Help is coming
Our society is unbelievably preoccupied with the concept of the apocalypse. More specifically, we focus on the concept of life after the apocalypse. Maybe this fascination stems from the idea that, when the basic elements of society fall away, so do the obligations to treat each other according to the social cues upon which our systems are built. Traditional games have played with the idea of the sole survivor, or every-person-for-themselves scenaria. It has expanded in some games, like The Last of Us, with the buddy system, or even Fallout 4 with the idea of building settlements, but it rarely encompasses the entirety of the game. In Impact Winter, the latest release from BANDAI NAMCO Entertainment and Mojo Bones, you must maintain relationships to succeed. Sole survival is cast aside as you, Jacob, trudge through snowdrifts, looking for everything and anything that would ensure that your band of misfits survives.
The storyline is predicated upon the idea that a floating robot, built by another survivor within the shelter of an abandoned church, intercepted a signal with the message that, in thirty days, help is coming. For no reason — other than blind hope, presumably — the group accepts that this must, of course, be true, and a game timer starts. This game mechanic is interesting, and I think one of the stronger elements within the scope of this title. Instead of a traditional experience system which might make it easier to survive, every action and mission undertaken reduces the timer on the thirty-day clock, as well as unlocking various roles that can be assigned to users within the group. Although I am unsure of how exactly help will now arrive sooner simply because I’ve picked a hard lock in a basement of a buried townhouse, who am I to question the true elements of survival?
One step forward...
The role system doesn’t necessarily add a compelling element to the gameplay, but it does help to mitigate some of the more tedious elements… I guess. Every skill unlocked has a positive and a negative, and this means that, although there is help in an area of need, it immediately creates another obstacle. This is somewhat akin to the initial character creation mechanic implemented in the Sims games, where you have the capacity to tailor a character towards a specific pathing, but they will inevitably be less effective in other areas. If I want to make sure that a character never gets injured from crafting, that is no problem, as long as I am willing to wait longer for those items to be completed.
Although there is something to be said for providing context for a survival game by making sure that everything you do also impacts a larger group, it often feels more tedious than fun. It becomes a game of inventory management and Tetris as you run back-and-forth between derelict residential homes and the church to drop off another small set of seemingly useless items. Don’t get me wrong, games where you search through cabinets for plates, and couches for coins, have a special place in my heart, but the crafting system I mentioned above is very limiting, and the fact that you don’t even have a way to reference what is needed for each recipe while out on-the-town can be frustrating.
Impressive… you might want to wait, though
When out in the snowy wasteland backdrop of the title, the mood is tense and attention-grabbing. The graphics are beautiful in their simplicity, and although muted because of the depth of darkness contrasting against the never-ending snow, the little smatterings of color pop. The fire crackling, with its bright, orange-red hues, or the nomad traders walking by with their mules (or moose?) covered in glow sticks often lead to moments of pause that are underlined by the musical score. Unequivocally, the most impressive element of Impact Winter is the music, a terse techno beat that is offset by a hauntingly melodic piano. Bursts of action lead to an immediate shift in the music, thereby creating a strong impression that something big is set to happen. There is no doubt that the title was crafted lovingly, and the aesthetics are more than enough of a reason to be interested in buying this game.
At the moment, though, you might want to wait before wildly hammering away at your keyboard in a mad dash to give Mojo Bones your credit card information. Specifically, the controls are messy and difficult when playing on a PC, there are resolution issues, and the game stutters between loading screens a bit. The majority of these issues can be resolved — very quickly, I would guess, based upon the current Steam rating — but are nonetheless a frustration at the present. If you have a controller on your computer, and are willing to play a game that is not in full screen, the remaining negative effects are nominal at worst.
There’s always a soft spot in my heart for the survival genre, and I think that often allows me to ignore the bigger issues that plague such titles. Impact Winter may have just a few too many of these issues now, but the real reason it isn’t a must-buy is that it would be much more fun if I was just a lonely man wandering the wasteland for items to make my church better. Instead, I have to keep wondering if the fire burnt out and if the nearly-useless compatriots huddled around it are slowly dying now because no one knows how to throw another damned baseball bat into the embers.