I may have been gaming for most of my life, but time is no longer on my side. Finding an hour to devote to a video game is rare. Finding an hour to tuck in and try a game that is completely new? That’s both rare and precious… but I do it for you, dear reader. For you.
It’s been a loooong couple of weeks in the real world. Family stresses and security related stuff, the election and other nagging politics, professional re-configurations, running flux, and some wandering health hiccups. These things eat up your time and energy, particularly when they all mush together like that.
Plus, apparently I’m competing for television & gaming time with an eight-year-old these days, so… there’s that.
So, you likely no longer require a more serious attempt at an answer when you inevitably ask me this: why did I install a game called “Spintires” onto my Steam box and opt to spend a solid, mindless hour trying to explore the free-roaming, seemingly-objectiveless open-world of off-roading mayhem that is this game: Why? I’ll tell you why. It was pure therapy. Mindless, mud-filled, chaotic therapy.
To be fair, and in retrospect, at the suggested retail of thirty bucks this game would have been worth the hour-worth of therapy it provided me, sitting on my couch and continuing the button configuration war with my new Steam Controller, even if it did crash out on my twice while streaming over the network (I’m going to blame the button config again here!) Yet, since I paid a fraction of that, thanks to this game being part of a Humble Bundle, I don’t think therapy comes much cheaper… at least not legally.
The one-liner on the sales site pitches this game thus:
Take responsibility of operating large all-terrain Soviet vehicles and venture across the rugged landscapes with only a map and compass to guide you. Explore the levels and unlock portions of the map whilst discovering new trucks, fuelling stations, garages and lumber mills.
And I suppose that must be true, that promise of adventure and exploration and doing pretend real work from the virtual confines of a soviet-era big wheeler, but in my hour with the game something became very clear to me.
See, I was acutely aware that there was an actual 4×4 vehicle sitting in my garage, not ten feet below where I was camped on the couch playing this very game, a vehicle more than capable of many of the off-roading type adventures I was simulating in this little game. I was also acutely aware that with only an hour of starting this game, I had completely ruined three imaginary vehicles by taking them off-road, sometimes very literally.
You know those driving games that we all like? They span a wide gamut of realism. Something like MarioKart is insanely forgiving. You can drive over an obstacle and you do a little spin and then you press the gas and whiz-bang your off and back into the race. I used to play a game called Gran Turismo and that was much less forgiving than Mario’s race. If you drifted off the asphalt and hit some rougher road, you might spin out or flip the car, then the screen would go black for a second and you’d feel like a bad driver, just temporarily though, as the race continued with you reset on the track.
Spintires is not like that. It is trying to be as real as possible with respect to driving through a land that has seemingly never yet invented that magical and smooth surface we take for granted: a road.
It boasts something called deformable terrain, which is gamer-geek speak for “you can wreck everything.” And this includes the ground. Which is sloppy and wet, mostly composed of the digital equivalent of that goopy mud where you risk loosing your shoe to be later uncovered by archaeologists a million years in the future if you step too close. Your tires slip and slide through this, usually nudging up against hidden boulders which either give you a bit of traction, or cause you to completely stick and spin.
I tried to avoid a mud pit, and within about ten seconds my little 4×4 jeep-type vehicle was barrel-rolling down the side of a hill, like a four-year-old on ice cream, with the warning flashing at me that my engine had stalled.
I started again with a new car, drove down what seemed like a promising path, destroying about a hundred thousand dollars worth of virtual new growth forest in the process (because you can drive right over trees, of course) and found myself sliding on the slippery mud into a river. Unable to go backwards, even gunning the engine, I attempted to ford it.
This, as it turns out was a bad idea, and a few minutes later my little soviet-jeep knockoff was floating downstream and billowing great clouds of black smoke into the pristine natural air.
At this point I’d been playing for a little less than thirty minutes, my wife (from where she was watching from nearby on the couch with a mix of confusion and amusement) was not-so-subtly alluding to the fact that, no… I was not actually allowed to take the Tacoma off-roading anytime soon.
That, I suppose, is a completely different kind of therapy.
Find me on Steam, username 8r4d.