With the PlayStation 4’s catalogue so radically diverse these days, a haulage simulation set in challenging terrain doesn’t sound all that abnormal. SnowRunner is the latest instalment in the strangely popular Spintires series, which you may recall making its PlayStation 4 debut with MudRunner a few years ago. As its name suggests, you’ll be tasked with mastering the frigid terrain of Alaska, in addition to the mucky wilds of Michigan and Taymyr.
The title’s structured like any contemporary sandbox game, with multiple maps to explore and areas of interest to discover. As with other open worlders, finding watchtowers will uncover parts of the map, but you’ll need to plot your own routes to these lookout points. While the game does have a waypoint system, much of its appeal comes from navigating the treacherous terrain you’ll encounter between points – and you’ll need to ensure you have the right vehicle for the job.
As a simulation, this is impressive: controls can feel unresponsive at first, but the title’s tracking an alarming amount of data, from water density to wheel rotation and temperature. There are over 40 trucks and cars from real-world manufacturers like Ford and CAT, each rendered meticulously. Impressively, you can customise each one to your personal tastes, while also adding essential tools such as exhaust snorkels or chain tires.
Discovering more of the world will unlock contracts, which typically involve transporting cargo from one destination to another. The vast majority of these can be completed at your own pace, although there are timed challenges for those who feel confident enough in their haulage skills. While it sounds straightforward, it’s anything but: occasionally you’ll need multiple vehicles to pull yourself out of tricky situations, using attachments to free yourself from the dirt.
The game strikes an impressive balance between deep simulation and usability, which is something that titles of this ilk can struggle with. When it comes to using your trusty winch, for example, you can just snap to nearby surfaces, allowing you to focus on freeing your vehicle rather than fiddling around with ropes. The loading process is also fairly quick and effortless, with cargo appearing and disappearing from your trailer on command.
It all makes for a quietly quaint experience, which can be serene and stressful in equal measures. Trying to drag a trailer through a particularly aggressive river can be bizarrely tense, but that means you’ll appreciate the journey you’ve taken all the more. While the maps do look impressive visually, with stunning snow and mud deformation, it can be a rather lonely experience; fortunately, you can invite up to three other friends to participate in co-op if you please.
SnowRunner’s glacial pace won’t appeal to everyone, but this unique haulage simulation manages to transform everyday terrain into an enemy you need to tame. This is a game that’s less about the destination and all about the journey you take; in that sense it’s unmatched, and wildly rewarding in a way that few other open worlders are.