Mainly because MudRunner is just that, a vision of big and small trucks simply making their way through quagmires. How could this possibly be a game?
Normally a video game featuring mud and forests would involve some sort of buggy ploughing through the spatter at break-neck speeds. Not here, MudRunner is a game of thoughtfulness and planning, of careful manoeuvring and technique to get the job done.
Essentially, you are the operator of a variety of all-terrain vehicles, in a lonely stretch of (possibly Russian) landscape, and you need to get the job done!
There are 19 vehicles in the game, with less-than-evocative names such as K-700 or E-7310. Each requires a different skill-set to use. From the small AWD A-3151 up to giant lumbering many-axel behemoths, all will need planning, skill and perhaps a touch of luck to negotiate the environment to deliver the goods or simply get to where they need to be.
It is a surprisingly compelling experience. Taking on the challenges (including sub challenges such as “don’t use the bridge”) will require patience, practice and expertise.
There will be occasional frustrations as the player rises the learning curve of this game. It is a skill to back in a small tray trailer into a drive way, try backing a semi-trailer from inside the cabin of rig whilst battling a swamp.
You really need a buddy to stand outside and yell “left hand down!” to help guide the process. MudRunner does have multiplayer, where players can team up to perhaps repair, refuel, load and deliver. But for the most part this is an isolating experience in a well presented but difficult landscape.
My father was a logging contractor, and as a child I spent many hours in the bush watching he and his team slog through the environment to load trucks and get them on their way. The main differences between MudRunner and the real-life experience is the lack of warmth in the game, no good-natured banter between workmates.
Also, these bushmen knew they needed to attend to the roads that their trucks would be traversing. So gravel would be graded in, log bridges built and lots of effort went into shoring up the tracks and trails that were the arteries of their trade.
Not so in Spintires: MudRunner, here we are going to churn and slide. Lock the diff and churn and slide some more. Occasionally we will need to throw the winch around a hapless sapling and pull our rig to a position where traction can be gained, and either start the churn again or get enough purchase to head on down the “road”.
We played Spintires: MudRunner on console, and to be honest it was a little disappointing that the rumble feature of the controller was not used to greater advantage. Having the throttle open fully and gritting our teeth as we tried to pull a heavy load to the mill would have been enhanced by a buzz in our hands as we neared the destination.
As we said though, this is a surprisingly compelling game. An indie hit on PC and now available on the modern home consoles MudRunner is a different kind of vehicle based game. Driving the desolate and ruined Russian landscape is more fulfilling than it sounds.