Review: Spintires

by

Deep, Russian forests and swamps, a few kilometres of “roads” made of knee-deep mud and six classic off-road trucks as old as the golden days of former USSR The Oovee’s debut production shows us a nearly perfect off-road videogame.

If you were interested in virtual off-roading before, you probably already played one of the Spintires tech demos released by Oovee back in 2012, offering a tiny map, two trucks and a lot of fun with amazing physics governing both the environment and the vehicles. Two years later, we have a finished product on our hands, ready to take us into the wild and muddy hell.

2014 07 16 000011 776x250 Review: Spintires

So, what are the first impressions? To me, they were jaw-dropping, but I could see a problem for the new players. There’s next to nothing in terms of introduction, and even though there is a helpful overlay which explains the basics of every function on the, beginners will still be a bit lost. After all, nobody explained anywhere that differential lock greatly improves traction, but also severely increases the turning radius of the truck. It’s not hard to figure it out all by yourself, but a small driving school map would be greatly appreciated.

Familiarizing ourselves with the terrain and means to cross it is something we should do before we head out on to the dirty highways. All wheel drive is a must on everything that isn’t a tarmac road, differential lock makes all the wheels spin at the same speed, so only a rock wedged under the truck can stop us. Only for a while, that is – the winch system can attach a cable to anything from a cut tree trunk to a telephone pole. If there are no good objects within reach, just get another truck and work your way out. I once spent 30 minutes trying to free a fully loaded truck which very unfortunately found itself in a ditch, with no trees in the area. The moment I finally managed to set it free with a combination of winch, crane and towing was really, really satisfying, even if I moved the truck by mere 10 meters in the end.

2014 06 17 00012 776x250 Review: Spintires

Once we get the hang of the basics and learn how to get out of the small mud, it’d be a good idea to check what is the point of this game. Here comes the first disappointment – the only objective consists of loading up some various-sized logs onto the truck and delivering them to the objective location. There’s no variation on this whatsoever, and different maps merely offer a different set of vehicles and terrain as challenges.

Don’t let that fool you though – game is far from repetitive, since actual deliveries take no more than 10-20% of the time spent with the game. You usually spend much more time exploring the map, finding new trucks and unlocking garages. Exploration consists of finding black vortices hidden in the forests and driving through them – it reveals a part of the map, showing points of interest and terrain geometry. I don’t know who thought of this, but I managed to think of a few, better alternatives in five minutes. Finding new trucks is usually crucial to progress – there’s not a lot you can do with just a UAZ 469 and a ZiL 130, especially if you need to ford a deep river in order to continue. There are also additional garages located on the map, but you still need to unlock them, first. It’s another questionable design choice made by Oovee, since it usually does not prove challenging, but only time-consuming.

2014 06 15 00003 776x250 Review: Spintires

A few words about the stars of the game are in order, the magnificent workhorses of tundra and taiga. Vehicles are grouped in five classes ranging from A to E. Aforementioned UAZ 469 and ZiL 130 represent class A nd B respectively. They’re light, small and usually can’t cross harsher terrains when loaded, making them useful mainly for exploration. Class C is where the fun begins. KrAZ-255 and Ural-4320 are the most versatile trucks, capable of crossing every terrain with a little luck and skill. There’s also an orange KAMAZ 6522, which should not deviate from a beaten track, but with careful driving and a winch here and there, it can go still work its way through every terrain. MAZ-537 is the sole vehicle of the D class, using 8 huge wheels to move around, there’s absolutely nothing it can’t do, and even the longest logs and heaviest loads won’t stop it. Class E is the most disappointing. A MAZ-7310 has neither the off-road capability of the class D truck, nor the ability to install useful extensions. It looks like a SCUD missile truck, so I guess it evens out. Trucks can be fitted with many upgrades and sidegrades, among which are fuel cisterns, repair addons, cranes and flatbeds.

Maps are pretty and varied, offering a lot of challenges. Sometimes, you start with vehicles ill-suited for the deep mud, sometimes you start with everything you need, right off the bat. Terrain challenges are plentiful, including any combination of deep mud, standing and flowing water and steep hills. What is not immediately apparent is the repetitiveness of the set-pieces which make the map. Driving through identical inclined bend with water on the side was challenging the first few times, but when the same terrain is copied a few times even on the same map, it just reeks of developer’s laziness.

2014 06 14 00009 776x250 Review: Spintires

Let’s get to the technical side of the game, where is shines so bright you need shades. Terrain and vehicle physics are the first thing you will probably notice. Water flows around the obstacles, trees can bend or even fall under load and of course, the mud deforms persistently, leaving tracks which you can use later. Every moving element is beautifully animated. Tires, suspension, cranes and even structural elements – they all realistically bend, twist, and wobble as you drive around. Another thing that deserves a high praise are the graphics – the game looks amazing and never dipped below 60 FPS, even on my dated rig. Even sound are really well done – from the roar of 12 cylinder engines, through squelching mud, to birds singing in the forest, it all sounds great. Only negative thing I can say concerns the camera – it simply does not work well, and there is no option for cockpit view.

There’s also the multiplayer, which makes you do exactly what you do in the singleplayer, but with friends. Even though it’s the most fun thing to do in the game, it also has a boatload of its own problems. Starting from the bugs, using winch with a friend is pretty rage-inducing. Even on a flat road, you won’t be able to tow the friend’s truck at any speed higher than that of a turtle, assuming that the winch won’t launch you or your friend into space. Your friends can’t see any trucks you own, except for the one you’re driving at the moment, so it’s possible for them to drive right through them, wrecking your spare vehicle and possibly turning it upside down or pushing it inside a building. There are a lot of smaller things like not being able to see your friend’s headlights, missing payloads or no chance to use cranes effectively, but it’s all a moot point. Driving together in the mud is so much fun, you probably won’t even care about any of those problems.

2014 07 18 00008 776x250 Review: Spintires

Concluding – Spintires is a cheap, unique and fun niche experience. I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone – it’s a slow game, requiring much thought and planning ahead. There is not a lot of content as of now, with only five maps and seven vehicles and while the modding community is already releasing tons of new trucks, lack of new maps is worrisome. The developers stated that they’ll keep supporting the game, but the first patch, still to be released is only supposed to fix a few issues (including camera work). Still, after more than 30 hours of playing, I’m looking forward for some more.