If you’re a car nut that also doesn’t mind dabbling in a bit of gaming here and there, chances are you’ve got a copy of Forza or Gran Turismo floating around somewhere. I know I do.
But, what if you’re a bit more about mud bogs than McLaren Senna? More gnarly rocks than the Nurburgring? Often, the only taste of off-roading you can get is something like Dirt Rally or an arcade-style racer. If you wanted to play with low range and diff locks, you’re fresh out of luck.
But not any more. After wrangling up some support on Kickstarter, an independent Russian developer teamed up with UK publisher Oovee to bring out Spintires, a game that brings a new take on simulated driving. And it’s all about off-road shenanigans.
After a couple of iterations, Spintires is back once again with Mud Runner: American Wilds. You’re thrown into one corner of a big, vast expanse of wilderness, varied with rivers, mud, swamps, mountains and forests. There’s a little bit of bitumen, and squirrelling networks of tracks across the map that connect up different vehicles and locations.
Being a Russian-developed game, first iterations of Spintires were the domain of some wonderfully unique and monstrous vehicles, starting with little UAZ 4WDs about the same size as a Jeep Wrangler, you can pilot various trucks and tractors all the way up to B-Double-sized Ural 8X8 behemoths.
The community has really gotten behind the game, with a now huge inventory of user-made vehicles available for download and usage. I’ve used an old Land Rover Series III on 9.00X16 rubber in an old version of the game. If you have a favourite car, chances are someone has made it.
Mud is done in this game like no other, and strikingly close to real life. Rather than a rising pulse from hurtling down a straight at 300km/h, you find yourself gripping the controls with fervour doing 0.3km/h. Tyres bog down, churning against the earth and throwing up water and mud in protest. You find yourself slamming the gearstick into reverse, jolting the steering wheel back and forth in an attempt to regain traction.
If you're lucky, your vehicle starts slowing clawing its way out of the quagmire You’re out of the woods, you think. Under throttle, the car starts listing dangerously to one side. You swear. If it rolls, you’re up the creek. A car that can help is miles away, and the sun is setting. Maybe you can winch yourself out of this situation. But there are no trees, and it’s getting dark. As much as it sounds boring, I found it impressively fun.
If you do roll it, or get completely stuck, the fun keeps going: then it’s time for a recovery. All vehicles have winches, which unlike real life, you can also use like a recovery strap. You can also self-recover from trees, depending on their size. The dynamics all feel markedly close to real life: centre of gravity, wheelspin and vehilcle weight all feel really good.
Such is the great thing about this game. Like great 4WD tracks in real life, it’s a game of cunning and tactics, tiny corrections of line and adjustments of throttle as you try to thread your vehicle through, or over, challenging terrain. Tiny, incremental changes can mean the difference between going somewhere, and going nowhere. Between straddling on two wheels, and rolling it. Between making it to the top or plummeting towards the bottom. You get the idea.
It’s not just a game of blatant bush bashing, unless you want it to be. There are some basic objectives on each map, typically to do with collecting wood and delivering it to a lumber yard. This can become a bit dry and laborious at times, but can get interesting when you’re trying to navigate across a huge area, only using a map to plot your way.
Vehicles can be modified with all manner of gear at garages, according to what you want to do. There are trailers and trays for hauling timber, as well as fitouts to help repair and refuel on the track. Vehicles take on damage, which affects their performance. If they’re too broken, a vehicle loaded up with repair points will be needed to fix it up. Fuel usage is another logistic consideration, especially with the big 6X6 and 8X8 vehicles as they churn through thick mud.
One thing I can’t figure out about this game is whether I really like it because it’s an awesome game, or because I’m an off-road weirdo. I think it’s a little from column A, and a little from column B. If you like 4WDing, you’ll probably like this game. There’s lots of opportunity for multiplayer as well, if you have the time and inclination.
If you don’t like it, you’ll find out very quickly and move on. If you do like it, there are enough maps, vehicles and challenges to keep your vested interest for hours. It’s a game so different to any others, its shortcomings of plot and overall polish are easy to forgive. The off-roading is delightfully realistic.
And the best bit? You don’t need to spend hours cleaning your vehicle, or rebuilding your swivel hubs after you’ve had all of your fun.
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