We’ve all seen disaster movies, where Earth is looking right in the eye of some catastrophic event and humanity typically comes together in order to try to prevent it. Somehow, mankind always seems to pull through and there’s a somewhat happy ending, but that doesn’t means the years following the event are particularly rosy. I mean, it can’t be easy to survive the treacherous aftermath of such a calamitous event – or can it? That’s the question asked by Impact Winter, a survival sim that challenges you to last for thirty days on an Earth that has entered another ice age following a huge hit from an asteroid.
In Impact Winter you step into the shoes of Jacob Solomon; a weary survivor of the disaster who has took shelter within the confines of a deserted church alongside a group of other survivors and a robot named Ako-Light. Whilst any hope of survival seems to be slipping away, Ako-Light intercepts a radio message that suggests help will be coming in thirty days. Thus begins the countdown to rescue, though it’s not going to be an easy wait. With supplies running low, dire conditions to contend with, and treacherous conditions to face in the wild, Impact Winter really pushes your survival skills to the limit. Oh, and if you die that’s it – there are no checkpoints to return to, but instead another fresh attempt at helping Jacob survive this long, cold Winter…
If you’ve played a survival sim before you’ll feel right at home with Impact Winter. You’ll have to look after your fellow survivors, gather supplies, and complete a series of quests, all whilst venturing out into the dangerous unknown. You know, all the usual stuff. It’s a successful replication of the tried-and-tested survival formula though, with Impact Winter getting all the basics right whilst providing a testing experience that’ll put both your survival and item management skills to the test.
However, whilst it’ll feel familiar from a gameplay perspective, Impact Winter has its own unique melancholic vibe that helps it stand out from the rest. The focus on establishing relationships with your companions alongside the frozen setting hooked me in, ensuring that the game offered a more unique experience that differs from other titles in the genre.
Impact Winter has a big emphasis on looking after the well-being of your fellow survivors. Jacob isn’t alone in the church after all – he’s also joined by retired police officer Blane, engineer Maggie, ex-nurse Wendy, and technical genius Chris. Each character has their own tragic tale to be told, though not necessarily because of the asteroid. Some of the survivors had doom and gloom in their life before the event, though that’s something you’ll find out more about as you play the game. It adds a more human element to the experience, with the game’s harrowing tone not placed entirely around the new ice age, but also around people’s lives and the relationship your share with them. It’s certainly worth getting to know your fellow survivors more, if just to learn more about their lives and the hardships they were facing leading up to the disaster.
Each character has their own individual story and quest line that you can complete in-game, showing that Impact Winter isn’t just about ‘surviving’. It makes for a more emotional driven experience and gives the game a lot more personality. There’s also the fact that events change depending on who you focus on helping out the most, ensuring that Impact Winter offers a different narrative experience each time you play it. It certainly adds a silver-lining to permadeath nature of the game, with each playthrough you have feeling completely different to the last.
It’s not just each character’s story that plays a big part in Impact Winter though, but the skills they can offer you. Whilst Jacob is the one who does most of the dirty work in the game, he’ll need the assistance of his fellow survivors if he’s going to see the thirty days through. They all help in their own way though: Blane and Maggie can assist you by helping craft all new items and gear, Wendy helps prepare meals to ensure you’re all kept well-fed and healthy, whilst Chris can upgrade Ako-Light to improve his effectiveness whilst out in the wild. Interacting with each character and completing the tasks they give you increases their effectiveness and skill set too, rewarding the player with a few extra options when it comes to utilising your resources. It might be worth working out whose skills are most vital to you and ensuring that you establish a strong bond with that character to ensure they always have your back.
Between everyone, you certainly have all the skills necessary to survive the thirty days, but it isn’t always as simple as that. You have to look after each individual member of the camp and ensure that their needs are being met. Keeping everyone happy isn’t always easy, especially with such limited resources available. It means making tough choices that won’t please everyone, though what would you expect from a survival sim? You have to try to establish some balance though, otherwise you’ll find your group quickly falling into disarray. An unhappy camp can have some dire consequences, with your fellow survivors taking longer to help you out or even abandoning you. Sometimes the toughest part of Impact Winter isn’t surviving the dire circumstances you find yourselves in, but rather trying to keep everyone happy.
Whilst Impact Winter heavily emphasises the human side of surviving through the cold, you also have your robotic companion Ako-Light to help you out. A lot of your progression in the game actually depends on Ako-Light – as you complete quests and make new discoveries, his signal strength boosts and decreases the time left before you’re found. It encourages discovery in the game, pushing players to explore and uncover as much as they can as a means to advance time forward a bit. He also has other abilities such as providing a light when exploring out in the wild or being able to seek out hidden items, so he’s pretty vital when it comes to survival. He’s not as temperamental as your other companions either, which is always a plus.
One of the highlights of Impact Winter is the world itself. Once you step out into the wild you’ll see a lot of familiar sights, except now they’ve been obliterated by the harsh conditions and absolutely smothered in snow or ice. There are plenty buildings to investigate, vehicles to plunder, abandoned homes full of supplies to retrieve, as well as frozen caves to explore – seriously, the size of the world is impressive, and with such a big emphasis on exploration you really don’t know what you’re going to uncover next. That’s not always a good thing though, especially since there’s a lot of hostility out there. Whilst there are other survivors out in the wild that are more than willing to trade with you or offer you small tasks to complete, there are also plenty of dangers to your life. You’ve really got to be careful when exploring Impact Winter’s world; it’s a dangerous, chilling place, and with so many people depending on you one wrong move can see you and your companions meeting an early, icy grave.
Everything looks fascinating though, with this dreary representation of the world an absolute pleasure on the eyes. It adopts a cartoony style that actually feels fitting despite the desolate tone of the game. The fantastic lighting effects help it create a chilling atmosphere though, especially when exploring the hidden depths of the hauntingly abandoned world. I mean, sure, you’re going to see a hell of a lot of white in the game, but as soon as you uncover one of the many landmarks you won’t be able to help but to be impressed.
It all comes together nicely to make for a gripping, invigorating experience, but Impact Winter does have a few flaws. Firstly, there are a surprising amount of menus to navigate through. Whether it’s managing resources, checking the condition of your companions, or simply trying to find out more about the game – everything seemed to be hidden away under a complicated menu. There were a couple of occasions where the menus wouldn’t close properly either, with a bit of button mashing required to get a response. It wasn’t too common an issue, but it’s something I hope the developers have fixed in time for release.
Admittedly, my issues with this could boil down to the fact that I prefer to use a controller when playing games. If you played with a mouse and keyboard each menu might be easier to navigate, making the experience a lot more streamlined. (UPDATE – Upon investigation, it turns out the mouse and keyboard controls for the game have a lot of issues. Bandai Namco have released a statement stating that these should be fixed in the coming days though.) My choice of using a controller meant I had to deal with clicking through menu after menu just to perform seemingly simple actions though.
The world could feel a little too big at times too, with plenty of drawn out journeys through the snow to be expected. Again, this wouldn’t always be a bad thing, but with a lot of the sights of the game surrounded by a snowy white you were often left with this sense of familiarity. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of impressive sights to be seen in Impact Winter, but when they’re separated by huge fields of white it’s easy to get a little bored of seeing the same things over and over again. It discouraged exploration, especially with the limitation of having to return to the church to look after your companions. Add in some hefty load times and you’ll find that exploring too deep into the world could become a bit tiresome, regardless of how much the actual gameplay mechanics encouraged it.
As a whole, Impact Winter makes for a gripping emotionally-driven survival experience that’s a real treat to play. The frozen world is fascinating to explore, the resource gathering elements are on point, whilst the focus on not only looking after your companions but maintaining strong relationships with them meant that it wasn’t just the dreary conditions you had to be wary of.
Whilst it did have a couple of issues that caused some annoyances, there was nothing about the game that ever felt bad. It hooked me in right from the start, and with the game seemingly offering something new each time you play through it, you’ll find it hard to put the controller down (even if you die again… and again… and again). Whilst it’s not perfect, Impact Winter is certainly an enthralling survival sim that’s definitely worth checking out.
Developer: Mojo Bones
Publisher: Bandai Namco
Release Date: 23/05/2017