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Why SnowRunner is the perfect companion for a sim-racing pro

So, we’ve had some news on SnowRunner lately. Year 1 ended with the release of the game on Steam and Nintendo Switch, Season 4 DLC came out with all-new activities, and new game modes and content were unlocked. Plus, Saber Interactive announced a second year filled with future content, so there’s more on the way down the road. 

However, SnowRunner isn’t a racing game, isn’t a race car simulator and there’s really no sort of motorsport involved. Weird for a site like Traxion to be covering it so heavily, but just hear me out. 

I’ve been reporting on this game ever since I started working full time over here and let me just start off by saying that I am not a truck guy. I do not fall in love with an 18-wheeler at first glance, but I do appreciate the work that those real drivers do around the entire world to keep things moving along. 

With all of that said, this game rocks, rolls and is a great way to keep occupied for hours on end. It’s a simulator of a different nature, a terrain simulator thanks to some funky mud, gravel, ice and snow physics models. 

It’s unlike anything I’ve ever played before, good and bad, but I think it might end up being one of my favorite games down the road if I stick with it. 

A beautiful Alaskan sunrise in the middle of North Port. The question is, why are there no snow plows in this game?

INITIAL THOUGHTS 

Right off the bat, this game fought with me tooth and nail to even play it. I won’t go into the specifics, but let’s just say that I had a sour perspective with it before I even got to try out this terrain simulator. After finally getting to spend about 12 hours playing it over the last few days, I think it’s safe to say that my perspective may have changed. 

It’s chill, and I do mean that in any possible pun intended. Starting with the background music, it’s like I’m listening to some knockoff Pink Floyd at the beginning of “Wish You Were Here,” just waiting for it to get into the lyric part, but it never does.  

The visuals – it’s just… calming. From the start, I got this vibe that this would be a game that I would play to unwind. Nature is beautiful, real and virtual, and at times it felt over realistic, which is not necessarily a bad point. 

Sometimes though, it’s anything but calming when you’re trying to get whatever vehicle you’re driving unstuck, or up a mountain, or over a cliff without falling down hundreds of feet.  

Overall, I was looking forward to driving anything but the Chevrolet CK1500 that you start with, but then I found it to be my most useful piece for exploring early on in the campaign. 

I got a lot of that up on my screen during the 12 hours or so that I put into it.

FIGURING IT OUT 

The controls are odd to someone whose been driving fast virtual machines his whole life. Then again, I was mostly playing SnowRunner on a PlayStation controller, so I half expected it to feel like something I was familiar with on that setup, like NASCAR Heat 5 or Grand Theft Auto V.  

I attempted to set things up to work on my Fanatec Clubsport setup. Eventually, I ended up playing a hybrid between the two, mixed with some actions on the keyboard. Overall, not too difficult once you get used to the controls and learn the different features available. Winching became a favorite pastime of mine as I navigated through areas I probably wasn’t meant to explore just yet, pulling my truck forward on anything I could grab hold of. 

Before leaving for the weekend, Traxion Editor Thomas Harrison-Lord left me with some parting words, having tried the game himself. “Don’t forget the diff locks,” he said, and I had absolutely no idea what he meant by that until I got a truck and installed a diff lock on it. It was like I just unlocked easy mode and made things much more enjoyable.  

Some of the areas I played were challenging, so when I was able to get through them finally, it was rewarding. The quests in the game are, simply put, fetch quests, which send you from one area of the map to another to either pick up or deliver something. Outside the main story mode, I tried some challenges as well, and even with a preset area and vehicle, those seemed only to be for the most advanced players… which was not me, yet. 

YOU CAN FALL THROUGH THE ICE. I DID NOT KNOW THAT.

STEAM VS SWITCH 

I got the new Steam version of the terrain sim while colleagues tried out the Nintendo Switch and PS4 versions. On my end, the graphics looked stunning, bold, and it was so neat to watch the environment move beneath me. I really enjoyed some of the realistic feelings this game gave me, like the helplessness of getting stuck in a ditch or plunging into the water through cracked ice. It raised my heart rate a little bit. 

In terms of the Switch edition, the verdict was that “it plays the same as the ‘bigger’ versions, the controls work well on the mobile device, except the visuals are understandably lower resolution and lacking the clarity of its siblings. The icons for objectives, however, are hard to read in handheld mode.”

In general, they were pretty hard to see on my end too. If I looked for them, I could find them without a sweat, but they become part of the environment sometimes.

The Nintendo Switch is great as a handheld and for on-the-go playability more than a full-fledged system would be, so to make that work well, visuals are understandably lesser. At times my PC felt like it was about to blast off into outer space from all the noise I heard, meanwhile, the PS5 playing the PS4 version didn’t break a sweat. 

This is a picture taken from the Nintendo Switch version. Probably looks fine when shrunk to handheld proportions.

FINAL THOUGHTS

SnowRunner is something I see myself getting stuck playing for hours. I feel like I’ve barely touched the surface and I’d love to get some multiplayer action going soon, just to see how online play works out.

SnowRunner is, on the face of it, a completely unique game. But, the core experience is the simulation of driving across terrain, and in many ways, the same is true of racing games. It’s slow-paced compared to trying to hold 230 mph around Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it almost takes a similar amount of precision.

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