You know that film The Day After Tomorrow? Where everything freezes and is covered by snow and ice in a superstorm? To the point that the snow reaches the roofs of buildings? And Jake Gyllenhaal is hiding out in a library with other survivors? It’s coming out as a survival game, except it’s not affiliated with the film, and you survive in a church not a library. And Jake Gyllenhaal isn’t in it.
You do play a Jake, though. Impact Winter’s protagonist is called Jacob Solomon. In the aftermath of an asteroid strike on the earth everyone is doing the usual in the aftermath of a natural disaster i.e. waiting despondently either to die, or for the protagonist to arrive. Luckily for the inhabitants of it, Jacob stumbles on a shelter-worthy church in the middle of nowhere. He installs himself as the de facto leader. The inhabitants can thus busy themselves doing what Jacob tells them.
The goal in Impact Winter is to survive for the next 30 days, at which point help will (presumably) arrive. The addition of your fellow survivors means that Impact Winter kind of has a weird RPG flavour, as three of them offer you different specialised routes for survival. The science guy can help reduce the rescue timer, the grizzled survivalist will make it easier to get resources and hunt in the cold, and the mechanic can improve the church and build useful stuff more complicated than traps and tents. There’s also an old lady who cooks food from the dead rats and tinned peaches you bring her.
The preview indicated that, despite getting help from your friends, surviving for an entire month will be hard. While Impact Winter has some RPG elements the bulk of what I played was inventory and stats management. Jacob and his mates will all get cold, tired, hungry and thirsty — and I found it frustrating that I couldn’t just choose ‘Collect some snow from the inexhaustible mountains of it everywhere’ to sate the last one. I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume one has to build a purifier at a later point to be able to do that.
I was also frustrated that, while Jacob was out risking his extremities to salvage paperclips from a derelict house, I kept getting notifications telling me my friends back home were getting exhausted. Despite the website for Impact Winter insisting you don’t need to tell any of them when to sleep, none of the fuckers in the preview build would do it themselves. I’d have been happy letting them all expire were it not for the fact that Jacob, despite being leader, does not know how to make a damn thing himself. Divvying up supplies and deciding who is most useful to you, Jacob becoming unto his party a terrible, merciless god, would actually add a nice extra dimension to survival, so I hope the kinks in the mechanic are ironed out for the release.
In most survival games you’re surviving almost in isolation. The addition of other people in Impact Winter could be either it’s downfall or it’s triumph. While I assume most of us would default to cowering in the church, Jacob, to actually survive, must leave. Trekking out into the snow is a complex and dangerous process. Each expedition starts with a long trek across blank white snow, and it’s easy to get lost in storms. Jacob can place tents as waypoints for shelter, and markets to point the way back to the church. Eventually you find landmarks to remember: a freeway sign, or the remains of a bridge. Everything is grey, white, blue.
You can explore beneath the surface into old buildings, and there’s something lovely about the melancholy of it all. Rifling through the chest of drawers in a bedroom to steal someone’s fluffy blankets. Going through a bedside table and finding a hairbrush that someone, presumably now dead, used to brush their hair. Stripping parts from a car left in a garage.
Sometimes you’ll find a couple of people taking shelter, lying on the sofa, faces turned away. They don’t speak to Jacob, as he takes everything useful he can find. I met someone out in the snow who just needed a drink of water, but I only had one bottle with me. Out here, in the real world, there are stories of people passing climbers in distress whilst trying to summit Everest, and not helping because doing so risks their own life. Terribly sorry. You know how it is.