As you can probably tell from the name, Expeditions: A MudRunner Game is an extension of MudRunner and SnowRunner’s uniquely slow-paced brand of off-road driving simulation. These open-world trucking sims turn their swampy sandboxes into complex puzzles that will suck your hapless trucks into their boggy bowels if you make a bad decision, or overestimate the capabilities of your vehicle. The core of Expeditions is different – shelving the heavy trucking aspect and focusing instead on navigation and exploration – but the spirit is the same. That is, stay upright, don’t get stuck, and if in doubt, winch your way out.
After a few hours with Expeditions, it’s clear that this spin-off hasn’t strayed far from the MudRunner/SnowRunner wheelhouse. It feels and looks largely the same, the controls are mostly unchanged, and it’s underpinned by the same physics-based, deformable ground materials. Thick mud slops around the struggling tyres. Water ripples and churns as engines vibrate and wheels spin beneath the surface. It remains great stuff.
However, Expeditions carves its own path when it comes to its objectives. While scouting in smaller vehicles is something both MudRunner and SnowRunner support, they’re mostly about moving bulky cargo and building materials from facility to facility with the toughest trucks this side of Tonka. The handful of missions I’ve played in Expeditions indicate a shift away from that.
Expeditions still casts us as experienced, off-road truckers, but here we’re part of a research team as opposed to a dedicated trucking company. So far in Expeditions I’ve spent my time delivering scientific equipment, discovering new sites and effective routes, and rescuing drowned trucks that have conked out following unsuccessful water crossings. Mission selection and preparation seems a little more approachable here than it is in the likes of SnowRunner, which is probably indicative of Expeditions’ aim to serve as an entry point into the series for new players. It’s certainly feasible that there’ll be folks who find themselves engaged by Expeditions as a technical driving sim with a clearer list of objectives, who may not have necessarily been attracted to the time-consuming, heavy hauling aspect of the main games in the past.
There are three maps in Expeditions – Colorado, Arizona, and Central Europe’s Carpathian Mountains – and they’re already distinct from the environments of MudRunner and SnowRunner by being noticeably more untamed. That is, while the environments of its predecessors felt like sparsely populated rural areas after several weeks of bad weather, Expeditions is more frontier-like. How do you get over this mountain? You figure it out. Will your truck be able to climb out of this creek bed? Sure hope so! It’s a feeling that may fade after more time in the environments but, for now, I’ve enjoyed the uncertainty.
It appears we’ll come across hints of previous travellers – like jury-rigged totems that, say, indicate the best route down a rocky hillside – but otherwise there’s an effective feeling that you and your team are alone out in the wilderness.
There are some new tools to tackle that wilderness in Expeditions, including a jack you can use to recover from overturning, and anchors that can be sunk into the ground to provide winch points when there aren’t any trees within range. There’s also a drone we can use to scout the area ahead, plus a device to assist river fording that charts the depth of water around vehicles with coloured spikes.
Expeditions also introduces the ability to control your tyre pressure on the fly, allowing us to extract even more grip out of them in the toughest rock climbs and slipperiest mud. There’s a visual change for tyres when you release air, too; the wheels drop and the sidewalls bulge under the weight.
It’d be fair to be concerned about Expeditions if it represented a permanent pivot away from the traditional theme of the series, but positioned as a complementary experience to the excellent SnowRunner (as opposed to a replacement) it shows a lot of promise.
Be ready to get stuck into Expeditions: A MudRunner Game in early March.
Luke is a Senior Editor on the IGN reviews team. You can chat to him on Twitter @MrLukeReilly.