Something curious happened over the weekend: a game called 'Spintires' rose through the Steam charts, eventually becoming the top-selling game on Steam for a few days. Right now, as of this writing, it's number two. One thing lots people, myself included, couldn't help but asking was: why?
What is it about this game that makes it so compelling to people? Where did it even come from? To get at the heart of these questions, let's talk about what Spintires is for a second.
Spintires is a hardcore, all-terrain simulation: it tasks you with driving cargo through awful, super muddy Russian roads with nothing but a map and a compass. Ideally, you transport your cargo without spending too many resources (like fuel) or without banging up the truck too much. You can play it solo, or you can play it with friends. The developers, Oovee Games, are from the UK and have worked on games such as Halo.
Here's a trailer for Spintires, if you're curious:
Here's the thing. Driving through roads isn't so easy when you have to take into consideration physics, mud, terrain deformation, day/night cycles, and realistic driving controls. This is the first thing you see when you boot the game up:
(Expand the image if you're having trouble reading the text.)
Yup. The first time I tried the game, I got stuck in the mud within seconds of driving. It's almost downright hilarious how difficult it is to do simple things like driving straight; you can't just press "forward" on your keyboard or gamepad. You have to take all the conditions around you into consideration. And even small things like watching mud clump around your tires or trying to push your truck through water are weirdly mesmerizing. In this game, mud rules everything around you.
If you haven't been following the game, Spintires' rise through Steam might seem like overnight success. That's not actually the case: the game raised $82,684 on Kickstarter last year. Clearly, it has a dedicated userbase—which is only expanding now that it has become a best-seller and a topic of discussion.
Folks on YouTube have also been hyping it up for the past year—currently, there are videos with millions of views, all about Spintires. YouTubers can work wonders for making a game hugely popular.
We've also been covering it, somewhat amused that something with realistic mud physics exists. Both of these things have raised some awareness about the game.
To me, the game proves that driving doesn't have to be about speed and thrills to be interesting—like Glitchhikers, it's a more meditative type of driving game. Being attentive, methodical and patient are key to navigating through the game. Also, maybe this is a weird thing to praise, but I can't get over the mud in this game. It's your number one nemesis, as well as the thing everyone seems fascinated by.
But don't take this from me. Here's a small selection of what people on Steam have to say about the game:
Spintires is certainly not a game for everyone, but I feel that some people who don't get it might be thinking about Spintires all wrong. Spintires' success isn't really so strange and outlandish: it's emblematic of the wide number of experiences that PC gaming fosters. One week, a big triple-A game might be the new hotness. Another day, it might be a survival horror game made by 4 people. Another day, it might be a game about trying not to get stuck in mud in Russia. This quirkiness is exactly what makes PC gaming so great. There's a game for everyone, no matter how niche your interests might be. Frankly, it's stuff like Spintires that keeps PC gaming weird and wonderful.