Say the words ‘snowy survival game’ and you’ll probably conjure up chilly thoughts about 11 bit’s excellent Frostpunk or Hinterland’s ever-popular The Long Dark. But there’s another survival game out there that sees you donning a pair of old snow boots as you try to stick it out in its white, frostbitten wilderness: Mojo Bones’ Impact Winter. And I’d argue it does a pretty good job of blending the best bits of its cooler contemporaries into something a lot more approachable than your average wintry bone-chiller.
Rather than having an entire city of starving, disgruntled citizens to deal with like in Frostpunk, for example, Impact Winter sees you take charge of a much smaller group of survivors that actually have proper names and personalities, as well as useful abilities that can help you in your quest for survival. Sure, Frostpunk has individually named citizens, too, but how much do you really care about Johnny NoShoes when he’s just one of potentially over a thousand hungry mouths to feed?
By limiting your group to just a handful of people, Impact Winter gives a much more human face to the grim reality of survival. It’s easier to care when it’s your mates getting ill or haven’t had much to eat recently, especially when keeping them well-stocked will ultimately make life easier for you too. After all, there won’t be anyone to make that nice new radar or improved furnace for you if they slip into ill-health. The bond you eventually come to forge with these people gives you a stronger purpose and overall sense of urgency every time you venture outside to scavenge what’s left of this desolate wasteland while you wait to be rescued.
Sure, there will be times when you’ll long for the lonelier demands of just looking after yourself in something like The Long Dark, especially when no one back at camp apparently understands the concept of rationing and keeps scoffing all the remaining food reserves before you’re able to get back with fresh supplies. When I played for the first time back in 2017, I always felt like everyone’s health and hunger meters were ticking down much faster than seemed even remotely polite (it was, in fairness, also riddled with bugs back then), and I also grew to resent the rather frequent random attacks on your hideout that take place while you’re out exploring. They always seemed to occur the moment my toes were halfway out the door, leaving the entire place defenceless and often in a much worse state than when I left, just a couple of seconds ago. When everyone’s life is already hanging by such a delicate thread, these invisible and often brutal assaults on everything for which you’ve been fighting tooth and nail ends up feeling cruel and a bit unfair.
However, if Impact Winter was just a top-down version of The Long Dark where you only had your own interests to look out for, I think it would be a much poorer game. For starters, The Long Dark already does all that much better in the first place. But despite its flaws, there’s something about having that ramshackle home and those extra mouths to feed that ties everything together for me. It not only gives my journey a greater sense of structure, it also fosters a stronger notion of community and camaraderie than the dizzying numbers of followers of Frostpunk. Yes, there are moments when it can be intensely frustrating, but if you’ve ever wished The Long Dark was a bit more sociable, or Frostpunk a lot less intimidating, then Impact Winter might just be the thing to get you through the upcoming wilderness that is the annual summer video game drought.