Once again I find myself playing a game just when its sequel is coming out. It’s debatable whether or not this game was fully completed when development on it stopped due to some kind of dispute between the developer and the publisher. Since then they’ve patched things up and are now about to release the sequel but this version hasn’t been updated since. Anyway the tutorials are certainly insufficient and I found it impossible to understand what you’re supposed to do without referring to a fan-made guide online. But content-wise, I think this game is more than adequate and can provides many hours of gameplay provided you are patient enough.
This game is ostensibly about hauling logs from one point to another but that’s just to give some concrete game objectives. But there is a lot more that you need to do on each map before you can get that done. Each map isn’t actually big but they are made difficult to navigate due to a variety of environmental hazards: water, steep slopes, trees blocking routes, even logs on the ground and most of all: mud, mud, mud! Mud is your greatest enemy in the game as your vehicles will constantly get stuck in it, spinning your tires and burning fuel futilely as you desperately search for some way to get unstuck. Thankfully every vehicle comes with a winch with curiously unbreakable lines to help pull it out when it gets stuck and woe befall you if you get stuck in the middle of a mud patch with no trees close enough to attach a line to.
Actually hauling logs is probably at the tail end of a host of other activities you need to do. At the beginning of each game, most of the map is covered by a fog of war so you need to scout out viable routes, usually using a light and nimble vehicle. There are specific spots on the map that are marked as cloaked and visiting each of them with a vehicle uncovers a large portion of the map. Each map also has at least one and usually a few garages. These are places where vehicles can be repaired and reconfigured. Unfortunately usually only one garage is unlocked at the beginning of each game and you need to unlock subsequent ones by sending a suitable transport carrying “garage points” to them. Finally you can unlock more vehicles by driving close to them and there are fuel depots scattered around. Garages do provide some fuel but won’t completely top up your tank and won’t fill up extra fuel tanks either. So fuel depots are where you fill up all your vehicles.
The game offers a casual mode and a hardcore mode. Not being a masochist willing to spend hundreds of hours on this, I opted for casual and it still felt awfully tedious for me. Travel through the dirt and mud is a slow slog at the best of times. In addition to getting bogged down, you have to watch out for tight corners when hauling loads, of the vehicle sinking in an uneven manner into the mud and ending up overturning and much more. At times, it does seem too much like work to be much fun, but there is a great sense of satisfaction when you manage to get things done. It feels great for example when you manage to get a fuel tanker to your truck, then use a powerful vehicle to haul it out of the mud. Some cloaked areas are tricky to get to as well, requiring bravely crashing through trees or judicious use of the winch to reach otherwise inaccessible areas.
There are only six maps in total but I really like how each of them presents distinctive challenges. The River map for example is relatively straightforward save that a large river bisects the map and the primary challenge is figuring out a safe way to traverse it. Naturally fording a fast flowing river in an unloaded vehicle is a lot different than doing it in a fully loaded one. The Hill map features hilly terrain and going up steep slopes when you’re hauling a load is no joke. One map is simply called Plains and you might think it’s a cinch due to all the flat terrain. But it turns out that the way the lumber, the target objective and the fuel depots are placed, you need to follow a fairly circuitous route to haul the logs and most likely require refueling en route with a tanker. The maps look simple but it turns out that there’s quite a lot of thought to how they are laid out.
At the same time this game gives ample reason to feel frustrated. The Flood map for example has large stretches flooded by water so once again you need to carefully pick your way through it. Unfortunately the water also hides submerged logs. Run over one and there’s a good chance that your vehicle will get stuck on it. Since there’s no way to tell where these logs are, it’s all up to luck or trial and error. Similarly it’s also impossible to tell where you might get stuck in mud and where you’ll do okay. I suppose the point is that no matter what trouble you get into, you get yourself out of it by getting another vehicle to come and help out. That’s where things might feel tedious for some people but I suppose others might feel that makes it properly realistic and challenging. I would also have loved to have some stats on the different vehicles. Apparently these are all based on real Russian vehicles. Most people however will never have heard of them so we don’t have an intuitive sense of what each can do. As it is, you’re forced to try each to get a handle of what they can do.
Overall I found this to be more engrossing than I expected. I liked the novelty of it and how it provides a new form of challenge in a videogame and doesn’t involve violence in any way. Still the couple of dozen or so hours I put into it is quite enough to sate my curiosity and I don’t feel a burning need for more of the same. If I have to be driving more trucks through mud or messing around with cranes, I think I’d need to be paid for it.