Burnout, Need for Speed, OutRun, Daytona, Ridge Racer; these are all series that I love, none of which have ever taken much of an interest in driving slowly or safely. By contrast, that’s exactly what Koch Media’s surprisingly successful, Spintires: MudRunner asks of you at every possible turn. This is a game defined by the premise of slow and steady winning the race; there is no charging through traffic here, no cops chasing you down (although that would be fantastic) and no crash mode. This is all about successfully moving your all-terrain vehicle from A to B without damaging, or god forbid destroying, your rather delicate haulage.
On paper, I really shouldn’t be interested; as much as I enjoy the Gran Turismo’s and Forza Motorsport’s of this world, even those feel a tad slow and constrictive at times; I’m all about throwing cars into corners at unrealistic speeds and at totally absurd angles. If there was an F1 game that encouraged drifting, that’s the game I’d be playing. Spintires is the complete antithesis of that notion. It’s a game that asks you to consider every move, every turn of the wheel, to think about your surroundings and the kind of terrain that you’re driving on. It’s essentially a puzzle game set on four wheels, one that encourages consideration and careful planning.
Yeah, I know, sounds boring as hell, right? Well, as boring as it sounds, there is a reason that it has turned into something of a sleeper hit on PC – it’s compelling, it’s addictive, and above all else perhaps, it’s unique. Sure, there are farming games which require you to take things nice and slow, but this is different. There is an element of tactical nous to it, but you’re not building anything here, you’re simply driving and picking things up. Again, it sounds overly simplistic when put like that, and yes, boring, but in action, it’s quite a different beast.
While that laser focussed approach does benefit the game in many ways, it’s also its biggest problem. Patches and updates have added a bit of variety along the way, but for the most part, there is little to this game beyond picking up your haulage (usually logs) and getting them from point A to point B. Don’t get me wrong, it’s rarely anything less than bizarrely compelling, but it is undoubtedly samey. It would help if some of the locations had a bit more variety, but this is Eastern European country, and that means grey skies, muddy roads and, well, despite Eastern Europe being home to a number of beautiful landscapes, rather drab looking surroundings.
Saying that, while Spintires: MudRunner only really does one thing, that one thing it does, it tends to do incredibly well. Parts of the experience can get a tad mundane, but when it comes to the job of carefully creeping your vehicle across uneven Russian terrain, things soon become incredibly tense and utterly absorbing.
You will rarely get much above 20mph, but with a selection of logs attached rather precariously to your vehicle of choice, just about any speed you might be doing is likely to feel too fast. With uneven, slippery and generally quite boggy tracks being the terrain of choice, moving your haulage from A to B is rarely (if ever) a straightforward experience. My initial approach to the game was, well, it wasn’t what one might call successful. After years of putting the virtual pedal to the metal, my immediate instinct was to put my foot down – that led to almost immediate and often hilarious failure. Here, you want to be starting slow and working your way up to…..slightly less slow.
While its limited number of maps and sparse online options make for a relatively limited experience, the gameplay itself remains unique, consistently challenging and utterly addictive. There is a hardcore mode for the truly sadistic, but for the majority of players, the standard challenge will prove plentiful. It won’t be for everyone, and the relentlessly drab surrounding are something to be suffered rather than celebrated (perhaps that’s the point), but if you’re looking for something genuinely different to just about anything else on the market, Spintires: MudRunner is well worth a look.
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary Microsoft Xbox One code was provided to Bonus Stage for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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