Tuesday, 29 August 2017 08:17

ICY: Frostbite Edition Review

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Editor’s Note: The abbreviation “ICY” refers specifically to ICY: Frostbite Edition, and not the original title upon which this remaster is based (“ICY”), unless otherwise noted.

ICY: Frostbite Edition is a story-driven, survival RPG set in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic ice age

From the first moment, ICY: Frostbite Edition instills an eerie sense of cold and isolation, a fear, reverberating in the howling wind and crunch of snow underfoot. We don’t know why the world fell, only that it did. You live in the aftermath of a global cataclysm as desperate wanderer struggling to exist in a hostile, frozen wasteland.

To survive, you must rely on your wit, weapons, and most importantly, your family. In the brutal wilderness, family isn’t just a designation of blood; they are those that share your fire, your battles, and your quest. Poor choices not only affect you but those closest to you as well.

ICY: Frostbite Edition is a story-driven, survival RPG set in an unforgiving post-apocalyptic ice age. Like most survival titles, ICY pits the player against the constant threat of diminishing resources and the inherent risk of gathering the supplies necessary for survival. ICY isn’t a resource vampire title like Diluvion, where every moment of play drains your dwindling assets. It is comparable to, but not as challenging as, the roguelike title The Long Journey Home. You only consume resources as you transition between the interconnected nodes of the map.

ICY’s gentle approach to resource management puts the focus on the storyline and characters instead of a nerve-wracking, nail-biting drive to find more consumables. This is fortunate because when it comes to storyline, ICY delivers.

There is no magic “main character” fairy dust: party members can die

The world of ICY is bursting with unique characters, all with individual motivations, personalities, and backstories. As you move through the wasteland, you gather followers into your “family,” who share their (sometimes unwanted) opinions on every decision. The pressure is on, because you’re the leader, and you have the final word in every debate.

Bearing the responsibility for the life and death of my party was far more daunting than any other aspect of ICY. It’s easy to grow attached to certain characters, and there is no magic “main character” fairy dust: party members can die. What’s worse, the surviving cast mourn the death of their fallen companion.

This is where one of ICY’s best features comes to play; unlike most survival titles, you can save at any time when you’re in map mode, and you can create multiple saves, if you’re worried about where a particular fork may take you. Hardcore gamers may find this style of play cheating, but ICY has something to offer them as well.

Before starting, players pick their difficulty level. Those craving a title that drives them to hate the developers can choose Mercenary mode, and placid players can wander without stress in Explorer mode. Everyone else can slip into Survivor mode for an option that isn’t candy-coated but isn’t blindingly frustrating either.

Character creation resembles classic RPGs like Baldur's Gate, where the player assigns points to various stats and chooses an avatar from a selection of pre-drawn portraits. Unlike classic RPGs, picking a gender doesn’t limit your avatar image options. Whether this is a feature or a glitch, I derived perverse amusement from giving my female protagonist the guise of a lantern-jawed, cynical-eyed male model, complete with the ubiquitous adornment of scruffy stubble. He wore a hood, so I couldn’t check to see if he had a man-bun, but I like to imagine he did.

Tension is never lost, even after mastering the fundamental strategy.

Although it leans heavily on decision making, ICY demands little from the player in terms of strategy or skill. Most encounters are randomly generated and resolved with a hidden dice roll. Increasing skills gives you bonuses towards these rolls.

Players craving battle gore or deck customization may be disappointed by the rudimentary, turn-based, deck-building combat system. Most of the work happens before combat begins, as you struggle to match weapons to party members in a way that gives you the least penalties, or “blanks,” in your deck. Although there is some strategy in how actions are ordered and combined, the combinations are limited and it’s easy to pick up on the best techniques by watching how your opponent plays their deck. It is impossible to build power decks from the limited handful of available actions.

Despite being somewhat shallow, the combat system is well balanced, and it scales smoothly as the player grows. Tension is never lost, even after mastering the fundamental strategy.

ICY: Frostbite Edition is a complete remaster of Inner Void Interactive’s original title ICY, and the overall art, execution, and playability of is excellent. That said, the remastered version suffers from a lack of inventory sorting, which is painful when crafting. As it stands, items drop in your inventory in alphabetical order, with weapons mixed in with crafting supplies, and random junk you haul around to sell. Crafting is new to this edition, which may explain the lack of a sort feature, but if items were sortable by type, crafting would be easier.

Although I love ICY’s save feature, it suffers one major flaw. You have six save slots, which is useful when you’re headed down a perilous storyline fork and are afraid that you might need to rollback to a previous save. Unfortunately, the option to customize the save name file is not available. Worse, though, is the default naming convention, which lists the date and time the game saved, down the millisecond: the dates aren’t broken up in digestible chunks. Rather, they display as one long number string. Finding the save you want isn’t easy if you’re not careful about which slot you use.


The Verdict

ICY: Frostbite Edition takes you hostage with a compelling narrative rife with tragedy, mystery, treachery, and danger. Intertwined with the looming menace of the post-apocalyptic world is a flickering current of hope that drives you forward, seeking the safe haven you desperately desire but secretly fear doesn’t exist. ICY’s strength is in its story, but its multi-tiered difficulty options will please any iteration of survival gamer. Although ICY’s simplistic combat system will not appeal to those who enjoy heavy strategy or bloody battle, it adds a satisfying thrill of tension to every encounter. With an extensive variety of story arcs, endings, and random encounters, ICY offers excellent replayability.

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Phoebe Knight

Phoebe Knight is a freelance writer and novelist. She cut her baby teeth on the original King’s Quest, and has loved gaming ever since. Phoebe’s favorite games are usually weird ones with quirky storylines, but she has also logged an embarrassing volume of hours in sweeping open-world fantasy games like Skyrim and Witcher 3.