to focus on for a while, but definitely not the focal point of the game.
At this point, we should touch on how the game performs on the Nintendo Switch. These types of games historically have always been very heavy in physics simulation, shining the brightest with its terrain deformation. To my surprise the game still retains a lot of this on the platform, although with some scaling back. Terrain still deforms, but you won’t get quite the same amount of extensive particles and mud flinging chunks as you would on the PC platform. There’s also a fairly small draw distance so expect a fair amount of pop in, which sometimes can hinder your planning of a route through a potentially hazardous area. Textures and models are a bit on the lower resolution side, but not unacceptable by any means, which was also another pleasant surprise.
The biggest drawback I personally found is that this game really should not be played in handheld mode frequently. At best I was getting about 15 minutes of playtime from a full battery to basically dead. It was also uncomfortably hot on the fingers too, so it’s clear that this game is pushing the platforms specs to the brink. If you want to properly enjoy the game, I definitely recommend TV mode with a Pro Controller.
There’s a high value experience that comes with SnowRunner, and past the base game there’s already a strong offering of seasonal content DLC and a handful of microtransactions for some paint schemes and other items. I don’t feel anything is unjustified with their marketplace and it really does further expand out an already enormous game. Having also played the game briefly on another platform, it also isn’t a massively cut down game like oftentimes found in titles that release with a Switch SKU too. There’s simply a ton of off-roading, mucky, knee-deep snow trench fun here to be had with some heavy hitting vehicles. From completing contracts that unlock more of the regions up to your first discoveries of new trucks, parts or trailers, SnowRunner kept intact their playground roots while refining just the right number of elements to give the game some much-needed structure.
- Graphics - 8/108/10
- Sound - 7/107/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8.5/108.5/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
In the gaming space of off-roading playground titles, SnowRunner is the pack leader by far. Having honed their franchise for the better part of nearly 8 years, the game has some of the best terrain deformation I’ve seen, and realistic-feeling physics that truly make you engaged like you’re slogging through completely inhospitable terrain. There are some drawbacks in terms of onboarding difficulty, and some platform specifics like handheld mode being a toasty battery drain unlike I’ve ever seen before, but if the Switch is your gaming console of choice, it’s a total treat to have SnowRunner perform so well and provide countless hours through its campaigns.
Alex has been actively gaming since the release of the Nintendo. Turning passion into profession, he’s spent just over a decade in game development, and is currently the Creative Director at a studio.