Do you remember the nursery rhyme about the old lady who swallowed the fly? She swallows a spider to catch the fly, and then a bird to catch the spider, and so on until she’s eaten the better part of a full zoo to solve her original problem. At times, this is how I feel in Snowrunner. As I drive my fuel truck to top up the crane truck, which had to rescue the logging truck, which was supposed to be making a simple delivery to fix a washed out bridge. I am the old lady who swallowed the fly, and I don’t seem to be learning my lesson!
In Snowrunner your job is to make deliveries, recover vehicles, and help rebuild key structures in environments that will make even a short-haul drive a perilous journey. Can you choose the right vehicle for the route and the cargo, and will you manage your fuel and your truck setup to complete the jobs and contracts needed to progress?
What’s The Premise?
Snowrunner has you take the role of a plucky driver who has agreed to help out following a devastating flood in a small town in Michigan USA. That’s really about all the story you’re going to get, but it sets the scene for why you find yourself struggling through incredibly challenging terrain that varies from sticky, sinking mud to skiddy ice and deep rushing water. The game is primarily about you vs your environment and as you progress you’ll come across more and more intimidating hazards. Thankfully though you will also improve your vehicles and buy or be rewarded with new ones to help you overcome these obstacles, so you’re always feeling a sense of increasing confidence and power.
After a while you will move on from the Michigan map to tackle the frozen rivers and mountain passes of Alaska, and then the rather bleak and somehow even muddier terrain of Taymyr in Russia. There’s also a slew of DLC available for the game that brings new maps, new vehicles and even new gameplay mechanics, like portable generators that have to be used to power up other resource collection points.
Slow & Steady Wins The Race
The first thing you’ll notice as you start your Snowrunner adventures is that physics are a huge focus. Terrain drastically varies in how it impacts your progress and learning to read the spin of your tires, the way your truck is moving, and the changes in surface-type are crucial to success. Particularly in the early stages there are some places you simply cannot drive through without becoming completely stuck. The game does a good job of helping you learn these fundamentals, but it can still be extremely punishing. Make a wrong move and drift into mud that’s too deep for your vehicle and you will either have to rely on a luckily positioned winch point, or else recover back to the garage that serves as your base of operations on each map. Later as you gain more trucks you might decide that it’s best to drive out another one to help tow or crane your original vehicle to safety, but this can lead to the kind of vicious cycle I described at the top of this review.
The key to completing objectives efficiently in Snowrunner is patience. Plan your route with the map, read the terrain carefully, and don’t try to take too many shortcuts. Of course, sometimes you don’t have much choice if your fuel is running low or you want to complete one of the timed challenges that are also optionally available. The mostly slow and steady approach means that the Snowrunner experience is quite a unique one. The majority of the time I find myself feeling very relaxed as I chug through the serene valleys of Michigan, or the quiet winter wonderland of Alaska. The game creates some beautiful scenery and the minimalist soundtrack helps to reinforce that sensation of being alone in nature, but every now and then I’ll look away from the screen for a moment or I’ll get a little overconfident with the gas pedal. Suddenly I’m upside down, in a ditch, 15 minutes into a journey that I now have to restart from scratch because there’s no convenient tree to winch myself back from. The game lulls you into a false sense of security, but it can punish you in a heartbeat if you don’t maintain your focus.
There are plenty of people who will never quite click with Snowrunner. It is, by nature, a bit of a plodding affair and it can be immensely frustrating when things go wrong. It also can feel a little repetitive at times, particularly with the logging missions that always seem to be twice as long and awkward as other delivery types. Overall though, I think there’s plenty to love in this game. There’s a decent feeling of progression as you find or unlock new trucks, and the differences between them are strong enough to give each its own character. You can drive everything from a barely off-road capable Chevrolet pickup to a hulking Caterpillar 770 with tires bigger than the average SUV. The objectives can be pretty fun too and I especially enjoyed some of the rescue missions where you need to drag a vehicle back from a swamp or a river. I should also mention the online multiplayer that allows for players to team up to tackle the campaign together, each bringing their own trucks to the game. It leads to some very chaotic fun, but also gives you the opportunity to get some help if there’s a task you’re finding particularly problematic.
For me though the biggest selling point is the balance between challenge and reward. At times it can seem like just crossing a shallow stream is going to be impossible with the trucks you have, but when you find a way to your objective it’s a feeling that is brilliantly satisfying. You learn to appreciate every small victory, and in the process you feel more and more accomplished. It’s not quite Dark Souls, but it will keep you on your toes to the very end.