In a successful niche game, two things can happen. The first that is a truly exceptional product and everyone should play it. The second, that it’s just a very good product, but a niche. The truth is that this achievement creates a dangerous hype that is usually complicated, all the more so if we want to play it on Switch. Because Nintendo’s beautiful console is not exactly an example of technical power. Is one of 2020’s surprises worth playing on Switch? Let’s put the chains on and go into the snow.
I want to be happy, I want a truck
Jose Maria Sanz (Loquillo)
The first is the introductions. SnowRunner is the sequel to MadRunner. A freight transport simulator for “complicated” terrain. The title comes from the hands of the giants of Focus Interactive and was developed by Saber Interactive, which sounds a bit like a guarantee of quality.
Right at the start we drive a Chevrolet, a scout vehicle. We get behind the wheel, step on the accelerator and… the car doesn’t move. “Pull handbrake.” Well, we’re on our way. The thing starts well, the driving physics are great. We’re picking up speed and wham! we got stuck in a swamp. Fortunately, the tutorials that will help us understand the language of the title will be continuous. “Get low gears” and forward.
Once this is done and without spending the first fifteen minutes we already know where we are. It’s not a game with “cars” nor a simulator as such, it’s something completely different and it’s starting to freak me out.
Getting to the first observatory in Michigan is an odyssey for me. Mud, huge puddles, fallen branches… with a lot of patience we finally made it. Time to get our first truck. A GMC designed for the highway or moderately good terrain (Uff! Well, there’s a good one waiting for me). Getting new vehicles is pretty cool. It is enough to buy them to reach the appropriate level, or we can look for them on the different maps. Some get stuck in mud, water, or snow. Others in a sad state. In any case, being close to them will be enough to make them our property.
This is one of those parts that goes beyond the traditional simulator and gives the game an “arcade” or level playing vibe that is just magical. See a trapped vehicle and spin the coconut to get it out. Getting on the truck, which we believe does the job better, as well as getting to the destination (not easy) is the essence of SnowRunner. But there is more, much more.
The first jobs will be easy. For example, repairing a bridge that gives us access to the other half of the first map. To do this, we will drive our truck to get the necessary resources and we will load them into our crate or into a trailer that we will attach. It will take a few rides to get everything you need, with its complicated sections, like a muddy slope that we will have to use everything we have at hand to overcome. Those are the winch (an Uncharted 4 hook), low gears, and all-wheel drive.
In the beginning, our vehicles will be very limited, making it really difficult to complete numerous objectives. Because of this, the game invites you to explore, leave aside for a moment the mechanics of transporting goods or rescuing vehicles and focus on reaching the observation points. As if it were an Assassin’s Creed, these points act as watchtowers and not only reveal the map, but also jobs, new vehicles or (important) upgrade parts; Thanks to this we can always go further.
Everything goes through the workshop. It will be our base of operations, there is one on each map. In it we can customize the car depending on the “mission” that we have set for ourselves. Going exploring isn’t the same as rescuing a vehicle, completing a time trial, or hauling tons of god knows what. For this reason, it is important to familiarize ourselves with the different components that we can equip ourselves with, try them and learn what works best for each situation. I, being a four wheeler fan, panicked about this part and I have to say that once you stop reading it it’s extremely easy to gear up your car/truck for any situation.
What really impressed me about SnowRunner is the ease with which it can give the player the real feeling of driving a beast through difficult terrain. That said, in my real life I’m forced to drive a 4×4 in the field, sometimes through difficult terrain. And this game made me remember those moments with amazing accuracy.
But SnowRunner is much more than the cross-country part. With a map in hand, SnowRunner plans the best route for our purpose. And once you’ve made that choice, you can enjoy the trip with peace of mind, watching TV in the background or listening to a good podcast. It’s a game that relaxes despite everything. A perfect product for a hard day, to take with us lying on our sofa and lose yourself in these wonderful maps, not only to overcome adversity but simply to explore to the rhythm of rock & roll or to make worthwhile deliveries.
I couldn’t help but think of Sam Porter (Death Stranding) as I stepped into the game. Being moderately similar bets aside from Kojima’s bizarre story, we are faced with two games with a similar bet in gameplay. One on foot, the other motorized. But similar in their rhythms as well as their evolution through biomes.
SnowRunner’s map is huge. Or rather their cards are as a whole. We will be able to visit three zones, each with its particular countries. From the mud of Michigan to the snow and ice of Alaska to the Russian floods of Tamyr. Each of these locations is in turn divided into four independent maps, forming a total of twelve kilometers of sandbox that we can travel with our vehicles, adding up to a total of forty as an “other” fact to take into account.
Snowrunner doesn’t follow any actual story, it doesn’t even have an ending. It is based on a series of challenges as missions of different types, adding up to an absolutely titanic number of assignments. Completing them gives us money that we can use to improve our trucks. This allows us to take on more difficult tasks and start over. It’s a loop that would take hundreds of hours to complete. Also, don’t think that every mission will end successfully, in the end, trial and error is very present in the game. So it will come as no surprise to get completely stuck in a muddy area a few kilometers from delivery and have to resort to another truck to pull the ‘hook’ and save our main transport. Which is great when we have the opportunity to play with a colleague. Since the game features online multiplayer which makes things pretty easy, it’s also a great bet.
With the plate ready, it’s time to talk about what’s really important on this occasion. The Switch version. And while it can’t and shouldn’t be compared to its older brothers (PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox), the Nintendo hybrid boasts a more than worthy port.
The game looks really good in portable mode, where we can perhaps criticize an aggressive popping, but where both performance and graphics quality are more than good. In addition, there is a piece of bullshit that seems unavoidable to me and an addition that needs to be taken into account in future Switch ports. It’s the fact that when we touch the touchscreen, a magnifying glass appears that helps to read the texts, which is rarely convenient in portable mode. It’s not the most elegant solution, but it seems like a success to me.
On the other hand, in TV mode… The game brings out all its flaws, low textures, bangs again… the performance isn’t bad at all, but again it makes its victims too visible.
So if you’re tackling the difficult terrain of the SnowRunner controller, there’s certainly a significant gap between the Switch version and the rest. However, if you’d rather play on a laptop, the game fits the Nintendo hybrid like a glove, and is one safe bet for your full enjoyment.
SnowRunner has enchanted me. One of those games that is said to not be for everyone, but once you get into it it becomes a ton of hours. One of those people who makes time fly by and if you look at the clock you will know that you will wake up with dark circles under your eyes. An authentic great game that joins Switch’s vast catalogue, with a more than worthy port that will keep melting your console’s battery over and over again.
If you’re interested, at the time of the game’s release we also dedicated an analysis of its desktop version.