Have you ever driven up an icy hill? One time while we lived in Norwich there’d been a harsh winter and we happened to live at the top of what was the only real hill in the whole city. We’d seen other cars give up trying to make the ascent as their wheels span on the road, swerving and sliding dangerously close to parked cars and streetlights at the side of the road. Suddenly we realised we were in a 4×4. Our other car had been stolen the month before and we’d picked this up as a stopgap because it was ridiculously cheap and seemed like it could be fun. On the gear selector there was a lever to switch it into four wheel drive and then, like magic, we had traction. The car sprang to life and drove up that hill without a care in the world. People on the path were genuinely amazed at how well we navigated that 100ft road and we felt glorious. Spintires has done an impressive job of capturing that same feeling.
If you’re anything like us, when you load Spintires you’ll quickly work out how to shift gears (not sure if being in the UK helps out with this as we tend to learn in a manual) and then you’ll speed off into the woods in your trusty little utility vehicle and immediately get stuck in a foot or so of mud. You’ll marvel at how realistically the mud surrounds your tires, how authentic the struggling engine noises are, how accurate the feeling of frustration and hopelessness is. But then you’ll discover the real game, you’ll start thinking logically about how to get out. Switch into a lower gear, maybe you’ll back out if there’s some cleared ground behind you, maybe you’ll use the sheer strength of the engine to push your way out, but you’ll feel like it was an accomplishment.
Spintires echoes Skate in many ways. It’s less about flashy vistas and epic adventures, it’s about perfecting a very physical and mechanical skill and then taking pleasure in solving problems. Once you’ve worked out how to use the smaller vehicles you’ll be able to explore the area and set yourself challenges. How quickly can you get through those woods? How far can you launch into the air? Can you get around a self-set circuit without getting stuck? How deep can you go into mud and then manage to get out again? It’s all enthralling and can easily consume hours at a time as you create and complete task after task. Once you’re done and satisfied with the performance of the first vehicle, you can drive over to another and start the process again. the larger trucks can use cranes to load and transport logs, creating more problems and difficulties as you deal with shifting weight and creating a real sense of purpose as you begin some kind of Sawmill logistics simulator. Whereas you can sometimes solve tipping problems in other vehicles, tip too far in the transport truck and you’ll be dropping logs all over the place.
Graphically it’s a mixed bag, at times it looks quite impressive but it’s clear that’s not where the focus has been. The physics take a key role so slightly jagged looking edges and some ugly textures abound. Things tend not to look so nice close up and the environment lacks variation. That being said for an indie game it’s certainly no slouch and the visuals are far more than functional. The UI, similarly can look pretty rough but it does the job of giving you the information you needd. This is not an AAA title and this is reflected clearly in the presentation. This is a simulator first and foremost.
Spinties is not a typical game, but it is a very well executed one. The developers have been clear about their ambitions, they’ve been able to focus and they’ve managed to create something that’s unique, compelling and polished. Of course whether or not you’re going to enjoy a ‘getting stuck in the mud’ simulator will depend entirely on your interests and personal taste. But if you’ve got a love for engines, off-roading and challenges it’s well worth your time and money.