It would be somewhat inaccurate to call Spintires a game. It is more of a simulation than anything else – a simulation that aims to improve your driving technique through the thickest mud and harshest terrains possible.
In short, the sim supplies you with a number of soviet-era heavy-duty vehicles, and it is up to you to drive, ram and skilfully-navigate the treacherous terrain in order to complete your objective. It’s joyfully frustrating, but there is definitely a sense of pure torque that will have you coming back for more – even if it is just to give it “one more go”.
Digging through the dark
The premise for the game is actually quite simple: haul some lumber from one point of the map to another. Each of the five or so maps has at least one Lumber marker, where the wood is stored, and one Objective marker, where the lumber needs to be dropped off.
But there is a bit of a twist. A large portion of the map is “cloaked”, meaning that you won’t be able to see which roads will lead you to other garages or vehicles, or whether they will lead you off a cliff, making it a bit of a guessing game in the beginning. To de-cloak the map, you have to take a vehicle – preferably one of the smaller ones as they’re easier to drive – and set a course through the jungle. By getting within the radius of the cloak point, the blackout will be removed, and you will get a better picture of your surroundings via the map.
Spintires also has a full day-night cycle, so if getting stuck in broad daylight wasn’t difficult enough, the darkness will make it just that much more frustrating. At least each vehicle has a decent set of headlights, which really does come in handy as they light up the landscape magnificently.
The more, the merrier
Each map has about five or six different vehicles available across five classes, with the A-class vehicles being the scout jeeps, and E-class vehicles the extra heavy duty lifters complete with three axles and eight wheels each.
You’ll see various garages on the map where vehicles are stored and where you can recover to if you get stuck, but they won’t be available for use right away. Starting at the base garage, you will have to equip a suitable vehicle with a Garage Carriage, which contains repair points and two garage points. It takes four garage points to unlock a garage for use, so you will have to drive back and forth to unlock it if you’re playing on your own.
Trying to add some realism to the game, the developers make you deal with the real-world issue of fuel use as well. Each vehicle uses fuel at different rates, as heavier trucks consume more than the lighter ones do, and engaging the diff lock and all-wheel-drive – things you will want to do because otherwise the mud wins – sucks it up even faster.
So how do you combat a problem that will without a doubt leave you stranded in sinking mud if not properly managed? Well, you have dedicated fuel trucks, or course. While you can customise some trucks to carry a larger canister of fuel, there is one truck that was specifically designed for this purpose.
Hopping into the driver’s seat, you will have to go looking for a refuelling station, as the canister is installed bone dry. Only once you have filled up the truck, can you make your way to wherever the fuel in needed. The best strategy for this is to park the truck about halfway between the objective and the lumber – that way drivers can quickly swap to the fuel truck and refill themselves.
The devil is in the dirt
The mud and water physics are incredibly well done, but you will find out pretty soon just how sticky the situation can become. By using some clever design tactics, the in-game mud will react nearly identically to how it would in real life.
There are visible stretches of road that do not have any mud, but as soon as you start turning a corner, the brown slop will stare you in the face. The previous victim’s tracks will be clearly visible, and the more vehicles that come through an area, the more worn-out and treacherous the road will become.
Here, it’s best to follow the heavily-trodden route and stick the course that has been laid out before you. Trying to deviate from it will more than likely get you stuck, and if you are alone with no tree in sight to attach your tow-rope to, you will have a bit of a problem on your hands and will need to recover to a garage, which resets all of your hard-won progress.
Bodies of water can be equally misleading, as there is no way of telling the depth of the pond, river or lake you’re about to drive through, although tell-tale signs do give away where the shallow water is, at least. With each vehicle having a different height and ground clearance, they will be able to go through different depths of water without being damaged. Try your luck with small Jeep and a fast-moving river, and you’ll soon need rescuing.
Help is at hand
But becoming stuck isn’t the end of the world – it’s actually one of the game’s biggest selling points. With the mud reacting, well, like mud should, it’s vitally important to have mechanisms that can get you out of a bind rather easily.
Every truck is equipped with a winch, and while it isn’t the strongest winch in town, it has saved many a bacon during the game’s short release time. Isolated and alone, the best thing you can do is to find and latch onto a nearby tree and winch yourself out. If there are no trees nearby, well, then you are in for a game of Rock the Boat which could last for a while. Should that fail, it’s recover time.
If one of your trucks or that of another player becomes stuck, you can try to pull it out with another truck and a winch. Because of the game’s physics, that sounds a lot easier to do than it actually is, but is really satisfying to pull off successfully.
As a silly example, when you winch trucks through the mud, often your forward momentum is halted when your tyres lose traction, and you slide backwards into the mud that trapped the other truck in the first place, making a forward escape highly unlikely. If done correctly, it should be fairly easy to pull off. Should. But it’s often not, and that’s part of the fun.
At least there is consolation in the fact that Spintires supports up to four online players per map. There are no scores and no winner, so your only real option is to work together as a team to fulfil your log-hauling objective.
The number of different trucks available at the start of a map is somewhat limited since some trucks are locked at the start, but luckily the overall number of trucks isn’t. So all players will be able to drive the meanest rig on the map right away if they want, and jump into others the second they’re unlocked.
The multiplayer and single player games are identical in how they play, with the only difference being that you now have three strangers also trudging through the mud with you. The biggest gripe about the multiplayer is that the title doesn’t support voice communications, and you are left to type for calls for help. Fortunately it’s a problem that can be solved with third-party chat apps like Ventrilo, Teamspeak and good old Skype.
Generally the other players are fairly forgiving when playing with newbie drivers, but the bond created between two brothers stuck in the mud is cemented further on a successful pullout. And as mentioned, getting stuck is really part of the fun, so multiplayer drivers tend to rush to your aid – even if it is just to see how you managed to get yourself propped up between a tree and a riverbank. We imagine if you could get out of the truck and open a beer while you assess the sinking snafu, it would be very well received.
For a game that has no tangible prize, no scoring system on successful rescues and no leaderboard to speak of, Spintires is one of the most addictive titles available on Steam at the moment. There is something really special about sitting in a truck with tremendous torque, black engine smoke bellowing from the front exhaust while the gears creak and grind as you crawl uphill. The whole “getting stuck and being helped by strangers” part of it is also pretty cool.
As far as we can tell, this is developer Oovee Game Studio’s first title, so a special mention has to be made about the graphics. Gamers have come to expect a certain standard of quality over the last couple of years, and Oovee doesn’t disappoint. While Spintires’ visuals are not exactly on par with something like Forza 5, they are more than sufficient to bring the message home. Mud will cake onto tyres and then wash off again in water, tree sway in the wind and creak as you drive by, and the full day-night cycle is filled with wonderful sights and sounds.
The game went through a round of funding on Kickstarter last year, and while it exceeded its modest goal of £40 000 by £20 000, Oovee Studios missed the stretch goal of £80 000 that would have added more modes, better trucks and an in-car camera. But due to the game’s success on Steam – it’s currently the second-best selling title on the platform at the moment – chances are more variety will be added to the mix through future updates, making it a lot better.
For now, Spintires is a great game to play alone or with friends, but be warned, you’ll need a whole lot of patience as the going is very slow indeed. Fortunately, it’s also rewarding if you stick with it long enough, and the sense of camaraderie that will inevitably come from sharing hard-won victories and agonising defeats with strangers on the internet and friends alike is priceless in its own right.
It’s available on Steam for just $29.99 (around R330), and weighs in at just 595mb so it won’t eat too much of your cap.