The joy of mud in Spintires: MudRunner

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Spintires: MudRunner is a game about driving slowly through mud. It’s beautiful and detailed but also gruelling and unforgiving. The first level took me 3 hours and 21 minutes to complete, during which I drove 18.64 km. That means I averaged slightly less than 6 km per hour. It’s less Fast and Furious and more Grimy and Gradual.

I’d struggle to describe it as ‘fun’ without caveat because much of the game simply isn’t. Most of the time you’ll be driving a heavily laden lorry slowly along a muddy track, wheels slipping on the mud, dreading the moment when they bog down and spin helplessly with little hope of escape. It’s probably not what most people would choose to do in their free time. There’s a constant nagging thought that I could be doing something, anything, more enjoyable and productive.

Yet the game has beauty. Getting stuck in the mud in the early hours of the morning, with no sign of civilisation nearby, evokes a feeling of strangely realistic isolation. Your reward for perseverance is the dawn, which varies from crisp yellow sunlight forking through the trees to a dirty orange glow that lights the woodland in colours reminiscent of Firewatch, if Firewatch was set in a sodden peat bog in darkest Russia.

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At the end of the first level I felt exhausted and filthy and yet triumphant. I felt like I’d really spent several days struggling through mud.

What mud it is, too. MudRunner has the most realistic simulation of water and muck I’ve ever seen. Tyres become clogged with it almost immediately, spinning and burying themselves, your truck pitching and wallowing in a realistic manner. You drift sideways as you attempt to cross rivers, wheels shiny and wet as they cut gratefully into the relative dry of the opposite shore. Apparently simple open patches of ground turn into shifting liquid nightmares as you sink terrifyingly into the ooze, your wheels cutting messy lines into the soft ground. Exhaust belches angrily, dented and rusting bodywork becomes spattered and stained, undergrowth lodges in the chassis.

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But is it a good game? Full marks for simulation, but the impatient may never play it more than once. Why accurately simulate getting stuck in mud, when you could be churning through it at speed like a happy hippo?

In many ways MudRunner feels like a technology demo. The mud is amazing but so much potential is left unexplored. There are hints of it in the challenge mode, where levels include crossing a wide river, climbing complex hills and rescuing stranded vehicles. All are engaging, but little of this appears in the main game.

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Yet there is something compelling here. I want to keep playing. I want to find and master every vehicle. I want to unlock every level and complete every challenge. I want to ford mighty rivers and shout my defiance into the wilderness. Churning slowly through the mire is hard work, but MudRunner simulates it so well that it’s a joy to behold. A small and repetitive joy, perhaps, but a joy nonetheless.

Spintires: MudRunner is on Steam for £24.99/$29.99

17 Comments

  1. colw00t says:

    I haven’t played MudRunner, but I played the original, and I completely agree that it’s more like a tremendously impressive technology demo than a game.

    That said, every time I read about this game people talk about getting “stuck.” I don’t know if it’s just because I grew up in the rural american south, but barring falling into deep holes on the Flood map, I never actually managed to get stuck. The mud simulation doesn’t seem to deform enough for you to actually dig yourself into a hole. You can be slowed, you can lose traction, but without the assistance of excessively high water to slow my engine, I never got totally stuck.

    • Hyena Grin says:

      Even in the first game, you absolutely could dig yourself deep. I spent a while just seeing how deep I could ‘dig’ by repeatedly bogging down into the same tire tracks, and it was significant. Above the wheel wells, at least.

      I guess it depends a lot on what vehicles you choose, because some definitely got stuck easier than others. I spent a good long time with the game before I realized how the winch worked and got stuck many times.

    • Nice Save says:

      The last time I played this game, I managed to get both of the trucks I had unlocked stuck, one of them upside down, and was only left with the starting jeep.

      Which I promptly managed to get stuck in the exact place it starts, so every time I tried to respawn I fell straight into the same ruts I had been stuck in in the first place.

  2. LewdPenguin says:

    So the rerelease of the cool tech demo that could never figure out how to pin much ‘game’ to itself effectively and that was unfortunate enough to get stuck between an equally cancerous pairing of developer and publisher, is still a cool tech demo with little idea how to pin much ‘game’ to itself?

    Cool, but once bitten twice shy.

    • colw00t says:

      Pretty much. I was happy to support the original game, and messed about with it for ten or fifteen hours, but I don’t feel the need to do so again. I consider my money well spent supporting a really clever piece of technology, but that’s all.

  3. vorador says:

    While Mudrunner is a great “game” for people to unwind since there’s no rush to accomplish objectives, most of the time it feels like somebody figured out a great physics engine for mud and water, but didn’t manage to build a game around.

    Best thing they could do is to license the physics engine to others so new games can have the best looking mud ever.

  4. UncleLou says:

    Personally, I didn’t need any more “game”. It’s a pure concept. A point A, a point B, a truck, tons of mud. It does little, but what it does it does exceptionally well, and I find it a surprisingly satisfying experience. That was enough for me.

    Was my surprise hit of 2017.

  5. JB says:

    It’s also a lot of fun in multiplayer (yes, Mudrunner has MP saves!).

  6. Flaf9090 says:

    They need to buy themselves the license to Sorceror. It’s probably going cheap.

  7. Evan_ says:

    Dunno why people seem to miss the ‘game’ aspect of this game. Getting the vehicles and and depots required to compete a map operational felt like a puzzle itself, and fixing my unforeseen mistakes (like an important truck getting stuck) often forced me to change plans and improvise.

    I was having problem-solving fun, not completely different than what I felt during KSP or Factorio. Other times it presented the relaxed driving around experience of [Continent] Truck Simulator games.

    I believe any of the games I mentioned could be dissected to compare their ‘gamey qualities’. But none of them deserves that, as they are superb.

    • JB says:

      What Evan_ said

    • LewdPenguin says:

      Oh I had a fair bit of fun completing maps for a while, it’s just that it’s one of those games where I can see the potential for so much more.

      For instance imagine simply lifting the forestry aspects from Farming Sim and transplanting them into the Spintires/Mudrunner world, so you’d have something ongoing to do in the maps. Or maybe you could spend your time running supplies to the remote logging outpost delivering fuel, general supplies and occasionally heavy equipment on one-off contracts whilst spending some or even none of your time actually hauling logs out of the woods yourself. Those are the sort of things I’d like to have seen built on top of the core mudding technology in terms of adding more ‘game’ elements to it, because they would be a very natural fit and I think work very well.

      • Evan_ says:

        Dunno. I think there is a very thin line between a fun work-simulation and needless tedium. The mix of genres you describe fit very well in theory, and could possibly result in a great game. But I also think the more components there are in such a game, the more chance there is for some of it to be nothing more but an annoyance.

        Now, operating heavy machinery is a pretty dull thing in itself. That’s why I find it amazing, that driving trucks around in Spintires is still much fun. On the other hand, manually loading the logs in hardcore mode is a pain. I still do it, as the rest of the game is better that way, but damn, I hate those cranes.

        The devs nailed the important part of their game well. I’m kinda’ happy they didn’t feel obliged to add different, but less fleshed out mechanics to increase variety (besides that crane). Sure it could have been awesome, but it also could have ruined what works.

    • April March says:

      I concur exactly. I wouldn’t need the caveat Andy suggests to say this game is fun. Saying the game isn’t fun because you often get stuck in mud is like saying a shooter isn’t fun because you often get shot at by enemies and die. That’s the whole of the game. You uncover the map, plan routes, try to take them, screw up and try to get over your mistakes. Then you do it again until you’ve gotten all 8 loads of logs to safety.

      I agree it’s a bit sparse, but I don’t think it needs to be any less sparse. All it needs to do is offer a little framework to encourage you to run its gauntlets, and it does that just well enough.

  8. Zaraf says:

    I just completed all 6 maps, and started the recently added DLC map. This is indeed a sandbox game built from a tech demo, but I enjoyed it quite well. I still need to have a closer look at user-made maps, some of them look quite interesting (blackwater, highwater, etc..)

  9. Premium User Badge

    Mantas says:

    Both the old and the new games pretty much need to be played with other people. If you have at least one bog friend it’s way more fun. Playing with three friends I would always end up with a lot of incredibly stupid stories to tell.

  10. Premium User Badge

    Phasma Felis says:

    I haven’t played Mudrunner yet, but my dad drove and fixed trucks for the US Army for 20 years, and he’s been playing it obsessively for weeks. So apparently it passes muster in the simulation category. :)

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