Need to know
What is it? A game about driving big trucks down small roads.
Expect to pay £35/$40
Developer Saber Interactive
Publisher Focus Home Interactive
Reviewed on RTX 2080 Super, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer 1-4 (Co-op)
Link Official site
There are moments in SnowRunner when I'm stuck halfway up a mountain, wheels churning pointlessly in the slop, that I wonder if all this maddening struggle is worth it. The more I fight it, the worse it seems to get, and I can't even winch myself out because the nearest tree is just out of reach.
But, somehow, I always manage to heave my off-roader out of the sludge. Whether through dumb luck or just sheer pig-headedness, I jostle myself free, and the feeling of victory is immense. At least until I get stuck again down the road, which is inevitable in these wild, unpredictable stretches of mud, snow, and pain.
This is the SnowRunner experience. You'll feel hopeless, annoyed, and always on the verge of rage quitting, cursing as the broken-down truck you're towing gets wedged against a rock, or your ill-equipped Chevy pick-up slides off an icy path and digs itself into a mud-filled trench.
But the euphoria, and the relief, of conquering these challenges is what keeps me playing through all of this simulated hardship. SnowRunner is a brutal, uncompromising off-road driving sim that really wants you to fail—which only makes denying it the satisfaction even sweeter.
A short tutorial sequence eases you into the game's systems, like switching to a low gear, or firing up your fuel-guzzling all-wheel drive, to avoid getting stuck in the mud. But after this, it's a full-on sandbox. The maps are huge and loaded with missions you can tackle in any order, whether you're delivering wood and steel to help finish a bridge, locating a missing science team in a snowy wilderness, or dragging a lost oil tanker out of a bog.
Completing missions earns you currency that can be spent on better vehicles, allowing you to tackle rougher ground, travel deeper into the wilds, and take on more lucrative jobs. Play for long enough and you'll have an entire fleet of trucks stuffed into your garage, ready to tackle anything mother nature has to throw at you.
There are three locations to slog through, each with their own unique terrain, weather, and atmosphere. You start in Michigan, navigating autumnal forests, winding mountain paths, and rocky plateaus. The region has recently been hit by heavy flooding, and you're part of the rescue effort, repairing vital infrastructure and delivering supplies to cut-off citizens.
Then there's Alaska, which puts the snow in SnowRunner, hurling all manner of wintry chaos at you, including deep, powdery drifts and iced-over lakes. This is punishing, nerve-shredding terrain, which the game helpfully warns you about when you first arrive. Losing control on ice is particularly terrifying, because at least in the mud there's something to grip onto.
And, finally, there's Taymyr, a rugged peninsula in the far north of Russia. Here you'll find thick forests, swampy marshes, sloppy dirt roads, and a bleak overcast sky looming over it all. Wherever you are in the world, SnowRunner is beautiful to look at—and I love how this natural beauty contrasts with your garage of rusty, greasy, smoke-belching vehicles.
There are 11 maps in the game, littered with hundreds of natural and man-made obstacles, such as collapsed bridges, rockfalls, and fallen pylons. And everything you encounter, even if it's just a deep puddle, is a puzzle to be solved. Something as simple as dragging a trailer up a muddy incline can be a 25-minute ordeal, requiring multiple vehicles.
Switching vehicles is one of SnowRunner's coolest features. If your truck gets stuck, you can switch to another vehicle in your fleet, drive over, and use a winch to yank it free. The game also supports online co-op, so if you have a friend who plays, they can come to the rescue instead. Just don't be surprised if the rescue vehicle ends up stuck in the same patch of mud.
If you're really beyond help you can respawn back at your garage, fully repaired and refuelled. But when you've just spent 45 minutes clawing your way up a mountain, this is the last thing you want to do. All that progress will be lost, and you'll have to start over. SnowRunner has absolutely no sympathy for you, which can be a little dispiriting at times, honestly.
That's what you sign up for when you play it. You're going to be frustrated and demoralised as you wrestle with its many gruelling off-road trials. But when you do finally reach the other side of that swollen river, flooded trail, or snowy forest, it really does feel incredible. You'll just have to decide if chasing these little victories is worth all the stress and teeth-gritting.