Impact Winter is refreshing for many reasons, but one of them is because there are no zombies.
Sure, there are other survival games that aren’t set in a zombie apocalypse – This War of Mine and Sheltered to name but two – but Impact Winter is one of only a small handful that gives you the freedom to explore wherever you choose without the threat of the walking dead coming to eat your brains.
Without the threat of any kind of human, actually, and that’s kind of nice. Impact Winter is set in an apocalyptic America in the aftermath of a meteor hitting Earth and causing a literal “impact winter”. Everything’s buried under several feet of snow and temperatures have plummeted as low as -30 degrees celcius. It’s a harsh world to survive in, but with your only real enemy being the elements (and the occasional wild animal), it’s something of a welcome change.
Despite the bleakness of Impact Winter‘s setting, it has a lightness to it that’s hard not to like. From the cartoonish art style of the character models to the jovialities of your fellow survivors – how young Christophe likes to talk about video games and wants any collectible cards you find on your scavenger missions, or how elderly Wendy will make everyone a nice cup of cocoa to keep morales high – there’s an air of hope that isn’t often seen in games of its ilk. Of course, there are threats. Worsening weather can damage the church you’re using as a makeshift home; scavengers can steal your items and injure your friends while you’re out exploring; hypothermia can set in, or you can starve if you don’t bring back enough supplies. It’s bleak, sure, but there’s a constant glimmer of hope that humanity and teamwork will win out. It’s a nice message.
The structure of Impact Winter‘s gameplay makes it one of the most accessible survival games I’ve played. Often, you’re thrown in the deep end and have to figure out the essentials yourself. You can opt to do that here if you turn off Impact Winter‘s tutorial, but if you play as intended, you’re eased in with an easy to follow rundown of how everything works. Your fellow survivors will each give you missions, meaning you’ve constantly got a number of tasks you can complete in any order. You’ll encounter new survivors on your travels too, many of whom will ask favours of you, adding to your task list. You’ll never be short of something to do – but only if you want to.
The beauty of Impact Winter is that everything is entirely optional. The only goal of the game is to survive a countdown of 30 days. It’s a countdown that’s forever changing; levelling up by completing missions, finding landmarks and meeting certain targets will decrease your timer, meaning rescue may come sooner than 30 days. It’s entirely up to you how you spend those days. Stick to your task list, or wander out with your only guide being a map, and see what you stumble over. It’s entirely up to you.
However you do choose to play, it’s always a thrill when you stumble over a new landmark, or a new building to explore. Your only navigational tools are a promotional map of the area from before the explosion, which very loosely pinpoints some key landmarks, and your sidekick robot Ako-Light, who has a radar that’ll detect certain locations, but only when you get close enough. For the most part, you have to rely on your own sense of direction. It’s a pretty big map, and needing to frequently return to camp to make sure everyone’s okay means that you’ll never get too far in one journey. Stepping into an unexplored snowcave or an abandoned office block for the first time is always exciting, with the allure of new loot – valuable supplies; perhaps an item you’ve been needing for an upgrade – being particularly enthralling.
Some survival games can get a bit repetitive after a while. Others, having no particular end goal in sight, end up becoming too easy if you manage to survive so long and upgrade so much equipment that you more or less manage to get by in auto-pilot. Impact Winter‘s fairly short 30-day window means that’s never going to happen, and there’s always something new to do. While the time ticks by relatively slowly in-game, it’s still more than likely you won’t get to see and do everything you intended in those 30 days. But as long as you survive, and you keep your camp happy – it doesn’t matter.
Having been subject to several delays already, Impact Winter‘s release feels a little rushed. The game isn’t perfect, still being subject to a number of bugs. Developer Mojo Bones is thankfully busy working on a series of patches, so within a month or so the game should be in a much better condition. I’ve not experienced anything that’s put me off the game, however. A few glitches have meant my character has got stuck in the scenery, requiring me to reload the game, and I sometimes have to press the ‘A’ button several times before it’ll acknowledge my input. Mouse and keyboard input, which I haven’t tried myself, is apparently worse, and Mojo Bones is working hard to fix this ASAP. It’s a little irksome, on what’s otherwise a brilliant experience, but it hasn’t put me off. It’s just something to bear in mind if you’re wanting to jump into Impact Winter.
Impact Winter is one of the best survival games I’ve played, and I’m certainly going to be jumping back into it regularly. Even after I’ve reached that all-important 30-day timer, I’ll start again, seeing if I can survive better and stronger the next time round.