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Expeditions A MudRunner Game review: an off-road adventure on a vast scale

You won’t be breaking any speed limits, but the physics simulation’s impressive

Published: 01 Mar 2024

There’s a supply crate at the top of the mountain ahead of us, just the other side of the river. To make it down there onto the river bank we’ll need to baby our flatbed truck down a slalom of jagged rocks that look thirsty for petrol and ready to rip our fuel tank open to get their fix.

Then it’ll be a simple matter of pinging our short-range radar across the water to find a depth that doesn’t swallow us into the wet stuff, winch our way across using a handy (and improbably sturdy) tree, and then let down our tyre pressure and engage the diff lock to climb a nearly sheer mountain face.

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We’re a long way from Gran Turismo out here. Come back to us, Apricot Hill. We’re scared.

Expeditions: A MudRunner Game doesn’t care how many braking points you’ve memorised and it takes no heed of the daring overtaking manoeuvres in your armoury. Like its predecessors SnowRunner and MudRunner, this is most defiantly not a racing game. Instead, developer Saber Interactive specialises in a sort of vehicular puzzle game, where wild, inhospitable terrain provides the puzzles. It’s a character study of hardy offroad 4X4s and flatbed trucks, where you will absolutely never reach 30mph, and that’s alright.

The big idea in this game is the titular expedition. You hop in a truck and carve out a path in one of several impressively vast open world maps, ranging from Colorado’s mountains and desert plains to Arizona’s - er, mountains and desert plains, and the Carpathian mountains in Europe for good measure. Loaded up with equipment and an adventurer’s spirit, you go off in search of resources and tick off objectives along the way.

Now between us, the nature of those objectives almost always boils down to driving up to a box and grabbing whatever’s inside it to put in your own inventory, so there’s some degree of imagination required here. But that doesn’t particularly limit the enjoyment of trying to tame a completely undriveable chunk of terrain.

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And as your experience ticks up, expeditions get a bit more advanced, to the degree that you start building bases of operations out there in the wild. It’s like parking up to play a bit of Command & Conquer - placing buildings that hold or harvest resources, assigning staff to run them. We’ve yet to unlock the Tesla Coils or attack dogs yet, but with around 100 hours of gameplay throughout the entire campaign there’s still hope…

Expeditions: A Mudrunner Game

You’d probably like to know how the vehicles handle. The answer depends on what you’re doing from moment to moment, because when you’re chewing on the most challenging bits of world map, there’s a really bouncy and convincing simulation of offroad driving going on. Your tyres deform the mud beneath you, your suspension reacts in a satisfyingly springy manner as you navigate rocky sections, and when you slip down into a lower gear, activate the four-wheel drive or the diff lock, you can feel the platform react just as you’d expect it to. Points for all of those things, then.

But when you’re driving over a nice flat, boring bit of tundra, the illusion breaks a little bit. Your vehicle still coughs and splutters its way along, apparently struggling even to reach speeds that would be absolutely fine in a built-up area. It still bounces around like you’ve found one of Colorado’s famous trampoline fields. Fortunately, there’s very little flat boring tundra out there, so this isn’t a big issue.

Eventually, what you start to realise is that Expeditions is a roguelike. It’s not just about navigating harsh landscapes, figuring out which combinations of gearing, tyre pressure and drivetrain is going to get you over the next obstacle. It’s about trying to make each expedition last a bit longer, going a bit further out into the wild and risking being stranded by venturing further in search of supply crates that hold fuel and repair parts.

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That’s where the thrill lies, in the end. Trundling along as fuel-efficiently as possible, trying to eke out a bit more distance, even though you know you should turn back. There’s no other game out there that offers an experience like this. Saber Interactive carved out this niche, and it continues to find new fascinations within it.

Speaking of, there’s co-op functionality here too, and that’s only going to add to the appeal of these huge world maps and the plethora of objectives within them. Co-op wasn’t live at the time of our review, but we’re relishing the idea of divvying up objectives and cultivating the world map as a team. Or, realistically, spending an hour nudging our mates over into the water and then pretending to winch them out, only to detach the line at the last second and let them float away. Anyway - anyone fancy joining us?

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