Survival games are a dime a dozen these days, especially on Steam and PC. The basic premise is always the same; you're stuck or lost somewhere and you need to stay one step ahead of natural dangers — starvation, hypothermia, and so on — as well using home-made tools to improve your lot and keep deadly enemies at bay.
Stepping into that particular genre and trying to make a fresh impression is a difficult move to make right now, but Impact Winter
is bravely stepping into the cold. Fusing in-vogue survival mechanics with traditional RPG elements, not to mention a small amount of Sims
-like people management, Mojo Bones' ambitious looking title finds its own voice almost immediately.
The demo started quite appropriately with a cold opening; in the ruins of an old church, several chilly looking adults cluster around a robotic device that informs them that help is coming in 30 days. By degrees, we learn that these individuals are clinging to life some time after a devastating asteroid impact has left Earth in the throes of an interminable winter. The central cast are genuinely surprised by the news that rescue is not only possible, but imminent; naturally in a game that positively oozes a John Carpenter style sense of unease, I was immediately suspicious of this so-called "help", not to mention the motives of the group and the resident AI.
The character models have a spindly marionette look that lends the game a unique character but also reminds you of their fragility. The playable character is the gruff, bearded Jacob Solomon. My first tasks provided a short tutorial on the game's various survival and RPG mechanics, as well as the rest of the cast. Gadget expert Christophe's tasks introduced me to Ako-Light, the robot and AI that has given the team a dash of hope. The tasks also gave an overview of the ticking clock, counting down the 30 in-game days before rescue. Most interestingly, your completion of tasks and approach to the gameplay can actively reduce the amount of days remaining until rescue.
That's important, because survival is a careful balancing act. As well as venturing out into the cold wasteland for resources, Jacob needs to carefully manage the daily routines of the other survivors in the camp. It's not quite a Sims
level of micro-management, something the developer was quite keen to avoid. I assigned each survivor a "role" that they performed until I changed it, but thankfully I wasn't responsible for every second of their lives.
"Roles" aren't quite the same as typical jobs as we know them; one of my first tasks was to assign a role to ageing survival expert Blane. I assigned him the role of "Heavy Sleeper", which is effectively Jacob's way of telling him to rest. Each character has a selection of meters that must be topped up, whether that's hunger, thirst, fatigue or morale. Maggie is the engineer and can aid in Jacob's quest to keep everyone alive through crafting various goods. Wendy is a classic RPG herbalist; she'll teach cooking and is knowledgeable about medicines and wildlife.
After the first night in the church, it was time to head out into the wasteland. Jacob is accompanied by Ako-Light on his travels, while his inventory is a classic pictoral representation, with the graphic of an item taking up a certain amount of squares in the inventory box (a rolled up tent occupies a long horizontal space, while a woodsman's axe takes up a sizeable vertical one). Taking my first steps out into a cold white blizzard was quite unnerving, even a little agoraphobic; there is a mini-map of sorts pointing back to the church but it felt like I could get very lost, very quickly.
Picking no particular direction ahead, I stumbled down a snow bank and came across the skeleton of an old barn; a knapsack containing a few items dangled from a wall strut, so I took those and moved on. Some survival instinct stayed my hand from exploring much further. On my return trip I was rather shocked by the appearance of another character, ghoulishly attired with luminous green night-vision goggles. I was relieved to find that he was a trader as I'd foolishly wandered off without too much in the way of weaponry. The trader offered me a quest of sorts, to find some artifacts that he would consider to be collector's items.
My journey into Impact Winter
sadly drew to a close just after my encounter in the snowy wastes, but it was enough to make me want to keep an eye on its development. Something about the perspective and graphical style of the game really echoes classic JRPGs from the PlayStation era, yet the tone and atmosphere is like a particularly chilly remix of the original Fallout
games. Despite these similarities, the feeling of agoraphobia is unique to Impact Winter
as you step out into the endless white tracks disappearing alarmingly quickly behind you. The ticking clock acts as an excellent slown burn of tension, a palpable mounting pressure even in the first two days of my demo.
Apart from an initial desire to produce a game in the survival genre and hark back in some ways to classic 3D RPGs of the nineties, there have been no direct influences on the game. Instead it's an idea that has expanded dramatically in scope as the game was worked on iteratively. The music in particular definitely reminded me of John Carpenter scares and eighties B-movies in general — unsurprising given that it's all composed and performed by Mitch Murder, one of many pioneers in the synthwave scene and composer of the score to 2015's Kung Fury
With an eclectic mix of genres, an original audiovisual style and a slow burning sense of desperation, Impact Winter
has the makings of a unique entry in the survival genre. It's well worth keeping an eye on ahead of its eventual release. It will be arriving on Steam in May with ports to Xbox One and PlayStation 4 due at some point in the future.