Going off-road in most driving games is a detour from the comfort of paved roads. In Spintires, off-road is everything, and navigating treacherous and unknown paths is the tranquility. It’s not a game about speed or racing, but science, mathematics, angles, and approaches. This is a strategic simulation driving game.
Spintires is an interesting beast, as there’s no story to be told, outside of the product page where you purchase the game. You’re basically just a trucker for hire to transport items in the Russian wilderness somewhere between the years 1980 and 1990. Everything looks the part, from the environment down to the trucks. There’s a distinct lack of technology here, making for a more isolated experience, and insanely quiet. There are goals to achieve, but you’re not pressured to do any of it. If you want to unlock new vehicles to experiment with, completing them is in your best interest.
For a game priding itself on simulation, it lacks the crucial cockpit view. The exterior cameras are superb, allowing you to do a 360° pan on your vehicle, allowing you to assess what you might be stuck on or how best to proceed. But the lack of an interior view makes it hard to be immersed into this simulation.
The homemade VeeEngine running on DirectX 9 is gorgeous. The way the water is simulated whether your tires are spinning and sloshing water, or when your vehicle enters a deep puddle and displaces the water around you, looks realistic and stunning. When driving on dirt, or in many areas mud, the terrain deforms as your tires sink into the Earth. Drive after getting out of the mud, and clumps of mud will harden and cling to your tires and can be washed off through a quick drive through standing water. And that water will glisten on your tires.
The simulation doesn’t stop there, the array of vehicles also handle and perform differently from one another. Some vehicles with all-wheel drive can have 2×4 or 4×4 engaged or disengaged with the press of the button. And depending on the situation, can be what gets you unstuck. Being able to turn on and off differential lock can help or get you into sticky situations. It is what makes the wheels turn independently or in concert with each other.
Each map has a sizeable chunk of terra firma for you to freely explore, across five maps that are coastal, on rivers, or near a volcano. There are parts unknown that you can uncover in your travels, with only a partially visible map and compass to guide you. Uncovering “cloaked” parts of the map just requires you driving to the designated zone to open it up. It’s worthwhile to travel to these spots to make traversal easier when having to go back and forth.
Any of the maps in Spintires is a large sandbox, or more accurately, a mud pit to play in. Starting a game asks you to choose between Casual and Hardcore Modes. The Hardcore Mode makes it so you cannot advance time, in the instance of trying to deliver lumber in the middle of the night and cannot see the loose road in front of you. It also makes it so you cannot recover or repair wrecked or heavily damaged vehicles to the starting garage. It’s this game’s “Ironman Mode”, which shows no mercy.
The environment is the main villain in this game. If you drive into too deep of water, you can risk flooding the engine and it must be repaired at a garage to be used again. Each vehicle has a threshold for how much damage it can take, and performance is affected as a result. Driving on uneven ground sees the back end twisting uncomfortably as it struggles through the terrain. You can even switch back and forth between different vehicles to have them work cooperatively. If you get stuck beyond redemption, you can use one vehicle to get another vehicle out via winch, or use it to attach to a tree and pull yourself out of the mud. No matter what, it’s extremely rewarding to get yourself out of a bad situation, and gives a sense of accomplishment.
Multiplayer was available but could not be tested prior to release. But the aspect of working with someone to complete these challenges would not only help remove the loneliness, but also make objectives easier to attain.
Spintires unfortunately lives up to its name. You’ll be spinning your wheels for more time than you’ll be completing the sparse objectives. This ultimately feels and plays like a glorified tech demo. But what a fine tech demo it is, producing the most realistic simulation of physics, water, mud, tree, and use of mechanisms like cranes and winches to date. The freedom and incredible challenge from the moment you start your engine is unique and unlike any other game out there, and it’s a shame there’s not much more to it that makes it easier to recommend.
A pre-release Steam code was provided by the developer for review purposes