The arrival of MudRunner on the Switch in 2018 was a pleasantly surprising one. The game had previously been released on other formats a year earlier, and developer Saber Interactive did a surprisingly decent job of porting it over to the Switch, even chucking in its American Wilds expansion as part of the package.
Its sequel, SnowRunner, was released on various formats in 2020, so once again the Switch has received a port roughly a year later. While the results are once again fairly impressive all things considered, the decision not to include any previously released expansion content this time is slightly disappointing.
For those not familiar with the game or its predecessors, SnowRunner is a realistic (within reason) driving game about conquering the elements in what Reggie Fils-Aime once called back in 2006 a “big damn truck”. Ah, Excite Truck, not a day goes by where we don’t miss you.
The game consists of a number of sandbox environments, split across three main locations: Michigan, Alaska (which is where the snow comes in) and Taymyr in Russia. When the player starts in each location they’ve only got a tiny part of the map available to them, but they can fill it in by either driving around or finding observation towers.
The player is given a series of missions as they explore each stage. These tasks often involve collecting something from one area and taking it to another, or using an off-road truck to find the aforementioned towers, which reveal new parts of the map Ubisoft-style. As you complete tasks you’ll earn money which can then be spent on upgrading your vehicles (you can also find others just lying around, which is useful). It’s all straightforward stuff but enough to keep you going.
The structure may be conventional but the actual driving isn’t. It certainly won’t be to everyone’s taste, but anyone craving a more serious off-road driving experience will love what’s on offer here. Note, however, that we said ‘driving’ and not ‘racing’: if you’re expecting MotorStorm or Excitebike 64 here, you’re going to be massively disappointed.
Instead the challenge here comes in skillfully yet patiently navigating the countless hazards you’ll encounter as you explore each environment. Running water, muddy bogs, and of course the titular snow and ice can be extremely dangerous if you don’t plan your approach carefully, and if everything goes belly up – literally at times – you can’t just respawn, you’ll have to get the winch out and attach it to something nearby to pull your truck back to a safe (and sometimes upright) position.
The pace, then, can be extremely slow, which may initially sound counterintuitive to people who associate vehicles with speed. As long as you know what you’re in store for, before long (not long after the annoyingly clunky tutorial is over, in fact) you’ll get into the flow and grow to appreciate what counts as success in this game. Simply getting over a hill or muddy field can be a satisfying achievement here, and that’s not a criticism!
One thing that does warrant criticism, though, is the camera. The first-person in-car view is perfectly fine, there are no real issues there. A game like this requires you to switch to the third-person camera a lot, though, so you can rotate around the car and get a better view of where it’s positioned. It’s generally quite awkward, though, and there’s no way to just snap it behind your car once you’re past a hazard.
The game isn’t perfect visually, either. It does its best but it’s clearly struggling at times. The environments are often quite blurry, whether playing in handheld or docked, and the pop-in can verge on ridiculous at times with trackside detail like bushes drawing themselves in just a few feet in front of you. That’s not to say it’s the ugliest game in the world, mind you; at times when the sun is going down and it’s causing reflections to shine on the Alaskan snow, it look quite attractive. Just temper your expectations.
The sound has its problems, too. There seems to be a weird issue where the engine noise is badly looped, especially when your truck is stationary. The noise plays for a few seconds then there’s a noticeable split-second gap, then it starts again. Again, it isn’t massive but it’s distracting nevertheless.
The final disappointment is that, unlike MudRunner, SnowRunner doesn’t include any of the previously released DLC. There’s already been four major content drops in the past year, and you might expect to have that included as part of the Switch game to make up for the year-long wait. Considering the Xbox One version is now on Game Pass, it would have been nice for Switch owners to be thrown a bone. Instead, now that the Year 2 season pass is also out, you’re looking at two $24.99 season passes on top of the $39.99 asking price if you want everything. Still, that’s the price everywhere so we’re not necessarily marking the game down for that, just saying it would have been nice.
These quibbles aside, SnowRunner is still an entertaining driving sim that offers something different from the usual racing titles where you can tape down the ‘ZR’ button. It’s an extremely slow burner and it’s certainly not without its flaws, but put the time into it and it can be a worthwhile experience.
SnowRunner is an interesting truck driving game where the environment is your opponent. As long as you can put up with its audio and visual issues and understand that it’s an extremely slow-paced game, the rewards for sticking with it are worthwhile.