The great outdoors is a lovely place, but the mental picture drawn of it usually leaves out the water, mud, and other squishy bits that make getting around such a messy proposition. You don’t have to wander far off the beaten path to get mired in an unexpectedly-moist section of ground. Even the actual beaten path itself is prone to areas where boards have to be laid down, because we live on a very wet planet and it doesn’t take much standing water to turn a nice, firm chunk of earth into a deep pit of shoe-destroying ooze. Sometimes the best course of action is to beat the earth into shape with a giant machine of high horsepower and large bouncy tires. Or at least try to, because no matter how tough the vehicle it’s always a fair fight.
Spintires is a game pitting powerful cars and trucks against barely-developed roads, frequently little more than ruts running through the grass and sometimes not even that. The game takes place over four maps, each one an adventure of exploration and log-hauling. Mostly exploration, as you clear out cloaked sections of the map, discover new vehicles and stations, and plot the safest course from the lumber supplies to the shipping area. Once you’ve done all that, though, there’s still the matter of loading down trucks that have already had to wrestle their way through muddy roads, ford shallow sections of fast-flowing rivers, and even cut through the woods. As much muscle as it took to make it through the first time, now they get to do it loaded down with the heavy weight of timber, and that needs planning.
Fortunately there’s a number of vehicles available once you’ve found them, and parts can be switched out at the garage. A fast route directly across the map sounds like a good idea, but some of the trucks suck down the fuel at a ridiculous pace, and that’s before they’re loaded down with cargo and all-wheel drive is turned on. Switching out a crane for a cistern to fill up with gas at a convenient station and posting it at the halfway point simplifies things immensely. You can switch from one vehicle to another at any time, so driving beside the fuel truck, switching over to it, gassing yourself up, and then switching back to continue on your way allows for a far more direct route with less chance of bogging down or tipping over. The roads are not your friend, and they’ll take you down without a second’s warning if you aren’t prepared and careful.
Most of the roads are dirt, with only the rare paved section cutting through the wilderness. Sometimes you find well-packed dirt that the trucks can haul across at full speed, for for the most part the ground is soft and frequently moist, and this causes serious tire-churn as the vehicles sink into the soil. Even turning on all-wheel drive and the differential lock, to force all wheels to turn evenly no matter the condition, isn’t enough to rescue a truck that’s grill-deep in the earth and its tires slinging mud. The earth deformation effect looks great, but it’s also a trap designed to pull you down and never let go. In Casual mode you can just rescue to the garage when stuck, as well as damaged, out of fuel, or tipped over, but Hardcore mode is less forgiving. You’ll need full knowledge of the trucks’ capabilities, including the various add-ons stocked at the garage, if you pass up the more forgiving nature of Casual mode.
Even on Hardcore mode, though, Spintires isn’t a pure sim. It’s more a giant sandbox allowing you to play with a number of overpowered vehicles across large areas of undeveloped land. It leans more towards arcade than sim, more interested in being accessible than overworking the realism. That isn’t to say the developers haven’t done their homework in modeling and getting the right engine sounds, but rather that Spintires is a game that wants people to play rather than work. The great outdoors is big and beautiful, and the maps have plenty of personality and memorable locations, but they’re also the enemy. The inviting gameplay and lovely scenery make it easy to underestimate what an unforgiving bastard the great outdoors can be, but it only takes getting irretrievably stuck a couple of times before that illusion gets shattered. After that it’s time to stomp the scenery flat with the biggest earth-gouging, fume belching trucks Spintires has to offer.