MudRunner (2017)

The SpinTires series of games is a bit weird, as each game is called something different. It first started off with SpinTires, a game all about getting stuck in the mud in Russia. Then came “MudRunner: A SpinTires game”, and in 2020 the third game in the series called “SnowRunner” came out. I fell in love with SnowRunner as it was at the beginning of the Pandemic and everyone was trying to find games to occupy their time with. For whatever reason, SnowRunner captured my mind like very few games do. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, and while it took a while to really understand, everything about the game finally clicked in place and it ate up a massive amount of my time.

MudRunner is the middle game in the series and straddles the line of the previous and next games in the series. It isn’t a solely simulation style game like SpinTires, but it also doesn’t expand on the activities and locations like SnowRunner does. It’s somewhere in this weird limbo state.

MudRunner takes a game about exploring an area in the game and lets you forge your own path. Unlocking watchtowers that uncover select areas of the map, and also letting you take refuge in a couple unlockable garages around the map as well. Exploring is my main activity in these games, and I’ll get into that in a moment. But the actual objective is to take a truck from the start of the map, and find a logging station that will load up logs onto your truck, then you take those logs over to the logging mill and drop them off. Sadly, that is literally the only objective in the game. Nothing else in all the maps is an objective. Just pick up logs, then drop those logs off at the mill…. Over and over and over again.

When I realized that’s how I beat a map, I got a bit discouraged because I didn’t find trucking logs back and forth around the mud covered maps all that fun to begin with. But I needed to complete two maps to be able to unlock the Hummer H1, which is one of the reasons I wanted to play the game in the first place. The original Hummer is one of my favorite cars of all time, anytime I get to drive one in a game, it’s a blast, and fills one of those power fantasies I have in my mind. So I set out to at least complete two maps fully to unlock the Hummer.

Once I unlocked the Hummer, I played around with it in one of the DLC maps called American Wilds. What I noticed was that when I loaded up the DLC, the map felt immediately more vibrant and full of color. Going back to the original base game maps, I realized how drab and dull the color palette was. Everything is muted grays and browns and greens. Sure there is a bit of hazy to the game, which contributed to the overall lack of color. But switching to the DLC maps made it clear that this game feels like all the color was sucked out of the game, and brought me back to the realization that so many games from the mid 2010’s had very very little color in them, and it’s such a bummer.

The Hummer is a scout vehicle, meaning you are supposed to use it to explore and that’s about it. And since I really didn’t want to just spend hours upon hours hauling logs back and forth, I changed up my strategy for “beating” the game. Instead of just focusing on the boring task of trucking logs back and forth multiple times to complete some arbitrary objective, I focused on all the other side objectives. Like exploring the map and uncovering each “watchtower” that covers the map in black fog till you get it unlocked. Once you unlock it, it reveals that section of the map. Some maps have four or five watchtowers. So there was a good chunk of my time devoted solely to exploring the entire map. Along with Watchtowers, you can unlock a garage or two that are scattered around the corners of the map. The garages allow you to recover busted or stuck vehicles, and repair them. Along with being able to equip more trailers and other upgrades to your cars and trucks. And last, there are several vehicles that are locked around each map, that makes you have to drive up to them to be able to use and also recover back to a garage. Most of them were things like tractors and larger trucks with gasoline or repair kits. But several times I was able to switch over to that newly unlocked vehicle to help my winch out my car that was currently stuck in the mud in a river.

So I spent around 14 hours in total driving around each map in the game, including the DLC and driving to every watchtower, unlocking every garage and uncovering every hidden vehicle. Along with playing and finishing the game’s “Challenges” mode. The challenge mode gives you a specific scenario with a single objective. Something like “Drive to this location up a hill” but gives you three bonus objectives to tack on to your real objective. Like, “drive only in cockpit/first person mode”, or “Complete this challenge at night”. There are around ten of these challenges, and each one takes around 10 minutes or so to complete. It added a bit more to the overall game and experience, and I actually enjoyed those challenges just as much, if not more than the maps in the single player game itself. Having smaller sections of a map, and having to complete a single objective that doesn’t require 45 minutes to complete, and also being different than “haul logs from here to there” was a big boost in enjoyment.

MudRunner takes the simulation formula of SpinTires and starts to develop the idea into a full game, however, especially seeing what SnowRunner became, MudRunner just doesn’t offer enough for most people to enjoy it fully. I’d say the Challenges are where the real enjoyment and single player fun is, and wish there was around 20 more challenges and less larger maps. Along with the obvious of giving the maps more than the single “haul logs from A to B” objective as well, would go a long way to making MudRunner an awesome game.

While it clearly isn’t a game for everyone, and even I was skeptical about it when I first saw MudRunner years ago. There is some sort of Zen like quality that I get out of it when I’ve had a long day and want to relax with a game. Hoping into a Hummer H1 and drive over crazy terrain to explore vast forest and swamp wilderness, and have to chart my own path, while getting stuck in some seemingly harmless, but ultimately deceptively deep mud is honestly quite calming. Knowing the trusty winch always has my back is a nice safety net, and mastering the quick action of winching and disconnecting is a must for becoming a true MudRunner.