Impact Winter Review (PS4)
Impact Winter is an open-world survival game that takes place in the aftermath of a catastrophic asteroid collision that has devastated the Earth and blotted out the sun (the titular Impact Winter). You play as Jacob Solomon, the leader of a small group of survivors hiding out in an abandoned church while outside a seemingly permanent snowstorm rages. After receiving a mysterious radio transmission promising rescue, your mission is simply to survive for 30 days until help arrives.
It's a simple premise that comes with some fairly good production values. The game’s art style is quirky but colourful, reminiscent of late 90s Final Fantasy games, and some decent weather and environmental effects hammer home the bleakness of the situation. This is complemented by an ambient soundtrack that (perhaps not unintentionally) evokes Ennio Morricone’s soundtrack to The Thing.
That’s the good. The gameplay on the other hand is a bit of a mixed bag.
As a survival game Impact Winter immediately invites comparison to This War of Mine. Both rely heavily on a delicate interplay of resource management, exploration and crafting systems. But where This War of Mine works by combining these systems with clever writing that forces the player into making desperate, morally grey decisions, Impact Winter feels rather less urgent by comparison.
After a brief introduction, which also serves as the game's tutorial – you are quite literally pushed out into the cold and left to your own devices. From this point, the game is a mixture of exploration and resource gathering, both to keep your characters in good health but also to feed the games crafting system.
Each of the NPC survivors in the church has a different set of skills that can be used to produce a variety of crafting items. Blane is the go-to guy for survival gear that can help Jacob survive in the wilderness, a sort of bearded, grey-haired Bear Grylls (which kind of makes you wonder why all the foraging has been left to Jacob). Maggie is an engineer who can improve the church and make it more hospitable and secure, while Wendy is the cook/doctor who produces food items and medical supplies. Finally, there’s Christophe the tech guy whose sole purpose seems to be to repair and upgrade Akko-Light, a small flying robot (not unlike the Probe Droid from Empire Strikes Back) that follows Jacob on his expeditions.
Each of these characters’ skills can be improved by completing fetch quests which allow them to produce more items, while also awarding you with Rescue Points (RP) which reduce the rescue clock and bring the characters closer to being rescued.
The trouble is, none of these missions are all that interesting and beyond being able to craft a better campfire, there isn’t much incentive to follow the rather sparse narrative. Consequently, the game can feel a little unfocused, at least in the early stages.
Exploration is fun though. As soon as you leave the church and head out into the snow you pick a direction and start walking. The game provides you with a basic minimap which points out nearby points of interest, these could be anything from travelling NPCs, radio masts abandoned vehicles to fully explorable structures, and there is a tangible feeling of discovery when you find something new. Exploration in Impact Winter is an organic process where you learn to orient yourself by landmarks in the game world and its easy to get sidetracked when you find a new location or sidequest.
You discover quite quickly that careful inventory management in the game is critical, as until you craft the relevant upgrade you can’t carry that many items. Even then it’s a bit of a balancing act between the need to carry food/medical supplies to help Jacob survive or access previously inaccessible areas of the game world vs. having enough capacity to bring additional items back to the church.
Eventually though fatigue does sets in – in large part because of the lack of mission variety but mostly because the game offers no consequence to anything that you do. Exploration forces you to to selective about what resources you take back to the church but anything you leave behind is still there for you to retrieve on the next trip.
This is really my biggest criticism of Impact Winter – at no point during my time with the game did I feel much of a sense of threat, other than a vague pressure to find the right supplies to stop my characters’ various health indicators from ticking down. Once or twice I ran into a pack of wild dogs which attacked me but each time I was able to get away easily.
Similarly, once you find a location to loot – it’s just a case of opening every box, drawer and cabinet that you can and looting it for supplies. You will rarely encounter anyone while you’re doing this – aside from the odd NPC quest giver, who won’t react when you raid the kitchen and steal all the food.
Once again this compares unfavourably with the likes of This War is Mine which offers a much more focused narrative around its exploration mechanics. In that game stealing supplies from other survivors comes at real cost – where you are forced to kill other survivors or steal them in the knowledge that doing so will seal their fate. Impact Winter is a much lighter affair and offers none of this moral complexity, which is shame really as it feels off-kilter to the games art style which does good job of underlining the bleakness of the situation. Occasionally you will find that other NPCs raid the church and steal supplies, but that’s really the extent of it and it feels very much an afterthought.
The original PC version of Impact Winter shipped with some pretty serious technical issues. For the PS4 version, these seem to have been resolved but barring a few graphic glitches like character models clipping through each other I didn’t experience any game breaking bugs. There are some annoyances however. For one loading times are a bit longer than they should be, but the main issue for me is that the game is very text heavy and playing on a console it’s quite difficult to read on a TV screen from a few feet away. It’s clearly a port of a PC game that hasn’t been optimised for console players.
The developers of Impact Winter have created a solid survival game with a unique art style that will appeal to a certain type of player. But whether you enjoy it will really depend on how much you enjoy the micromanagement of the games’ systems and can forgive its limited narrative and repetitive grind. For my money – there is better out there.