There's a good game somewhere in the marrow of Impact Winter.
Mojo Bones' new "survival RPG adventure" is gorgeous, and it looks like the developers' most ambitious venture yet. Unfortunately, it's pockmarked with a considerable amount of issues.
Before I get to the complaints, let's talk about the game. So, what is Impact Winter? Wikipedia tells us that it's a "hypothesised period of prolonged cold weather" that might result from an asteroid colliding with Earth. And that's precisely what happened here. You're Jacob Solomon, the leader of a ragtag group who must survive the aftermath of such a catastrophe.
At the beginning of Impact Winter, you receive a mysterious radio transmission, telling you that rescue will arrive in 30 days. That's an entire month in the post-apocalyptic ice. It's a rough job, but you're the only one who can do it.
Following a stilted tutorial, you're set free to do whatever it takes to ensure the survival of your little group. This, of course, involves the usual assortment of chores: scavenging for food, water, flammable material, crafting components. Fortunately, the town of Nelson is rife with such commodities.
You're not alone in this endeavour. There's Blane, a curmudgeonly old man who'll teach you tricks on how to survive. Christophe, who'll obsess about your little robot buddy, providing upgrades and new uses for the drone. Wendy, a kind-faced grandmother, who'll cook up all the supplies you bring back, devising dishes at your command. And Maggie, who builds and repairs just about everything else.
Initially, they're largely passive, requiring you to supply them with both instructions and rations. But as you progress and unlock 'Roles' you'll be able to have them take a more active, er, role in their own survival, although that might come at the expense of their own health as every 'Role' comes with a positive and a negative trait. Needless to say, you'll need to balance these while sorting out what works best.
Rescue Points, on the other hand, are less controversial. You accrue them by finishing quests, putting your commune to work, discovering points of interest, and so forth. What makes them so interesting is their function in the game. Rescue Points lower the countdown timer to your salvation. Which is great but also realism-breaking. I'm not particularly bothered by the mechanic, but I found that it took away from the sense of desperation.
What I've enjoyed most about Impact Winter is hunting for supplies, and stumbling through the game's many instances of ambient storytelling. For example, there was the first house I ransacked. It was late - inside, the home was threadbare, silent. A frozen body lay on its side on a wooden bed frame. Quietly, almost apologetically, I dug through the cabinets, feeling like the thief that I was. But the owner would have wanted this, wouldn't they? To help another survivor get through the night.
By the time I was done, it was morning again and I exited to see a banner I'd missed before. It had only one word:
Impact Winter is best when it is being quiet like that.
This is assisted, of course, by its understanding of snow. It is immensely satisfying to trudge through the blizzard outside of the church's warm confines. Jacob leans into every motion, elbows pumping. He doesn't saunter. He wades through that freezing wasteland, every step crunching into the snow.
Outside of structures, the winds moan like something tortured, too tired to scream. Motes of snow wisps endlessly across our screen, while condensation builds on the lens through which we look down on this devastated version of earth. And when night comes, when the world transforms into blue-edged shadows and flickering light, it's hard not to shudder in sympathy.
Like I intimated in the beginning, Impact Winter could be great. I enjoy survival games, and I enjoy the idea of keeping a little group alive while preserving the vital functions of my own character. But Impact Winter has problems.
Some of them are mild enough. As you venture through the desolation, you'll encounter opportunities to undertake quests from strangers, all of whom look nearly identical to one another. Most of them will either ask you for something, or ask that you get something from a specific location. None of their requests are very interesting. The objectives that your fellow survivors provide are slightly more intriguing, with requests to set out rat traps or acquire firmware to upgrade Jacob's little robot buddy. But again, there is little compelling about the human interaction here.
The lack of a compelling narrative isn't a deal-breaker in a survival-oriented game, however. Inadequate controls, on the other hand, are. At launch, the bugs in Impact Winter rendered it nearly unplayable. Some menus could only be navigated with certain keys, some buttons would only work if you mash them vigorously enough. More than once, I've had to quit to the main menu because Jacob got himself stuck in the landscape. One of these occasions involved a mailbox.
Fortunately, the latest patch has resolved at least a few of these problems and it looks like Mojo Bones has a plan for tackling the rest of them. Regardless, Impact Winter isn't where it should be yet. Load times still go up to 45 seconds. NPCs are sometimes described as [NPC NAME] in pop-up notifications. There's a grandfather clock I can't quite inspect because my characters keeps exiting the building for no good reason. It's been about 20 game days, and I'm still stuck on a character quest. I need to build a furnace but I can't because there are wolves in this one cave, and no matter what I do, shooting them feels like an exercise in glitch-related futility.
I like Impact Winter. A few patches into the future, I might even love the game. But for now, it is buggy, beautiful, frustrating, improving by the update, but ultimately one of those titles you'll want to leave in the freezer until the developers are done cooking up their fixes.