Who doesn’t love Euro Truck Simulator? I know that’s not the subject of this review but bear with me there is a point. Sometimes all you want to do is play a light simulator, pop on a podcast or some music and relax. Then other times you want to play something a little more complicated like Train Simulator|TS2018. Spintires has always been described as a mud simulator and it definitely straddles the ground between light and heavy, a solid medium simulator.
Mud runners does not start off on its strongest foot, instead it slips deep in the mud and falls hard into it. Your started with very basic menus and the bare necessity of a tutorial. It also starts off with the legacy camera, It’s staggeringly sickening and wonky but its less bucket sickness once you turn that nonsense off. The camera itself can be frustratingly useless as you play through the game, focused primarily on the tires is great for the most part but occasionally with full transporters it’s hard to manoeuvre the camera to see what’s coming without hopping in and out of the cockpit.
The main game mode seems to be a sandbox management experience, Challenges are a sort of arcade mode with steps and if you really get into there’s a multiplayer option for the sandbox. You can feel like this is a PC port the more you use the menus and the small text and lack of polish shows.
The game’s attempt at tutorials only ever cover the absolute basics which at some points work in its favour and others restarting just to try again. The fact you have to try challenges to get to grips with main game isn’t really signposted either. When you get going and the mud is flowing the game is fantastic the problem occurs when you need to do anything else. Half the time you’ll accidentally press the wrong button then spend far too long trying to correct the mistake. This is most apparent with the map system where you manually plot your own course, It should be an interesting take on getting from A to B but ends up being a frustrating exercise in fighting with controls and swearing.
Challenge mode was where the most mud is ploughed through. Each challenge is a simple well crafted level with a goal rating from 1-3 stars and bonus objectives. They are primarily there though to teach you how to use a new piece of equipment with some being very useful (learning how to use the lower gears) and others you feel like repeating just to clear the optional pop up in the corner of the screen each time you repeat the challenge. It’s muddy, messy and again highlights the problem of Mud runners, it just isn’t consistently fun. Some challenges (I’m looking at you crane tutorial) feel arbitrarily stretched out just to add more time. At first the physics reminds me of a Bus driving sim but even less manoeuvrable and more messy, the more you play of the game though the more you realise it’s a resource management sim balancing fuel, damage and the mud.
Let’s get one thing clear though. Mud runners is bleak, cold, wet and absolutely stunning. The PS4 fan was on overdrive even when paused so something’s not optimised and when you spin camera frame rate chugs a little but these are minimal issues when your trucking through a forest and the light softly changes from day to dusk to night and you have to stop your truck, turn off the engine and simply marvel at how gorgeous it looks. The mud is definitely the cause of most of the PS4s strain and you can turn to a forced 30fps in the menu which is rarely ever needed. It’s a shame the inside of the cockpit looks fairly slapdash given how good everything outside looks.
The trucks sound suitably chunky, the engines belching out chugging rumble and the environmental noises are brilliant. It’s a shame that this is continuously ruined by stock rock music bleeding through, the driver decides (it seems to be at random) to put some music on in the cockpit and it’s dire. It’s the same in the menus, it was only after listening once to know that it was enough. It needs to either keep it in the start of the game and have the sim rely of sound or have a decent music soundtrack.
It bears repeating that Mud Runners is a game where the core is fine. It’s essentially a fighting game like Street Fighter X Tekken where the core experience is great but all the extra fluff added onto it has ruined the experience. Whenever I think back to the experience there are two things that stick in my mind;
The mud looking and acting brilliantly the core of Spintires bleeding through, scaring the birds and getting through a tricky swamp like area.
The map causing so much swearing, the winch mechanics being fiddly, the number of times the tutorial didn’t explain anything and so many niggly issues.
Over and over something good follows something frustrating, something enjoyable such as finding a new truck to unlock by the frustration of navigating the menus and clunky controls.
The game looks amazing but sadly just doesn’t ever find its way. It’s constantly needing winching to find the fun, pulling at the trees and mud to drag itself through the experience. There is fun to be had and it’s at it’s best when you slowly drag your heavy ass through the mud and over a hill to witness the stunning surrounds. It’s just a shame that those moments are instantly scuppered when you accidentally screw up on the plotting and realise that complicated path is deleted, you still have another 20 miles to go, your trailer has just caught a rock and slips into a river.
6/10 – Stuck in the mud