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Expeditions: A MudRunner Game

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Genre: Racing
Publisher: Focus Entertainment
Developer: Saber Interactive
Release Date: March 5, 2024


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PC Review - 'Expeditions: A MudRunner Game'

by Cody Medellin on Feb. 29, 2024 @ 9:00 a.m. PST

Expeditions: A MudRunner Game is a new entry in the series that will push the boundaries of the MudRunner franchise’s iconic off road experiences.

Simulation games can be broken down into two distinct categories: parody and realistic. Parody-style titles like Surgeon Simulator and Totally Accurate Battle Simulator present all types of situations and play it out for laughs with ridiculous physics and objectives. Realistic titles like Euro Truck Simulator 2 and Microsoft Flight Simulator treat the subject with reverence and accurately play out how difficult and involved the particular task is. Spintires fell into the latter category, as you navigated Russia with various off-road vehicles, and its unusual sandbox nature gained a following. It was followed by MudRunner, and a franchise was born with the follow-up, SnowRunner. Expeditions: A MudRunner Game is the latest release for the series, and while the focus is very different from its predecessors, it doesn't stray too far from the addictive formula.

Like its predecessors, Expeditions doesn't come equipped with a story, but it does have a very basic premise. You are a driver for Expeditions, a company that does odd jobs for people and organizations both private and public. The one thing connecting all your clients is their need to accomplish the tasks using off-road vehicles, which is where your group comes in.

For those unfamiliar with games of this type, Expeditions is a driving simulator where you must consider your environment as well as the intricacies of your chosen vehicle. Just driving fast is a surefire way to get stuck, since there are no paved roads. You'll be driving through mud, rocks, cliffs, and bodies of water, among other things. The game is very serious in its simulation — and not just because of its accurate off-road physics. It has you do things as mundane as disengaging the parking brake to drive and paying attention to the fuel gauge. That last part is important, as you can also control things like tire pressure and shifting between drive modes on the fly, all of which govern your fuel consumption at that moment.

You can take control of a few vehicle types, like a standard 4x4 scout, a general off-road truck, and a larger truck capable of carrying heavy cargo. You can take one vehicle, or you can take a small fleet, and you can switch between them on the fly to take on any task. There are also a wide variety of tools for each job, depending on how many equipment slots are available in the vehicle. Your winch is still available, but you can also carry portable winch anchors to pull yourself up or rappel down steep inclines. Jacks can overturn your vehicle if you end up with the roof on the ground. Binoculars can help spot distant areas, and remote-control drones let you do the same thing from a higher elevation. Metal detectors can be used to find resources, and depth detectors can help determine the depth of a body of water so you don't run the risk of flooding your engine. You can carry spare gas cans to fuel up on the go and spare parts to repair any damage to the vehicle from hitting rocks the wrong way or tumbling from a cliff. It's a wider toolset than before, which provides a bit more versatility, especially when trying to get out of a jam. It's at the cost of worrying about driving carefully, which is what the older games concentrated on.

The tasks are much more varied. You may start off with a few tutorial tasks that teach you about the game mechanics and new tools, but it doesn't take long to start doing more exciting stuff. Some missions have you retrieving things, like a recording box from a downed plane. Others have you rescuing other trucks or retrieving dead vehicles and towing them back to the base. One task may have you trying to find old dinosaur bones, old tombs, and other ancient artifacts. Overall, they're different enough to give fans of the previous games more incentive to jump in beyond the new environments and tools.

All of this comes together in distinct areas that are large in scope and comparable to the previous game, SnowRunner. There are plenty of areas to explore, and you will use your drone and binoculars to uncover everything before driving out to explore the areas in more detail. The game gives you plenty of reasons to explore nooks and crannies, as there are often secret vehicle upgrades along with side missions, like visiting beautiful vistas. Colorado comprises the smaller of the areas, as it mainly houses tutorial missions, but the larger Carpathian Mountains and Arizona desert are enough to keep explorers busy for quite some time.

The general slower pace of the game and lack of overall speed creates a calmer driving experience. The lack of a mission timer reduces the need to speed up to finish missions quickly. While you can go through a full day and night cycle to finish a mission, for example, it still pays out the same as if you finished the same mission in five minutes. The slower pace allows for smaller triumphs, like getting over a steep hill, to be more meaningful. That also means failures can be frustrating and funny to experience. The spot-on physics never make you feel like the game is cheating you out of a clean win, and the relaxed pace of each mission encourages you to take risks to uncover more secrets on the map, versus aiming for only the main mission. It's a game for the patient player, which is very welcome since there are so few games like this on the market.

There is more to Expeditions than just driving, though. You are running a business, and that means taking on contracts that pay well. While the money can still be used to buy more trucks and their subsequent upgrades, you'll be able to invest in better facilities to house more items and outposts to stock up on supplies or store them without traveling to the main base headquarters. You can also hire contractors to give you some buffs for the mission. Some give you bonus cash, provided you meet secondary objectives like completing the job without taking on too much engine damage. Others provide extra tools or reduce the amount of damage taken by the car.

While the business aspect could've dampened the fun factor, that isn't the case. Unless you drive recklessly, it's nearly impossible to render your operation bankrupt. Aside from truck recovery being free, a good chunk of the tools you can equip are also free, so coming out on the losing side of a contract is also very difficult. It is still another factor to consider for a mission, but it is never so important that it overshadows the general thrill of the overall driving experience.

There are a few minor nitpicks with this title. There are some missions that ask you to perform a task next to the base, but they start you so far away that it takes time to realize that you need to warp back to the base if you aren't fond of using the map. Speaking of which, the warp option is nice to get out of sticky situations, but the game seems to depend on it to quickly complete a mission. You can go straight for a valuable item and warp back instead of manually driving back. The warp feature is optional, but you must fight the urge to use it since it's free. Finally, the game still suffers from the issue of locking out certain upgrades even if you have the funds because you haven't passed enough missions to unlock the upgrades. Considering how difficult the game is, removing a game barrier like this would've been helpful.

The developers have clocked the campaign at roughly 100 hours, which is believable considering how long the missions can get based on your travel speed. Co-op play is coming at some undisclosed date, but perhaps the real draw for the game is the built-in mod support. Modding is hosted by instead of Steam Workshop, and while there's nothing there during the review period, past support for SnowRunner gives one hope that the modding scene will be just as robust.

For the most part, the presentation is good. The rocky terrain of Colorado and the Arizona deserts and the forest of the Carpathian Mountains looks great, with lots of detail on the rocks and trees and dirt. Coupled with the same type of attention paid to the water and mud from before, and the environments really stand out positively. The vehicles also look nice, even when you start to damage them heavily. The smoke that appears when you start to drive is less impressive-looking. The sound is where things falter a bit. The sound effects of your car engines are fine, but the music is generic, even if the instrumental country rock fits thematically. The game also lacks voices, which is disappointing when some missions contain a decent amount of radio chatter.

Steam Deck users will be glad to know that the game runs on the device, but you'll need to do some tweaking to achieve a nice balance with performance and battery life. The game runs at the device's native 1280x800 resolution but does so with saved settings from the last device. If you selected Ultra on every option for your main PC, for example, that means the Steam Deck will try to run the game on everything on Ultra as well. On the Deck, the result isn't that bad, as the game fluctuates between 45-55fps, but the game's slower pace makes this feel fine. Battery life, however, takes a big hit, as you'll barely reach two hours on a full charge on the original version of the Steam Deck. Dialing in better settings for the Deck and locking down the frame rate would do wonders in terms of being able to squeeze more battery life from the game.

Like its predecessors, Expeditions: A MudRunner Game is for a specific type of player who wants a driving game instead of a racing game. The player must enjoy messing around with the intricacies of off-road vehicles and doesn't mind experiencing every driving mishap possible. Expeditions isn't a game for everyone, but for those looking for something different from the norm, it's well worth a shot.

Score: 8.0/10

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