Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
There’s something I find uniquely exciting about driving in bad conditions. It’s terrible when I’m actually doing it, and there are few greater reliefs in life than when I get to stop doing it, but in the sun-baked days of summer, when the roads are dry and the sky is blue, the thrill of a snow-covered freeway still calls to me like I’m an old sailor fondly reminiscing about the sting of saltwater in my eyes and the sting of the ropes burning my hands. There’s a lot of stinging involved in sailing, I guess.
All of this is to say that I fucking hate driving in the snow, but also I kind of like it. I’ve lived in the Midwest for my whole life, so I drive in bad conditions more often than I do in good conditions, and I do like the feeling of accomplishment I get when I manage to reach my destination in bad weather without wrecking anything or getting lost or getting stuck (the ultimate sign of being an absolute waste of human life, if the reactions of other drivers are anything to go by). I just wish there were a way to experience the excitement of successfully navigating a snow-covered road without having to risk getting killed, or—even worse—getting glared at by other drivers.
Well, there is! It’s called SnowRunner, and it’s the new-ish sequel to 2017’s MudRunner, from Saber Interactive. The game just came out on Xbox Game Pass, and though I’ve only played a few hours, I really dig its no-stakes, normcore version of Death Stranding—an underrated masterpiece that beautifully reflects and comments on the world we live in today better than, oh, let’s say any other piece of media of the last few years. But I’m not here to talk about Death Stranding again (unless, do people want that?). I’m here to talk about SnowRunner. In this game, you play as a little man inside various big trucks, all of which are various different kinds of big and various different kinds of truck. It’s set in a world where there are no other people, but there are abandoned warehouses for big trucks, and abandoned logging mills where big trucks can pick up big logs to carry them over roads that are covered in slippery snow and ooey-gooey mud.
Nobody talks to your little man in this world. There are menus that tell you to pick up supplies and lug them to designated spots so the unseen hand of God can fix a bridge, or directions to find a lost truck stuck on a mountain, but nobody benefits from that fixed bridge or that rescued truck other than you. All that matters is you and the roads, which somewhat accurately re-create the actual experience of driving in the snow, albeit in a world where nobody has ever heard of treating roads for bad conditions and all truck wheels are made out of butter. You don’t do anything weird or exciting, beyond the fact that a video game about driving in the snow is pretty weird on its own. You just get in your big truck and do big truck stuff. It doesn’t really feel real, but it feels the way you feel when you are really driving on snow—like the slightest wrong move will send you careening off in a different direction or wedge you so deep in icy powder that you’ll never get out. It’s similar to the way Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater is nothing like real skating, but does emulate the excitement of the sport.
The mud and the mazelike pathways were kind of the star of the show in MudRunner, but one of the smartest decisions in SnowRunner is that they let you personalize your big trucks with bobbleheads on the dashboard or stupid stickers on the windshield that say things like “BIG ’N DIRTY.” You could play online and show off to your friends how big ’n’ dirty you are, but I won’t be doing that. These big trucks are just for me, because when I get stuck going up a snowy hill in my big ’n’ dirty vehicle, I don’t want anyone to be judging me for my failures as a Midwestern human. I just want to earn the feeling of accomplishment I’ll get for reaching the top. Or, if I can’t do that, I’ll quit and play something else.