Impact Winter review code provided by the publisher
When I think of bleakness in gaming terms I think of post-apocalyptic wastelands, dramatic morality struggles, and Activision’s business model. Impact Winter is definitely indebted to the first two of these. It marries a frozen, inhospitable post-apocalyptic wasteland to heart-wrenching choices in the struggle to survive. So it already has a hard job convincing anyone to care in a bloated market of games with a similar framework.
Impact Winter Review: Bleak as the Driven Snow
At least the post-apocalyptic part takes a different path to most in video game land. Life on Earth has largely been vanquished by a ruddy great asteroid that hit our planet and ushered in an age of everlasting Winter. You play as a skilled scavenger, holed up in a church with a bunch of relative strangers. Food and supplies are a rarity in this cold new world, and hope is disappearing almost as quickly. It takes a weak radio call that promises rescue the group from this grim situation to keep that hope burning. Now the group must survive for the next 30 days if they want to escape this hell.
Impact Winter really tries to drive home the grim severity of the situation from the get-go. Moments into this isometric survival adventure you’re tasked with tearing apart the church just to provide some extra firewood. Food is dished out and it’s obvious there’s barely enough to satiate the hunger of more than a few of you. It’s immediately clear carrying on in the relative shelter of the church is not going to get any of you through the next four weeks or so.
This means your scavenging skills are going to be called upon sooner rather than later. If the situation in the church felt like distilled despair, going outside is like a buffet of reminders that this world is pretty much not welcoming humanity. It turns out your life in the church is pretty much luxury compared to what the majority of folk have. The outside world is strewn with haunting touchstones of lives lived and lost to this brutal eternal Winterscape.
Entering a building out in the wilderness is your cue to seek out everything that could be useful for your continued survival. It’s a case of getting as much as you can as quick as possible. Even if that can sometimes temporarily blind you to the signs of what came before. The frozen corpses of previous tenants can often be seen in these situations. Other things denote that these were not just homes, but the last stand for many in the wake of the devastating asteroid.
The soundtrack is masterful in how it conveys this plight humanity finds itself in. An understated use of sound that solemnly accompanies your maudlin discoveries. It also ratchets up the anguish of your own personal peril. Denoting when you’ve ventured far from the safety of the church.
Impact Winter Review: Both Gut-Wrenching and Yawn-Inducing
There’s plenty of gut-wrenching moments in Impact Winter’s opening in-game days. If not for the smart, subtle use of music, the effect of it would be diminished far quicker. As it is, Impact Winter overplays its grim despair, and technical difficulties don’t really help matters.
Impact Winter starts so strongly it would always be tough to keep that going, but the look, the way it plays, and the story struggle to maintain interest beyond the first ten days or so. The variety goes to the wind, and you’re numbed to the horrors in an entirely unintentional manner. Immersion is broken a little too often by bugs that prevent free movement on fiddly terrain, and textures taking far too long to load in certain outside areas.
When time is of the essence the former is a more crucial problem than a few texture issues. When it happens alongside the increasingly repetitive chore of later days in the 30 day period, it really hurts the good work done with the setup.
Despite these grumbles, Impact Winter has at least done something a little different with the post-apocalyptic survival sub-genre. Its human stories may be dulled in impact by repetition. Still, there’s no denying they are handled beautifully to begin with. The snowy wastes may grow uninteresting with overexposure, yet there’s an initial haunting beauty to the bleak winter wastes. That musical score by Mitch Murder amplifies the effect these things have on you, and its easily the standout part of the package. If only the momentum of Impact Winter’s gameplay could keep up with it.