Simulations are tough to get right. The balance of making them fun, enjoyable, and also realistic is a challenging one for even the most tried and tested franchises. Luckily, SnowRunner balances those two sides quite well, making delivery journeys through muddy marshlands and snow-topped hills enjoyable but also brutally accurate to the job of trucking.
Dropped Into The Job
SnowRunner begins with you in a car on a muddy path. You're asked to drive to a watchtower and reveal points of interest on a map, Ubisoft-style. After doing that and opening the garage, the game sets you free to drive and complete whatever you want. Saber Interactive has created a sandbox in the purest sense of the word. There is no main path or core objectives to follow. Instead, smaller tasks and larger corporate jobs are all combined into one list of activities. This gives SnowRunner a relaxing feeling of freedom and choice over what you want to do in one play session. Smaller objectives, called Tasks, have you clearing blocked roads, rebuilding broken pipelines, and delivering supplies to a destination and can be done one after the other in quick succession. Larger jobs that require multiple deliveries can take up to an hour or more.
This freedom of choice allowed me to work through SnowRunner at my own pace. I was able to hop on quickly for a short session to pull a truck out of some water or devoting hours to clearing out all the tasks there were in the first Map in Michigan if I wanted to. However, the lack of any critical path and onboarding makes the initial climb up the numerous muddy hills incredibly punishing, even frustrating. Past the short instructions given at the beginning, the complexities of the different vehicles and the differences between vehicle parts and upgrades are largely hidden in large paragraphs of flavor text or tutorial screens embedded within mostly inconsequential information. Sometimes, they're not discussed at all.
As a newcomer to the franchise, I perpetually found myself stuck in the mud initially, having to respawn my vehicle at the garage. Each objective was impossible to complete as every path I would take would lead to my vehicle getting caught on a hill or embedded within a thick patch of mud.
Simulations don’t tend to do a lot of onboarding for new players, but that isn't an excuse for it not being there. The lack of any information about how to navigate some of the thicker pockets of mud damaged my experience upfront and had me wasting a lot of time or just getting angry because it wasn’t clear what I was doing wrong. And, if I wasn't playing this game for review, I might not have stuck with it.
Finding The Fun in SnowRunner
Once I pushed past some of these problems and began to understand some of the deeper systems at play, I discovered that SnowRunner’s deliberate and methodical driving provides a satisfying trek across three distinct regions. Although the game starts off in Michigan, you're free to explore the two other locations (Alaska and Tamyr), whenever you like. Just note that the number of upgrades and vehicles you have will limit your success in completing jobs, especially in Tamyr.
Each region consists of 3-4 different maps full of new challenges to overcome. Whilst Michigan tasks you with navigating small towns and windy side roads, Alaska’s snow-topped grass, and icy roads force you to drive in a more careful manner, looking at the ground ahead and anticipating how deep the mud is beneath all the snow. Tamyr at first glance looks a lot like the woodland sections of Michigan. However, as you push further into the region you come across incredibly thick swamps and marshlands, packed with mud. This offers up one of the biggest challenges in SnowRunner, asking you to test your patience as every move you make with your wheels could lead to you continuing your journey or halting it for good.
The three regions all offer up their own visual flavor and challenges, fitting into the sandbox approach the game makes so evident early on. You're able to take on the type of challenge that fits your mood. Something that carries across all three of these regions is the rewarding feeling of slowly progressing across a patch of land that you had previously struggled with, thanks to a new upgrade you have applied to your vehicle or the new tires you spent your cash on that have better traction in mud.
Day-To-Day Work And Its Issues
The rigamarole of SnowRunner is at its core, repetitive. Traveling from warehouse to destination, delivering the same cargo over and over. Another rewarding feeling of the jobs in SnowRunner comes from seeing the list of objectives and tasks slowly ticked off, as you make your way through each region. As mentioned earlier, on top of the regular jobs, you can find upgrades for your vehicles hidden off the beaten path, and watchtowers allow you to reveal all the locations in an area, granting you the ability to prioritize your next job however you wish.
As I completed these tasks over and over again, a number of technical issues cropped up. Firstly, the camera is a major problem in SnowRunner, particularly if you have a trailer attached to your truck. It seems to want to let you see as much of your truck as possible. Without a trailer, this isn’t a problem, but if you do have some cargo attached the camera won’t sit comfortably above and behind the vehicle. Instead, the camera will forcibly position itself at wheel height on either side of your vehicle or it will jerk to a terrible bird’s eye view that doesn’t allow you to see the road ahead of you.
On top of that, if the camera happens to pass near a physical object, like a street lamp, it will jolt to one side and be pushed out of the way of the object throwing off your rhythm, speed, and accuracy whilst driving. Some smaller issues include a somewhat frustrating map and icon system that doesn’t always work in a comfortable manner, forcing you to take an extra step or two than should be necessary. I also stumbled upon a bug that wouldn’t let me drop cargo in the destination point, forcing me to reboot and restart the objective from the beginning.
SnowRunner Review | Final Thoughts
Despite those issues I just highlighted, and a lack of tutorials early on, SnowRunner is a brutal and punishing game asking the most of your patience and composure. But, by asking that much of you, the reward you get out the other end of overcoming those challenges and ticking off another objective in your checklist is far greater than I have found in other sandbox titles. If you are looking to take a dip back into the real world whilst we are all confined to our homes, then SnowRunner is a gratifying, realistic, and enjoyable way to do so.
TechRaptor reviewed SnowRunner on PlayStation 4 with a code provided by the Publisher. SnowRunner is available for PS4, Xbox One, and PC on April 28.
- Satisfying and Rewarding Gameplay Loop
- Three Distinct Regions With Unique Challenges
- Great Sense Of Progression
- Variety Of Activities To Complete
- Lack Of Tutorials Explaining Deeper Mechanics
- A Jolting and Problematic Camera
- Progression Halting Bugs