Posted on 09 May 2020 by Jay Shaw


The Defence

Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Genre: Simulator
Platform: Consoles, PC
Review copy: Yes
Release date: 28 Apr 2020

The Prosecution

OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i3 3.4 GHz
AMD Ryzen 3 3.4 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 660
AMD Radeon R9 270
HDD: 20 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+
OS: Windows
CPU: Intel Core i7 3.2 GHz
AMD Ryzen 7 3.2 GHz
VGA: Nvidia GeForce 970
AMD Radeon RX 580
RAM: 16 GB
HDD: 20 GB
DirectX: 11
Controller: Full
Mod Support: Yes
VR: No
FOV Slider: Yes
FPS Lock: 120+

The Case

SnowRunner is Sabre Interactive’s new entry into the xRunner line of games which, for the uninitiated, are all about getting trucks stuck in mud and water. Okay, they’re actually about making deliveries of various cargo through wilderness locations but you’re going to spend most of your time stuck in mud. SnowRunner adds a bit more than just snow and ice though, read on to find out what we thought of it.

The Trial

One of the biggest changes to SnowRunner is the introduction of more structure. Contracts, side missions, and challenges provide plenty to do that isn’t always getting cargo from point A to point B. New vehicles are unlocked via side missions, usually picked up right next to the disabled truck in the wild, and must be towed to a set destination. Trailers must be recovered from swamps, lakes, and other hazards. And sometimes you’re just on the clock to see how quickly you can do a set task. All of these will require more preparation than players of MudRunner are accustomed to.

Thanks to a more in-depth garage system you’ll be customizing every aspect of your trucks including the engine, suspension, drivetrain, tires, bed attachments, and more. Heading out for a job away from the main roads with an unprepared truck is a good way to end up buried chassis deep in the terrain. Inversely, going out with the right gear for the area and task will make your job a lot easier but you’re probably still going to have to wrestle with a waterlogged road or twisty forest path that seems too narrow for your trailer.

With the greater focus on structure and objectives, getting bogged down and figuring a way out doesn’t have as much appeal as previous games in the series. Don’t get us wrong, it can still be fun to inch through axle deep mud with valuable cargo strapped to your arse but when you lose that cargo it’s even more frustrating than previous entries in the series. Thankfully, losing cargo and flipping your truck isn’t as common if you stick to the roads but there are still a few points where things can get really hairy, especially in Alaska.

This long boy has 28 wheels and has been the most interesting delivery so far.

The selection of trucks has also expanded considerably beyond what we’ve had in previous games. Trucks are now split into types like Scout, Highway, Off-road, and Heavy (amongst others) and tend to fill certain roles. Scout vehicles are your jeeps, best at navigating steep or tricky terrain for those hard to reach watch towers but can’t carry cargo. Highway and Off-road will be your go-to choices for delivering things. Heavier trucks can be best for moving huge trailers or equipping a crane for rescue operations. Unfortunately, not all trucks are created equal and some have an obvious and marked advantage over others, even those in the same class. For example, the DLC jeep and Humvee are far better than all other Scouts while two Russian trucks outclass all other Off-road trucks.

This vehicle dominance partially comes from their default setup including things that make traversing bad terrain easier. All wheel drive (AWD) is pretty much mandatory for getting out of anything more treacherous than a cow pat. Similarly, a differential lock will enable powering through the toughest mud like Mr Clean does stains – roughly but sensually. Joking aside, trucks that come with always-on AWD and differential locks seem to have a gigantic advantage over other vehicles, even ones that can toggle those functions. We ended up just sticking to the three vehicles mentioned above, once we’d unlocked them and didn’t really feel the others had any place in our line-up. Not great considering you can unlock these super vehicles very early through a little work.

You are going to need work too – a lot of stuff is locked behind various roadblocks. Some of it is money, some is stars (a form of experience points), and some are behind blocked off areas of the map behind things like rock slides, fallen pylons, or destroyed bridges. Along with making deliveries you’ll be gradually expanding in multiple ways but that freedom also comes with some early game frustration: when you’re limited to a couple of highway trucks and a single scout you’re railroaded into doing easy busywork until you can acquire a truck capable of driving more than three inches off the road.

This is not how you make progress.

Speaking of going off-road, we’ve got a major complaint there. The first map, an area of Michigan that’s been hit by a flood, does not encourage exploration off-road at all. Many areas are either outright flooded but some may look like shortcuts or detours across okay looking terrain but once you’re balls deep in the brown your truck will sink like the Titanic and probably have to be recovered, a game mechanic that teleports a truck back to the safety of a garage but makes you leave any cargo and trailers behind. As an avid MudRunner and SpinTires player, it was very frustrating to be confined to set paths with such a heavy hand.

Other maps are more willing to allow you to explore and forge your own path but it’s always a risky proposition. Rolling your Humvee down a Siberian cliff is both fun to watch and incredibly frustrating because you know you’re probably going back to the garage and driving all that route again. SnowRunner does not make any concessions for the value of your time – a screw-up is wasted time in almost every instance. Sometimes it’s not even your fault, we’ve encountered a couple of physics glitches that range from some suspension damage to catapulting three tons of Soviet-era steel into the great blue yonder. To be fair, any physics engine is prone to breaking occasionally and these have been rare enough (roughly four times in about thirty hours play) that they’re not really a major issue.

SnowRunner is a huge game too – three major regions with multiple maps for each region. Some deliveries will take you across maps too, meaning you have to take into account multiple terrain and road types when choosing how to start a journey. You’re often rewarded with spectacular views for your efforts too; cresting a hill or finding a break in the trees on a rough road usually gives you a nice long view out over the picturesque landscape. Michigan’s lakes and forests shrouded in fog late in the evening can temporarily make the previous ten minute struggle worth it. It’s not just the landscape that looks good either; trucks and trailers look great and deform with damage to an extent while tires also deform under weight. Mud splatter effects on flatbed attachments look like a tacky old tiled desktop wallpaper but that’s a minor issue.

That's about half of one map, of which there are almost a dozen.

Terrain deformation is still present and in a similar capacity to MudRunner; typically several inches on the surface will deform and the more you dig into the terrain the more stuck you’ll become. Getting stuck is more codified now too; tires have stats for surfaces and you can get a feeling for how well you’ll handle an area as you approach it. Some, like wetlands, are harder to judge than others but you can always be careful how you go in to test the waters. Once you’re stuck the rules for increasing your chances of getting out are also more easily understandable; low gear will stop your tires spinning too fast and digging in more, for example.

Sound wise SnowRunner is sixty percent droning engines, thirty percent mediocre music, and ten percent ambient. The musical style I can only describe as “precocious child with a banjo.” SnowRunner‘s world feels empty, you’re the only person ever visible and the sound design really breaks the immersion most of the time. Sometimes it manages to be spot on though – the crack of a tree you just tore apart with your winch or the skittering of trailer tires losing their grip and inching sideways towards disaster crank up the tension.

We tried to investigate SnowRunner cooperative play but we couldn’t even get past the connecting screen without a crash. We tried several fixes but either couldn’t achieve a connection or simply crashed to desktop repeatedly. While we can’t confirm how severe or widespread the issues are, googling online issues does bring up a multitude of threads and issues for those who did manage to get it going. Make of that what you will.

Lastly, we’ve been playing the game with both keyboard/mouse and a gamepad and both control schemes work extremely well. You never feel gimped for using the keyboard and some controls like attaching a winch to a specific tree are easier with a mouse but only slightly slower to achieve with a gamepad. Accurate wheel control is handled via a slower turn rate than other driving games so you never have to worry about the accuracy of using a digital input method. It’s refreshing to see a driving game that manages keyboard control not just adequately but well.

The Verdict

SnowRunner is a game whose mileage will vary greatly depending on your patience and ability to chill out with a driving game. If you get bored driving slowly and being careful then this definitely isn’t the game for you. If you enjoyed MudRunner but found it derivative of SpinTires then SnowRunner feels like a proper progression of the series at last. We don’t feel like it does enough to convert new fans but this genre has always been a niche and fans hungry for more may just find it here.

Case Review

  • Differential: The varied terrain across maps means you can always go elsewhere to liven things up.

  • AWD: There’s lots of trucks and customization, even if all of them aren’t good.

  • Understanding: Early game can be frustrating but it’s easier than ever to learn how things work.

  • Favourites: Some of the trucks are so much better they make the rest of the line-up obsolete as soon as you get them.

  • Vroom: Engine sounds can get a bit annoying after a while. At least you can turn them down.

  • Offline: We couldn’t get online play to work at all.

4 Score: 4/5
Two thirds mud, one third snow.


  • Game: Gamma slider, language selection, tutorial skip and repeated hints toggle.
  • Video: Windowed/fullscreen/borderless choice, resolution selection, monitor selection, vsync, antialiasing, sharpening, film grain, first/third person FOV sliders, legacy camera mode, quality presets and in-depth customisation options.
  • Audio: Sliders for master, music, UI, SFX, ambient, and truck.
  • HUD: Zone markers visibility toggle, hide hud toggle, objective marker toggle.
  • Controls: Partially rebindable keyboard and steering wheel. Gamepad shoulder button swaps, vibration toggle, control layout selection, Y-axis inversion, and stick sensitivity slider.

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