Reviews// Spintires

Posted 26 Sep 2014 12:30 by
In 1953, French director Henri-Georges Clouzot brought The Wages of Fear to the silver screen. It was an edge-of-the seat thriller about unlucky truck drivers faced with hauling nitro-glycerine over near impossible mountain roads.

Spintires is devoid of any such melodrama and presents a simple sandbox type game which mostly involves picking up wood in the most complicated and manly way possible. But it does offer tense moments and brings to the PC something entirely different; environmental truck orienteering.

Did I say trucks? Specifically, large Soviet all-terrain vehicles. Most can be fitted with an interesting array of add-ons and trailers.

Produced by UK based Oovee Game Studios following a successful Kickstarter campaign, Spintires is possibly the best thing to come out of Norfolk since Boudica and tractor racing.

This game started life as an Intel demo back in 2009, showcasing the power of environmental simulation. It won first place for best threaded game and seconnd place for Intel Graphics optimisation. With a line-up of Russian-made vehicles and maps, it?s refreshingly free from the scourge of DLC-itus infecting many simulations on Steam.

Not all of the game's seven vehicles are available at the start, however. Some vehicles have to be unlocked by locating them on the map, typically this requires crawling over rugged terrain with service vehicles to refuel or make necessary repairs. Only once they have been serviced can they be driven off.

Spintires' stand-out feature is the hugely impressive physics for each vehicle. Screenshots don?t really do justice to a game where every wheel and shock can respond to every rock and mud wall. Tyre deformation is included too. It's impressive stuff. The other notable and possibly unique feature is the material-aware deformable terrain. We?ve seen such effects before, but here it?s fundamental to how your vehicles move across the landscape.

Thanks to the modern 3D marvel of geometry shaders, your wheels and chassis will plough through any wet surface material, leaving behind vehicle trapping ruts. Deformation is not just restricted to dirt materials.

Water traps such as marshland, ponds and rivers will ?boil? as you thrash your wheels trying to find some purchase against the muddy bottom. This is all technically-impressive stuff. Each rut or boulder will affect the balance of your vehicle. If you?re carrying loose loads such as logs there?s potential for everything to tip over, pulling you with it.

The game visuals have a consistent eastern bloc green colour tone. Where many games seem to be using one popular 3D engine or another, this one manages a look all of its own.

The game mechanics, in comparison, are fairly straightforward: a simple sandbox-type game featuring a few objective-based missions on a number of different maps. Once you?ve selected a map you are positioned at a Garage location and a list of truck options. Consult the map to learn what the first objective might be.

For example - ?Deliver 8 supplies of xxxx to this position?. Study the route, what might be needed and select a suitable truck from the Garage. You can customise a vehicle when inside a garage's control radius. Once you?re happy with your configuration it?s off into a wet unforgiving forest landscape, criss-crossed with a few well-travelled muddy tracks.

Finding your way to an objective is a challenge. Actually, driving more than 300 yards without getting stuck is a challenge. The only reliable navigation-aid you have is the ?power of looking?. You can also set a compass direction by clicking on the map (more on this shortly) which is enough to be useful, while at the same time frustrating since travelling in a direct line anywhere is almost impossible. But herein lies the challenge of the game.

When you begin a new session, the 3D map is obscured by ?cloaking zones? which are only removed when you drive to the centre of that zone. Nobody has invented printed maps it seems. It?s an interesting gameplay conceit, just a bit of a clunky one. A more traditional fog-of-war might have been better. Since you have no means to make any strategic decisions since you don?t know where any of the roads are, you can only make tactical driving decisions which will often result in taking wrong turns or crashing down a hill only to get stuck in a muddy swamp.
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