I like driving games, I really do. I have great memories of playing Gran Turismo 2 for hours on the original Playstation. I’ve played pretty much every version of the Colin McCray DiRT series as well. Whether is racing head to head to beat your opponents, or the challenge of knocking off a few seconds from your best time, the challenge of these racing games is completely different then the rest of my game collection. Then came along SnowRunner, by Saber Interactive and Focus Home Interactive. SnowRunner isn’t a racing game at all – it’s a driving simulator, so I wasn’t sure even if I was interested in playing it or not. If not assigned to me for this review, SnowRunner would have completely gone under my radar. I am kind of glad that it didn’t.
Well, SnowRunner doesn’t have any type of story to speak of. There isn’t any character progression, conflict, or resolution. Just you, various vehicles, and various challenges set across three large landscapes. You begin the game in Michigan, then move onto Alaska, and finally end up in Taymyr, Russia. Each time the landscape shifts, your challenges and driving difficulty ramps up as you need to deal with different terrains. As the game progresses, you will collect and store various vehicles in your garage. All of the vehicles can be upgraded and customized as you either earn money from your jobs or find parts along the way.
Beginning the game in Michigan, you start off with a small 4wd truck and the first challenge; drive to the next location and get your GMC flatbed truck to deliver materials to finish a bridge. Seems simple enough, right? Drive truck from A to B, except that the road is out just down the road from where you start. This is your first introduction to how the game really plays. You are given seemingly two options at this point, take the off road detour up into the hills and around the closed road, or slide just passed the barrier and continue down the road. I decided to just slide around the barrier and immediately got stuck in the mud just off of the side of the road. It took me far longer to get myself unstuck and going again, then it would have just to head down the detour and drive around the barrier.
SnowRunner is hard and challenging. This isn’t Dark Souls hard, where you need perfect timing or memorization of an opponent’s attacks. No, this is “long lasting patience” hard, as in, you better have the patience to take it slow and spend a massive amount of time to get to where you want to go. This goes against every ounce of how my brain is wired! I found it extremely difficult to kick the truck into 4wd and low gear, then crawl up a mountain to avoid a obstacle in the road. I just wanted to drive super fast over the dirt road, drift around corners, and get to my objective quickly, just as I had done a million times in DiRT. SnowRunner will punish you for these thoughts. This is a slow down and chill style of game, and you had better get that straight quickly or you will spend most of your time digging out your trucks.
Since there is no story in SnowRunner, I’ve already hit on some game play elements in the above section. So here, I’m going to focus on the nitty gritty game play elements that make up the rest of the game. First, make sure you have yourself a game pad for this one. I started playing SnowRunner using a mouse and keyboard, since I had no idea where my game pad was. Within the first 15 minutes, I was digging through boxes looking for my game pad. This game is tough to begin with, and even tougher with a mouse and keyboard.
The controls are fairly simple, but do vary depending on the vehicle your driving. Driving controls are pretty much what you would expect with some variation. You have controls for your gas and break, like every other driving game out there, but you will also need to control your gear shift and 4wd option as you are moving through the maps. These two controls will be what you use most of the time to get through the difficult terrain, along with the winch that you have attached to the front of your vehicles. If you get your car really stuck and the winch can’t help you, you can switch to another vehicle you have in your collection to drive out and pull your first vehicle out of the mud, snow, river, or where ever you got it stuck.
The challenges are mostly delivery in concept, but you need to consider the type of delivery and match the correct vehicle to the job. Showing up to a job with the wrong truck will significantly increase the difficulty of the challenge and make it take much longer than it needed to. With how long it takes to go from point A to point B in some of these challenges, you do not want to make two or three runs. You could pour 20 to 40 hours of time into SnowRunner fairly easily.
One negative with SnowRunner is how some of the vehicles actually control, especially the smaller trucks. I was expecting the vehicles to control worse the larger the vehicle, but I found that the smaller truck was harder to keep on the road then the larger ones especially in first person. The controls were definitely calibrated for larger, slower vehicles. I found myself over correcting with my turns in the smaller truck, even at one point sliding off the road and hitting a tree. This would make perfect sense if I was in Alaska with the ice on the road, but I was driving down the street in Michigan with no obstacles. Since damage to your vehicle will impair it’s abilities, maintaining control is pretty important.
SnowRunner is a very beautiful game, but not in the way you would expect. Sure, the graphics are nice and solid, but it isn’t at the level of other games on the market currently. Where the beauty of SnowRunner comes in is the environment and lighting. You are traveling through some gorgeous countryside and the lighting effects change as the day progresses. When night comes, you need to turn on your headlights to see where you are going, because out in the woods there isn’t any streetlights. This beauty is needed since you will literally spend hours just crawling through it to get to your next objective.
However, as gorgeous as the world is, it is empty. There is no other life in this world but you. No other humans or animals exist in SnowRunner, at least from what I have seen. There are rumors of people seeing wolves or dogs in the woods, but like Sasquatch, these may just be rumors or legends. One one hand, having no other traffic in SnowRunner means that you have one less thing to worry about while you are trucking down the street with an extremely large truck. You can take up as much road as you want! However, it does feel like you are running deliveries in a post apocalyptic world where you are the only survivor. While not a game breaking criticism, it definitely was noticeable during my play through.
SnowRunner is a far better game then I was expecting. I was not prepared for how good this game was or how much I would enjoy it. This game is the perfect game to sit back, relax, and just chill to without skimping out on the challenge. Most chill games are fairly easy, that’s why they are chill. SnowRunner keeps up the difficulty and will punish you for making a bad choice, while taking things slow and steady in a beautiful, but empty, world. SnowRunner is available through Epic Games in two different versions: base game is $39.99 while the Premium Edition with Season Pass is $59.99. Both are available now.