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GAME REVIEW: Impact Winter (PC) – Hot and Cold Survival

"It's more than a little ironic that Impact Winter is a game about struggling to survive against the odds."

Imagine if an asteroid struck the Earth’s surface and created an “impact winter”; essentially an Ice Age of epic proportions in which the world’s temperature would drop, throwing us head-first into a perilous world of relentless snow and biting winds. This is the treacherous premise of Impact Winter, the latest release from Bandai Namco and Mojo Bones.

It’s more than a little ironic that this is a game about struggling to survive against the odds: the game itself has had quite a rocky road to release. Impact Winter began life as a Kickstarter campaign which didn’t manage to make its funding target, and was eventually added to Steam Greenlight, where it was accepted in an impressive three days. The release date for the game has been pushed back several times, but Impact Winter is finally being officially released tomorrow.

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You play through the game as a man called Jacob, a survivor who has sought shelter in an abandoned church with four companions and a robot who intercepts a signal which claims that you will be rescued in 30 days. This sets off an in-game timer, which will be decreased as you level up and gain more knowledge and experience. The more you explore and learn with Jacob, the closer you are to being rescued.

Impact Winter screenshot

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Gameplay is fairly straightforward: you are tasked with things like assigning tasks and rations to your companions, keeping your supplies stocked and your fire lit, and exploring the outside world (“The Void”) to hunt animals and gather supplies. Your companions rely quite heavily on you for things like food, roles and more: their well-being is left almost entirely in your hands.

Whilst I had no real issues with the tasks assigned to me in-game, the one aspect of Impact Winter‘s gameplay that bothered me were the controls: I’m not sure if it was just me not being able to get to grips with the click-and-point/click-and-drag style controls, but I found at times that they were less responsive than I wanted them to be, and also found that the main menu was totally unresponsive on more than one occasion. I spent more than one gaming session clicking the menu options repeatedly to no avail, only being able to access the Options menu, and nothing else.

These issues with controls made it difficult for Impact Winter to be overly immersive, but when they worked well, I had no real problems with the general UI. I thought, however, that there were too many menus and sub-menus, all of which were easy to get lost in while trying to sort out inventory items or assign companion roles. I also had the problem of occasionally getting “stuck” in a room, where the camera wouldn’t move with Jacob, so he was moving outside of my viewable window until an action or command suddenly snapped the camera back onto him.

Impact Winter game

The overarching narrative of Impact Winter is nothing too new or innovative–survival games where you have to “wait out” your time in a potentially hostile environment are numerous–but Impact Winter has a sense of heart when it comes to its characters, and the developing relationships you form with them.

You get to choose “paths” based on the characters you interact with and focus on, and this is where the game’s strengths lay. I presumed Impact Winter would be far more harrowing than it actually is, but a lot of its emotional impact is subtle and requires you to listen to your fellow survivalists and the wider world around you. At first, your companions seem quite basic and stereotypical–an older lady who calls you “dear”, a robot who has all the answers and his geeky scientist handler–but they grow more interesting the further you play. The game is also quite excellent at slowly upping the stakes as time progresses.

For me, the game’s greatest strengths lay within your exploration of The Void: the white, frozen tundra that persists outside the four walls of your church base. There are plenty of objectives here: you’ll meet strangers who’ll ask you to help them out, you’ll gather supplies and discover things like radio masts and abandoned campsites, and you’ll discover a plethora of animals: some food, some foes. Although these tasks do give you something to do amidst the never-ending whiteness, I actually prefer the quieter parts of the exploration, where it’s just me and my robot buddy Ako-Light, trudging through the endless snow.

Impact Winter screenshot

You’ll discover things like old railway lines and abandoned buildings, a poignant reminder that Jacob’s world was once our own. These are my favourite moments in Impact Winter: the quiet moments of reflection as I stand knee-deep in snow, looking upon a world which no longer exists as something to be enjoyed, but endured. The soundtrack by Mitch Murder is a great companion to these areas, with the music falling somewhere between beautiful and ominous as you battle against the odds.

Impact Winter is a fun, engaging game which kept me occupied and made me want to delve deeper into the lives and pasts of both my companions, and the wider world outside of my church haven. However, the messy controls and endless menus within menus pulled me out of the immersive experience I was so desperate to continue.

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