Developer: Oovee Game Studios
# of Players: 1-4 (co-op)
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
Score: A- (90%)
Not that this will happen any time soon, but if someone ever decides to make a video game based on Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1953 masterpiece The Wages of Fear, they’d better ring up UK-based developer Oovee and beg them to do the driving portions. I’m saying that while SPINTIRES is paused below this tab and I’m writing up this review of the PC game. While I generally love to complete a game before sitting down to type up impressions, After a few days of playing this indie gem, I can very safely say it’s one of the nicer surprises of the year and well worth the $29.99 price point. I’ll defend that price point in detail below, but in short, why pay the same (or more) for a game that’s going to be JUST like the games you’ve played to death when here you’ll get something you’ll very likely enjoy MORE because it’s fresh and actually more challenging than you’re used to?
Yeah, I thought so. Read on for more reasons you at least need to take this for a spin…
“So, what’s this game about?”, you ask? Well, the Steam description goes like this: Take responsibility of operating large all-terrain Soviet vehicles and venture across the rugged landscapes with only a map and compass to guide you. Explore the levels and unlock portions of the map whilst discovering new trucks, fueling stations, garages and lumber mills.. While my FAR duller explanation would go something like this: SPINTIRES is a simulation game where you drive a number of nicely modeled 1980’s era Russian trucks usually very slowly through massive landscapes picking up and delivering logs and/or fuel, unlocking new vehicles as you go. Annnnnnnd you’re asleep before you’ve even completed that last sentence, right? Well, you may want to wake yourself up, though. This is without a doubt, one of the hardest but most rewarding games you’ll play this year.
Yes, dear reader… all you do in this game is drive a bunch of small to very large trucks around some very large and impressively detailed environments, but it’s both the trucks and those environments that make the game so completely, enjoyably addictive. If you’re expecting to speed around maps picking up power-ups, you’re in the wrong place by a few many miles. the fastest you’ll probably go is maybe a good 20 or mph and that’s downhill, on one of the few smooth surfaces in the game and only for a short time before you encounter some deep mud you’ll get stuck in for a bit, a river where you’ll possibly flood your engine if it’s too deep or smack into some rocks hidden on the bottom if it’s shallow and you don’t see them.
No, dear reader, one more, SPINTIRES is NOT about speed. Gameplay is slow, slow going. As you turtle around in those lovely rustic trucks you’ll be learning all about all-wheel drive, differential lock, and how to spend the better part of a day trundling around a map trying to uncover cloaked areas so you can unlock more trucks or well hidden garages, fuel supplies and log pickup stations. And you’ll be loving every crawly minute of it. This isn’t a “guy” game at all, as anyone of any age who’s played with a Tonka or other branded truck in the dirt and mud and can hold a controller will feel more than at home in these deep woods, nasty dirt roads and more mud physics than you’ve ever seen in a vehicle game to date. It’s impossible to state how cool it is to see a game where you’ll ABSOLUTELY get stuck in the muck and need a tow out, which makes this a fun game for co-op play.
If you’re playing alone, there’s almost a puzzle-like element to things as you decide which truck to choose to rescue your stopped vehicle, fit it up with the proper tires and such so it doesn’t get stuck and set out, slooooooowly to the rescue. Granted, you COULD just take the easy way out and zip your stuck truck right on back to the garage you started out from for a free repair and refueling. However, if you’ve gone and picked up a load of logs or anything else, you lose that cargo when you choose the easy way out and it’s back all the way to where you retrieved it from and fingers crossed that you don’t get stuck in the same spot again or worse, pick up the load and get stuck on the way back.
This is a deep simulation in its purest form and while there are mods available (if you try one of the tech demos), the best way to play and enjoy this is as it is with all the video settings cranked up (if your PC can handle them). One of the excellent things about the game is its low system requirements and the surprisingly low amount of hard drive space it takes up. Sure, you only get a handful of maps to play on, but they’ll all quite large and will take at least five to eight hours EACH to fully transverse, longer if you get really adventurous and risk tumbling off a cliff or flimsy-looking wooden bridge. If your eyes have fallen out over playing up to eight (or more!) hours on a SINGLE map, I say take a look at the games you’re playing now and imagine playing something you haven’t before and actually liking it (and possibly more than the usual suspects). Yep, SPINTIRES has that power.
It also has no music in-game, something that will rankle a few nerves, but is actually a fantastic thing. You absolutely need to pay attention to the aural experience here, so all you hear are birds chirping, the sounds of cracking wood when you hit or break whatever foliage you can, the rush of the river you’re about to splash into and hopefully make it out of and of course, the glorious engines of the assorted trucks you’ll pilot. While you can make do with the keyboard and mouse just fine, I recommend adding an Xbox 360 controller to the mix if you’re more used to driving with one. Things like camera control and map selection aren’t from the racing game genre (the game operates on its own nicely wacky parameters you get used to after some playing around), but work quite well.
Still, I’d suggest not getting ticked off that the game doesn’t talk you through a tutorial or show you how to do things at all. Once you install it and fire it up, you pick a map and a difficulty and BOOM, you’re now responsible for what happens next. There’s a text tutorial onscreen that takes up every inch of screen real estate, but reading all those text boxes comes in handy. Sure, you can jam on the accelerator of that first truck and creep forward at parade pace until you come to a dead stop because you’ve sunk wheels deep into some mud or maybe ran over a few too many undercarriage smashing big rocks or turned into a bunch of trees and can’t extricate yourself. I say patience early on is a virtue here because all of those fates and more WILL await you around a tight bend or just below a drop you didn’t anticipate (and so forth and so on).
Experimentation is key with each truck and these Soviet-era beauties handle amazingly well. Havok physics get put to extremely great use here as trucks and their parts shift and bounce around realistically and hypnotically (turn off the motion blur effect if the wheel spin gets to you). While most of the trucks are behemoth sized industrial rigs, there’s a great Jeep-like bouncer that’s fragile yet can nimbly avoid mud patches by traveling around them and through spaces the larger trucks can’t access. There’s also a larger light-blue hauler that’s awesome just because the optional wooden carrying bin sways back and forth somewhat seductively as you go over bump after bump. This is pure truck porn at its finest, but made for the whole family. Granted, the easily frustrated players will be swearing up a storm every time their progress is halted and they need a rescue or restart. But the extreme level of challenge is welcome in this age of games practically playing themselves or being pay to win jammies that anyone can beat by spending real money and not seeing much for it but an emptier wallet.
SPINTIRES makes you fight for every single inch of ground and there’s going to be those moments where you fall back in your seat after first sweating out how to get from Point A to Point B… only to look on with horror because you stopped before you fully crested a partially muddy rock and stump littered hill, didn’t brake completely and see your truck start to slowly roll backwards. Oops. Learning from your mistakes are part of the game, so expect the first day or so to be filled with restarts, shock at the game deciding you want a night map (it’s random as to what time of day the maps begin), fist shaking when all of your trucks get jammed up or wrecked and yes, even your phone or doorbell ringing as you’re about to make it through a tough section.
But then you’ll get a period of LOCKED in concentration and suddenly, those things that plagued you are all falling by the wayside. You start not sinking your trucks into riverbeds, choosing to follow paths around trouble or through it when it looks as if you can make it. You’ll pull off a miracle save by accident by backing up, then driving in reverse up a formerly impassable hill, unlock those black-fogged points on the map to reveal new places to go and better routes than what you could see previously (one of the few concessions to being a “game” here) and you’ll clear a map and actually want to play it again. Just not right away because you either need a long nap or you’re itching to try the next stage.
While it’s no Project CARS by a long shot, this is quite a great-looking game because it FEELS more realistic than it looks. I love the looks of the trucks and how everything that needs to work works (you don’t see any drivers in the game at all). Oovee’s proprietary engine does things developers of rally racing games WISH they could do in theirs. If you remember Sega Rally Revo and its deformable landscape, this beats that to death and then some. Getting in the mud here means preparing to change gears and shift around until you can forge ahead or winch yourself out (or get winched out by someone). Trees can be knocked down unless they’re too thick (in which case you’ll take damage if you’re going fast enough) and those rocks and boulders? They’re from hell and there’s nothing worse than surviving a terrifying stretch of mud, hills and treachery than to come across a field or half dry riverbed FILLED with them and no way around but more or less straight through.
While the lack of a cockpit view is a bit distressing, it’s actually a good thing because I can’t imagine how much motion sickness would take place if anyone who bought this who’d never been in a bouncing and swaying light to heavy truck would react to this game. I suppose some modder will whip out a “fix” for this, but I certainly won’t need it. The game is fine as it is with the exception of a “snap to” viewpoint directly behind and above your chosen vehicle. Having to fudge the camera around can get tiring when you’re trying to make it carefully through some muck on a narrow pathway while foliage blocks your vision as you swing the camera around to get a good look at things.
But that’s my only major complaint here. That $30 this is going for may seem like a lot of money to you budget and bundle-minded gamers who wait for everything you buy to be a dollar or less, but hear me out. It’s games like this one that NEED you to spend the full cost on them so developers that actually INNOVATE can keep doing so (even if it a sequel or just some DLC down the road). SPINTIRES breaks the mold for driving games and simulations because you have to learn to play it, forgetting almost all you’ve done before in previous driving experiences. That the game takes a truckload of patience and persistence to play and complete is not only a great thing to see and play, it may make you demand other developers also do something different with more familiar franchises that have degenerated into yearly “Buy it because it’s BIG” purchases that only show improvements in visuals and not much else.
So, plunk down that money and dive into this one feet first. If you like it as much as I do, you’re not coming up for air in a while. And when you do, you’ll be as demanding of anything else you play as this game demands you to pay attention to every tap of the keyboard or press of a button on that controller.