In late 2014 indie studio, Mojo Bones took an idea for a brand new survival RPG to Kickstarter. Impact Winter promised huge open world environments, dynamic weather, quests, challenging management systems, meaningful crafting, and a series of non-linear story events. The pitch received Kickstarter’s coveted Staff Pick but barely left any impression. It barely managed around a quarter of the required funding goal, and despite a bleak outlook, the British studio behind the game continued working on their idea. Now, with the help of publisher Namco Bandai, Impact Winter has arrived on PC, with PS4 and Xbox One coming soon. This is our Impact Winter review.
Set in a recognizable near future, the world of protagonist Jacob Soloman is blanketed by cataclysm. Eight years after an asteroid strike, dust and debris continue to choke the atmosphere and an unrelenting blizzard sweeps across the land. The last few vestiges of human civilization claw out of their snowy tombs and the remaining survivors struggle to stave off the elements. Impact Winter opens on one such group, huddled together in the remnants of an abandoned church, as they receive the thinnest possibility of a reprieve. A mysterious signal offers rescue in thirty days.
In order to make it through thirty days, players must manage a decidedly mismatched team of personalities, keep their church safe, and scavenge the winter wastes for supplies. Impact Winter takes a deceptively simple idea, survive, and adds layers of complexity using a number of RPG style systems. Jacob, Maggie, Christophe, Wendy, and Blane all bring distinct personality, skills, and stories of the experience. For example, Maggie Boon, the team’s resident mechanic, is prominent during early sections of the game and uniquely suited to mending broken boilers, fixing furnaces, and crafting defenses for the church. Food, tents, weapons, beds, safes, Ako-Light utilities and water filtration systems are just a few of the items that can be created by various members of your team. While incredibly useful, crafting is not an overly complex affair and generally consists of collecting the correct components, setting a character to work, and waiting. This might seem a little linear but it does provide effective incentive, alongside the game’s narrative systems, to venture outside into the wilderness.
As the churches initially abundant supplies quickly dwindle, Jacob and his Ako-Light companion are forced to search for new sources of food, fuel, and raw materials. Finally stepping out into the cold reveals some gorgeous scenery, created in Unity 3D. Mojo Bones take a bold approach to landscaping and character design that has the aesthetic of a post-apocalyptic graphic novel. Enormous snow dunes cover remnants of the modern age, buildings pop up between the sea of white, shattered highways point towards the next area of interest, and the odd flash of color occasionally reveals something worth investigating. Just, do not attempt this with a keyboard.
A frustrating and generally sub-par keyboard layout and missing key mapping options are already being addressed by Mojo Bones, but for now, do not face the elements without a controller.Johan Bengtsson, who has recently worked on Hotline Miami 2 and Kung Fury, crafts the perfect companion piece to traverse the open world. His soundtrack mixes ambient piano and synthetics sounds, a stark reminder that the vast open environment is populated by one man and his Ako-Light. Equally, the underworld beneath the highways is full of environments to explore. Hidden behind some dreadfully long loading times, which Mojo Bones are working on correcting, buried stores, workshops, and entire neighborhoods lie entombed beneath the frost. Scrambling around deserted streets, pillaging dead automobiles in the gloom is becomes surprisingly eerie with just the glow of the Ako-Light, an oppressive synth bassoon, and the bitter cold for
Johan Bengtsson, who has recently worked on Hotline Miami 2 and Kung Fury, crafts the perfect companion piece to traverse the open world. His soundtrack mixes ambient piano and synthetics sounds, a stark reminder that the vast open environment is populated by one man and his Ako-Light. Equally, the underworld beneath the highways is full of environments to explore. Hidden behind some dreadfully long loading times, which Mojo Bones are working on correcting, buried stores, workshops, and entire neighborhoods lie entombed beneath the frost. Scrambling around deserted streets, pillaging dead automobiles in the gloom is becomes surprisingly eerie with just the glow of the Ako-Light, an oppressive synth bassoon, and the bitter cold for the company.
Hypothermia is just one of the many dangers that threaten to dispatch players before they are rescued. Each of the central cast must fight fatigue, cold, hunger, thirst, lethargy, and boredom to remain healthy. Their six accompanying character stats drain dynamically based on the prevailing situation and require careful management to avoid issues. When Jacob leaves the warmth of the church to scavenge, his temperature can deplete and the risk of hypothermia increases drastically. If his health reaches zero then Jacob will face a solitary death with no hope of rescue. Conversely, if the church is not kept warm then the entire surviving group face an equally depressing scenario. This can be mitigated by careful management of resources, rationing food and fuel to the team, but without careful consideration, it is easy to become stranded as the entire church falls foul of the game’s story event system.
While Impact Winter explores the lives of each survivor through a strong narrative presence, story events are entirely unconnected to this arc. Occurring at any time, some scenarios are easily avoided through careful preparation. Influenza is unlikely to strike a warm well-fed church but some situations, like thieves and wildlife attacks, seem to be consistently unpredictable. Managing the shifting status of your team and reacting to these unscripted events instantly lifts the level of complexity involved in surviving Impact Winter. Characters must be kept fed, watered, busy, and protected while Jacob tries not to get lost.
While Maggie, Christophe, Wendy, and Blane remain in relative comfort, getting Jacob stuck out in the wild is a surprisingly easy mistake to make. Exploring the environment, trading with nomads, and helping fellow survivors rewards players with Rescue Points, a progression based currency that actively reduces the time until rescue. Jacob can craft and carry a variety of utilities to aid him outside, from marker beacons to portable campsites. These provide rest, recuperation, and a mailbox facility to send items back to the church, meaning Jacob can wander far and wide. The Ako-Light can also be enhanced, providing upgraded radar and new tools to tackle the terrain. However, Jacob lacks any form of fast travel. This creates a risk-reward scenario that incentives players to travel further into the wild, but promises to punish them for leaving their group unattended for too long.
Between the narrative content, progression systems, and team management, Impact Winter is far more than a simple scavenging simulator. It still embraces the joy of exploration, but challenges players to balance a multitude of risks. Like many story driven games, replay value can feel somewhat limited by the adherence to a script and the game’s achievement system adds little to this. Despite these niggles, I adored wandering the wilds with Jacob. If you have a hankering for a survival game that has some depth to it and own a controller, then Impact Winter is a solid choice.