Snowrunner analysis

A truck simulator that wants to be realistic, but treats us with affection, filling us with the desire to discover and contemplate its landscapes.

The SnowRunners interface is a bit scary, at first. Not exactly because it is very complex, but because the few elements that we have in sight seem to constantly ask our attention. Below right we see a diagram of the gearbox of our truck – whose complexity depends, of course, on the characteristics of the vehicle we are driving – that will allow us to alternate between different traction systems and low gears and high gears to overcome the peculiarities of the terrain. We will do a part of our journey by road, of course, but the regions of Michigan and Alaska (United States) and Taymyr (Russia), the different maps that we will unlock as we advance, are full of mudflats, stony roads, puddles, open rivers and waterfalls. Overpacking, relying on automatic gears, or not knowing how to use reverse correctly can throw off a particularly good-looking excursion in a matter of seconds.

Even understanding the mechanical necessity of this part of the screen, when I started playing this new installment in the Spintires series, I couldn’t take my eyes off the left side of the television. Some small indicators show us the damage our vehicle has received when we have collided with some element of the map – in the damping, the engine or the tires, for example – and, above all, there is a meter of how much gasoline we use per minute that it keeps moving and shrinking every time we get going. During the tutorial the signal overwhelms you, it gives you the feeling that you are going to run out of fuel and get stuck in the middle of nowhere, or that you are going to puncture a tire and you are going to have to pay a lot of money to repair it, but when you arrive , by effort, to the first gas station or the first workshop, a pop-up message alerts you: both refueling and repairing our vehicle are free.

It’s a small concession, but it dramatically changes the way we approach each assignment. The missions in the game are not particularly cutting edge, and generally consist of collecting a series of goods in one part of the map and delivering them in another. With this premise we can build bridges, repair fallen constructions, such as light poles or electricity generators, or simply help farms, workshops, sawmills and other places of interest to maintain their production. As a reward for each assignment we will receive prestige points that will increase our trucker rank – a social recognition, I suppose; I like to think that drivers are the elite of this universe that is presented to us – and money with which we can unlock modifications for our vehicles. From buying new vehicles, heavier or lighter trucks, to SUVs that we will use to reconnoitre unknown places and learn the roads before putting all our heavy machinery there. We have engine upgrades, tires, different types of trailers to attach to each car, and even cranes for the toughest jobs.

But eliminate the micromanagement elements, that is, that it has little impact beyond the fact that we have lost a bit of time when we get stuck in a place and have to use the rescue button to return to the last save point, or when we take a detour that leads nowhere and we have left the warehouse almost empty, makes the game establish from the beginning that its priorities are different. Here the important thing is not our ability, although we will need it, but our knowledge of the terrain. Know which roads are suitable and which are not, meticulously plan the routes, by hand, on the map of our menu, and optimize them for what we want to do.

So every time we get close to a map or a new area, we tend to do so through exploration. Taking a heavy truck and going on an adventure without really knowing what awaits us is not a good idea, so it will be more sensible to take our SUV and take a little reconnaissance trip. There are certain elevated points, marked by a symbol, which will be more difficult to access, but from which we can see all the roads and points of interest of a specific section, in the Assassin’s Creed style. Lighter cars also have the possibility of getting stuck on a slope or in the mud, but in general it will be easier to maneuver with them, and we will need much less forceful objects to be able to tie the winch and give us a little momentum if the thing is gets tricky.

Once the reconnaissance is done, and the different objectives in the area have been collected, it is time to take out the artillery. We have a workshop where we can store the different vehicles that we come across on the road, and choose the most suitable truck for our needs. There are a lot of statistics and small points of stability, speed or load that we can take into account here, but I also feel obliged to confess that the game very frequently allows us to go over all this and simply choose the one that we like it more. Many times I have found myself selecting a less optimal transport for the area simply because I was fond of that particular truck.

It is not silly, of course: we develop emotional ties with the environment and with our work tools almost without realizing it. The specific physics of the truck in which we have spent hours from here to there ends up looking as natural as walking, and in the end it is even difficult to get rid of that ratchet in which we have traveled the first part of the game, because we had nothing better , although brighter and more powerful vehicles are put in front of us. Sometimes we will be seduced by that gigantic and brightly colored bug that we have bought with our hard effort, carrying bundles of wood and iron here and there, but in the most complicated moments it always ended up going to the old, less powerful initial Chevrolet, but much safer emotionally.

One of the great virtues of SnowRunners is that we don’t actually have a boss. Our list of orders – hidden, yes, by a series of menus that could surely be clearer and more concise – is long, but we can focus on it however we want. We will soon realize that taking two or three trips in a row from different points to the same end place is not necessarily the best idea; After a few hours of play, you end up thinking about the territory as a whole, almost as a person whose general needs we have to fulfill. We start in a sawmill and go little by little, moving from side to side, along roads we already know, offering wood to anyone who needs it; When we are done with this we can do the same with the construction materials, or with the fuel.

Nobody explains this dynamic to you when you start playing, of course, but it ends up being the most optimal; just as the game does not explain so many other things to you. If a defect can be removed from the title, it is precisely that it is not kind to those who are not familiar with the peculiarities of the saga, or of this type of driving simulators, and the truly frustrating moments do not come from our failures, but of fighting with some specific mechanics until we get to know how they work. I will save you hours of vain rides, for example, by explaining that to couple a trailer to our truck we will not only have to be extraordinarily close to it – we can help ourselves, of course, with the winch, anchoring it to the rear of our vehicle and to the front of the trailer to leave it exactly where we want – but we will also need to have a specific hitch equipped, a high or low anchor, which is placed in the workshop for free and without which the game will not allow us to carry that extra load.

SnowRunners’ self-explanatory awkwardness is pretty much the only jarring element in what is otherwise a surprisingly enjoyable experience even for non-logistics or automotive fans. It is especially striking by contrast with an extraordinarily intelligent level and progress design, which knows perfectly which objectives or ranges aside, what we really like about the game is the contemplative, the feeling of walking around at ease, discovering secret roads or little corners we’ve never been to, hooking up on a podcast and driving during the night hours, or getting through a particularly tricky area that until then had always choked us. As a small gift, caramelito for us who want to see the world and trees and think about our things while we take a walk through Alaska, the game is good enough to spice up the transport missions with some explicitly discovery ones that give us even more excuse to explore the map and see what else it has to offer us beyond the roads.

The maps are gigantic, immense, but never overwhelming; And even when we are consumed by the desire to see more, to advance further, to make one last installment before going to sleep, we do not lose respect for a terrain that is not basically made for us. Perhaps my favorite detail of the tons of them that this title has is that there are times when our journey passes, yes or yes, through an area that seems, a priori, particularly inhospitable. When we are struggling forwards, increasing speed, reversing, pushing ourselves little by little through the mud, we see something in the background: the shadow of a road, of some foreign wheels. We sigh deeply, then: someone has passed through here before, someone has managed to overcome this path that seems impossible to me, so there must be a way to do it. We keep trying. We put the pedal to the metal.

In that, in the way the game tacitly understands our needs, where it really shines. I will not drive a truck in my life, surely, but in SnowRunners I have found peace and calm, many reasons to even wish that in another life, or in another universe, there is a version of me that takes to the road and enjoys this life that has been mine for a few hours. Hopefully that Paula from a parallel dimension exists, and hopefully she enjoys her work as much as I have enjoyed this experience.