There are two real narratives to a successful game. The one most familiar to the gaming industry is a carefully controlled, media saturated, readily franchisable game with a huge budget and AAA price tag to match. If there was ever a diametric opposite to a game like that then Spintires might fit the bill. It’s potentially up there with voxel build-em-up Minecraft and indie spacecraft rogue-like FTL in coming out of absolutely nowhere.
Oovee Studios weren’t complete unknowns after having created DLC for Rail Simulator but this is the first full game from the studio. Unveiled in June 2013 on Kickstarter and very quickly surpassing its £40,000 goal, pretty much entirely on the strength of an amazing tech demo. In fact it was probably one of the most effective demos in that I have seen in recent times and definitely succeeded in getting the game developed. A million people downloaded the demo, which translated to a brief run on the top of the Steam top-sellers list (only to be toppled by the bumper Summer Sale) just as it launched under Steam’s Early Access program.
Recent history aside, what does Spintires currently have to offer? It should be said it is currently still very deep in early access, so not a lot of the features are even close to completion. Currently (as of Hotfix 19/06/2014), what we have are five giant maps, one game type (lumber transport) and five very different soviet military vehicles in which to to roam around the jungle.
Graphically the game looks fairly good already, but static screenshots can only do so much and justice is only served when seeing the game in motion. The world is fluid, with every single thing in the game from the trees to the rocks to even the ground under your truck’s tyres being interactable, deformable, or simply destructible. Given the sheer density of the maps this is astounding and helps to create the one thing simulators have infamously failed at in the past, namely creating a living world.
The way in which your tires dig in to deeper mud, and the way the terrain deforms around them looks amazing in motion, and everything feels weighty. The texture quality itself could still be improved but given that it is still in early alpha, that is very much a nitpick on my part. The art design is based around the muted greens and dull browns of the Russian jungle, so this may be one of the only brown next-gen games that can contextually justify it.
From a gameplay perspective, it can’t entirely be judged yet given that the game isn’t close to completion, but the core mechanics are already very sound. The gameplay takes the form of an orienteering simulation where, armed with only a compass, a mostly obscured (or “cloaked”, as the game calls it) map, and nineteen tons of soviet steel, you are charged with getting from the starting garage to the objective, with a side goal of carrying a ton of lumber with you. The maps are huge, and there’s naturally no clear trail so you must use your best judgement to find the best path through the dense jungle.
Take care where you drive though because otherwise you’ll end up denting your machine beyond repair or simply get stuck in the boggy mire. If you become ridiculously stuck there are aids to help you, such as the diff lock and all wheel drive options, which help balance traction on uneven or simply sinking terrain. However, the cost is that using them takes up more of your fuel, which is limited to what is in the tank and any drips and drabs you find in the jungle. There is something about taking your giant truck and facing it off against nature that is incredibly compelling, and the satisfaction from finding a unique way out of a bind doesn’t get old, even if I never came close to completing the objectives.
The interface is excellent in its simplicity, with the game being completely playable using an Xbox 360 controller (albeit with a couple of quirky default button selections such as the back button being pause and start being the button to start the engine), and having a level of user-friendliness completely alien to a simulator. The driving model is very fun, enhanced by a unique freely rotating camera setup that allows the player to look at all sides of the vehicle that are not completely encased in mud. The only issue with the camera is that there is no easy way to zoom out as of yet, which means that in certain longer vehicles it gets very difficult to see where you’re heading.
It is still in early access, and Oovee have pledged regular updates and hotfixes to ensure stability. Personally, the biggest issues I experienced were occasionally booting up the game only for the intro movie to failed resulting in a crash to desktop. When started a second time however then the game would always start without a hitch. The game has support for multiplayer but getting a game to last for more than a minute is really down to chance at the moment.
The fact that multiplayer is there at all though, given that it was a stretch goal on the Kickstarter, is massively admirable and demonstrates Oovee’s solid commitment to the project. When there are more features to the main game, the co-op will have more allure but right now it is provides more novelty value than anything else. Finally, it would be nice to have some form of solid tutorial, but given that the game does not have anywhere close to all its features yet, this is completely understandable.
I made some bold claims earlier when I put Spintires in the same popularity stakes as Minecraft and FTL but I feel those claims are justified. The game has already been embraced by modders and the open attitude and regular updates by the developers add to a game has really become quite user-friendly, with a simple interface and unique and rewarding gameplay. At £20 the price is quite steep for an early access title but Spintires already has a lot to offer, especially if you like the idea of getting stuck in to a muddy driving adventure.