When you mention Off-road, most will think about arcade classics or more recent motorcross or quad-bikes, but there’s a different area of the genre we haven’t seen much of, it’s trickier and much dirtier, so could MudRunner’s exploration of real off-road simulation be worth a look.
You can ask any 10 year old boy and you’ll usually find they love mud, walking in it, painting their clothes with it and driving trucks through it, and while we grow out of the Matchbox car’s, growing older gives us a whole new band of trucks to drag through the mud.
MudRunner started life on PC as Spintires, and quickly gained success exceeding 1 million sales by giving gamers a whole new genre to enjoy, Console players might have had to wait a few more years but finally Off-Road simulation is a ‘thing’ and it’s damn good fun too.
The basic task in MudRunner is to deliver logs. Kind of like Crazy-Taxi without the humour, passengers or tarmac. Driving from A to B isn’t a difficult task, and certainly doesn’t sound like a lot of fun, however throw in a few all-wheel-drive trucks, plenty of mud and you’ll find the terrain itself gives more than enough challenge and excitement.
From the main menu, you’ll be greeted with a choice between single player, multiplayer, challenges and tutorial, you’ll be wanted to start off with the tutorials and while you’ll no doubt find them a little daunting at first, they do a great job of explaining the basics. When you know how to release the handbrake, drive, turn on all-wheel control and use a winch to pull yourself out of trouble, you’d think you’ve got everything covered, but before heading into the main modes, I’d recommend starting with a few challenges, there’s 9 in total and these follow the same deliver tasks, but slowly introduce you to new areas, such as picking up and towing a trailer or crossing a river in your truck.
With 15 trucks in total you’ll want to give a few a run out before heading into single player and starting off your work as a delivery driver, select a map from the 2 initially open, (don’t worry, there’s 5 in total, but like some trucks most are locked away until you’ve got to grips with the game a little more.
Sadly there’s not much story, you’ll get a main objective, which on the bog is quite simply, deliver logs to each lumber mill, so you head over to the yard, select and load your desired logs and make your way to the mill to complete your delivery.
On the way to making your first drop, there’ll be puddles that cover the entire road, soft, swampy mud that would leave most vehicles spinning their wheels for hours, and numerous other obstacles. This is where I really started to enjoy MudRunners, rather than a simple driving game, it was more of a technical challenge, carefully reading the road around me and judging the best route, before utilising verges, banks and tree’s to help me bypass some of the almost impassable areas. By the time you make your way to the first delivery, you’ll have a calm sense of accomplishment and a fresh freeling that you’ve just experienced something quite different.
Graphically the proof is in the pudding, no amount of screenshots will ever do this game justice, but seeing it in action makes you appreciate the detail and forgive the barely average textures, as soon as your truck starts moving you’ll notice the slightly odd camera angle, it’s a little awkward for driving straight, but you can switch to the cock-pit view for that, and use the initial third person view to assess the environment around you, this will also give you ample opportunity to see branches buckle under the wheels and the mud moulded into tracks behind you,
Watching the landscape give and shape around your wheels is far more enjoyable than seeing a few more leaves on the tree’s and soon enough you’re left feeling much more positive about the graphical performance.
Audio sadly doesn’t have quite so much to go on, there’s next to no surrounding noise apart from the trickle of water or the rustle of the tree’s and it’s only starting your engine that gives any sort of ambience, any driver will know listening to an engine grunt under tough conditions isn’t the best feeling for the ears, so while authentic you might want to slap your own radio on in the background.
The overall enjoyment of MudRunner is down to the individual, if you’re looking for a tactical challenge that driving games don’t usually offer, then you’re in for a real treat, and no amount of repetition carrying logs back and forth is going to detract from the feeling of navigating the waterlogged twists and turns, but with satisfaction comes challenge, and if you’re looking for a smooth ride, while casual mode isn’t anywhere near as punishing as hardcore, it’s still a rage-worthy challenge which produced more than a few curses when managed to tip my truck for the first time.
The sandbox nature, and being able to jump online with up to 4 others will keep you coming back time and time again, but that’s more for the feeling of the drive, rather than the array of tasks ahead.