“X thing is the dark souls of x things” may sound trite, and usually it is, but surprisingly in this case it is actually true. Whilst games of different genres can hardly be compared fairly, the feeling of a game is more abstract than its genre.
Spintires is an indie title developed by Oovee Game Studios, tracing its roots back to Intel’s Havok Engine Innovation Contest in 2009 with a two-man team, the proof of concept turned indie success shows the might of a strong concept and dedication.
The game gives us a glimpse in the life of a trucker in the Russian outback, the developers’ country of origin. It is simple and straightforward, after a lightning fast load time and barren menu screen you’re plopped straight into a vehicle and asked to deliver lumber to specific points on the map, which you soon find is easier said than done as you struggle to get out of the mud, slowly swallowing you 10 meters from the starting area. At first it seems incredibly frustrating but you slowly learn to navigate the wilderness by taking advantage of the game’s mechanics. You can engage all-wheel drive, lock the differential, shift gears manually and even use a winch to get out of tight spots. The mechanics are few and simple, and learning to use them with one another to tackle all the different challenges the game offers adds a surprising amount of depth to such a seemingly simple game. Dirt, mud and gravel, swamps, lakes and rivers, hills, mountains, and even the odd paved road all require a different approach depending on your vehicle and your load.
After you’ve gotten the hang of the basics the game is completely open ended on how you complete the objectives. Maps are partially hidden at the beginning of each game and you can uncover them by driving to specific cloaking points which makes it easier to plan your routes, or don’t and brave the unknown and see where it leads. There’s garages where you can outfit your vehicles and repair them but activating them requires that you deliver the necessary tools to them, there’s fuel stations where you can get, well, fuel. Scattered around the map there are also vehicles which may or may not help you get the job done. All of those objectives are optional and completing them or not depends on your play style and skill. The only mandatory objectives are the log kiosks where you load up and the lumber yards where you deliver.
The charm of the game is found in the little personal stories that develop organically as you play. That time you absolutely aced the delivery despite the hardships or the time you spent hours trying to cover a few hundred meters. The time you ran out of fuel or destroyed your vehicle in the middle of nowhere and had to plan a rescue mission. The time you rolled over and lost your load a stone’s throw away from the objective. The more you play the more you learn the value of strategy. There’s always a trade-off between completing objectives and time, covering small distances can even take hours and players who are not careful may find themselves having to erase hours and hours of play time because of poor decisions. You never really know if it’s faster to make more trips with lighter loads or fewer with heavier ones, you never know if your fuel will be enough or if you’ll have to take an extra hour of your time just to go get more, this risk vs reward aspect adds to the strategy.
This may all make the game sound incredibly frustrating and it often is, but it is also incredibly satisfying when your plans and your effort come together and you complete the objective in a way few games are. It’s a personal victory.
On the technical side the game runs smoothly and is not very demanding. The only bug I have encountered is that it crashes when alt tabbing in and out of it but to be honest it loads up so fast that exiting and re-opening the game is almost as fast. The graphics, though not technically impressive, are actually pretty great, and often times you will find yourself taking screenshots of sunsets over the Russian forests. There is support for gamepads and steering wheels but the game can be played with a keyboard and mouse with no issue. Especially noteworthy are the vehicle mechanics, with their carefully modelled and articulated suspension and grip systems as well as the ground and water deformation systems. Any tracks or deformation you make on the ground remain there and may even make repeat crossings easier or harder, depending on whether you’ve cut out clean ruts in thick mud to go through or turned the ground into mush not even the most capable vehicles in the game can get out of. If you submerge the vehicle in water, it deforms around the vehicle realistically and even has weight that can drag off the unwary.
The game also features a multiplayer mode which unfortunately suffers from more glitches, mainly visual ones and with player vehicles glitching when connected with a winch to each other. However, none of those are too detrimental to the experience and sharing the frustration and satisfaction of the game with friends certainly makes for a very fun experience. The base game contains a few maps and vehicles which will keep players occupied for far more hours than they may want to admit but for those who feel like it is too little there’s an active modding community making new maps and vehicles. Did I mention the game is barely bigger than half a gigabyte?
So while putting a vodka fuelled off-roading sim next to a japanese fantasy action rpg may initially seem weird, at its core Spintires is a game that rewards patience and strategy and punishes recklessness and overconfidence, offering frustration over countless retries and satisfaction in success like few games can. It’s simple, straightforward, not heavy on systems and a small download, a perfect casual game to sink one or ten hours on.