We’re gonna need a bigger winch.

Title: SnowRunner
Platform: Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch, PC, PS4 and Xbox One (reviewed)
Developer: Saber Interactive
Publisher: Focus Home Interactive
Release date: February 4th 2020
tl;dr: Just leave it in the garage
Price: £50 / $60
Family Focus: Click here for more information.

SnowRunner is a terrain simulation where you are tasked to delivering necessary materials across various terrains and extreme open environments. Using various types of vehicles, you’re tasked in picking up materials and delivering them to areas where construction is needed; for example, an early objective has players pick up wood and steel in order to finish a bridge which allows players to explore additional areas.

When reaching a new area, you’ll have to locate the nearest Watchtowers in order to unveil new parts of the map so you can see nearby objectives. The more you explore the maps, the more contracts you can unlock.

While the premise sounds simple; it’s not as one of the game’s major flaw is lack of proper, straight-forward tutorials. There are a few annoying hints that keep popping up as you ride around getting a hang of the game’s control and concept, but nothing substantial that properly assists and eases in newcomers.

As I was riding my pickup to reach my first truck, the game didn’t really explain to me what I was supposed to do and how. Once I was behind the wheel of the bigger vehicle, I had no clue what to. I found a wood mill, so I reached it and packed up my truck ready to go… but where? After riding around like a headless chicken, I manage to find objectives buried in amongst a clunky menu navigation.

Unfortunately, the game assumes that you are familiar with the genre; and vital information is buried under menu navigation; information that should be available in the HUD or with the click of a simple button. Setting a waypoint also just draws a straight line across the map; it doesn’t really indicate or suggest a path to follow. This is the quite early 2000s circa GTA games during the PS2 era and utterly baffling. Another questionable design which is a bit of a nuisance is that if you want to switch regions, you need to “give up” your vehicle before, otherwise you won’t be able to leave the garage in the other region.

Once you finally get some sort of grasp on the game, the gameplay and driving are overall solid. Vehicles feel floaty à la Grand Theft Auto IV, but more drivable. And as someone who drove a pickup for work a few years ago, I never experienced the slipperiness experienced here with a pickup on dry asphalt. The driving is also partially manual, so when first trying to drive, you need to remove the handbrake, or with a pickup, you need to manually put it in AWD to drive through tougher terrains. Additionally, shifting requires you to hold down a shoulder button while using the right joystick; the same joystick used to move the camera. It can get nauseating if you release the shoulder button too quick and jiggle the camera instead of changing driving stance.

Baffling asphalt riding aside, the environment will impact your driving and not every vehicle can ride anywhere. Don’t expect your run of the mill pick up truck to easily cross deep puddles of mud or water. Thankfully, however, if you get stuck, you have to use the winch to get out of deep situations. Unfortunately, if you find yourself sideways, seeing as the engine stops, there’s nothing you can do. You can use the recover function, which also repairs all damage, but for some diabolical reason drops you back to the last “checkpoint”. Meaning if you were trying to use a shortcut to a Watchtower and had a mishap, you’ll be thrown all the way to the last checkpoint, no matter how far it may be. This is baffling as recover should simply flip you back where you were.

At least, riding around and bumping stuff will result in damage to your vehicle. You’ll see the vehicle part highlight red when it’s getting damaged. The more banged up the truck, the harder it is to drive; as it is in reality. The garage is there to fix or upgrade your vehicles or buy a new set of wheels.

Despite the baffling way the core of the game was designed, SnowRunner does have some great things going for it. There’s a lot of riding to do thanks a wide variety of jobs/contracts to tackle and over 40 vehicles from various brands such as Ford, Chevrolet, and Freightliner to use to complete jobs. Another positive of this game is the bevvy of customization possible. You can tailor and upgrade to your liking from the basics right up to smaller details such as exhaust snorkels and chain tires.

The game looks fine although nothing that really pops off; we’ve seen much better racing/driving games this generation. Environments and road hazards look detailed enough; the tracks left by the vehicle in mud or snow are as accurate can be. The backdrops are lush and well detailed; forests settings look great while snow ones look a tad drab and less varied. The audio side of things is fine. The mix of old country-like instrumental tunes mixed with a bit more ambient tracks is making me want to play non-stop. Too bad the rest of the game doesn’t.

SnowRunner is a game I was actually looking forward to review. Being a newcomer to the genre and an open-minded gamer, I welcomed the game with open arms. Unfortunately, I was put off rather quickly. Objectives buried under menu navigation, questionable driving, archaic waypoint system and a frustrating recover mechanic make this a gaming mess. Newcomers are sure to be put off, but hardcore fans of the Spitfire series will rejoice the amount of content in this latest entry.

The Good

  • A ton of content

The Bad

  • Archaic waypoint system
  • Floaty, clunky driving
  • Lack of clear direction

Family Focus

SnowRunner is rated E for everyone and PEGI3.

This review is based on a review copy of the game provided by the publisher