The atmosphere and intrigue of Impact Winter's world are truly gripping, and developer Mojo Bones has sculpted an environment that's begging for an incredible gameplay experience to take place within it. This aura alone is enough to make this title engrossing for the first couple of hours, but unfortunately, the gameplay is not nearly riveting enough to sustain interest the longer that you play.
Impact Winter is quite literally a game about an impact winter; a type of hypothesised prolonged winter brought upon by an event such as an asteroid striking Earth. You take control of Jacob Solomon an unspecified amount of time after the impact, waking up in a dimly lit church that has developed into a makeshift base. You'll soon find that Jacob is not alone and is currently holed up with four other survivors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to toughing it out in this post-apocalyptic world.
However, before you're able to jump into living out your snow-infested life your base receives a transmission informing you that in 30 days a rescue party will arrive to lead you to safety. Here you're introduced to your single, overarching goal for the game - survive the next 30 days. In the meantime, you're tasked with keeping the rest of your crew alive. And when we say you're tasked with keeping everybody alive, we really mean it. You quickly find yourself in charge of every single aspect of your fellow survivors' lives. You're responsible for allocating each member their food and water rations, keeping them warm and nursing them back to health if injury or illness befalls them.
Initially, the micromanaging of each member seems interesting, but quickly overstays its welcome. Having to constantly worry about a member's rations menu being properly organised while you're in the middle of a quest or scavenging is annoying. Seemingly the only thing they can do on their own is sleep when they get tired, which soon has you hating their guts, rather than enjoying the various benefits they can offer Jacob in his countless journeys to the outside world.
It's quite unfortunate that your in-game companions become such a pain in the butt, because without the constant micromanaging they're actually an interesting mechanic. Each person has their own set of story quests for you to complete, allowing you to learn about their backstory and earn a wealth of benefits that will help you survive the 30 days. A layer of strategy is introduced here as you have to prioritise some quest lines over others. It's up to you to decide whether you want to build up the technology at your base, whether you want the cooking skills to be buffed in order to give you stat benefits, or whether you want to increase your offensive capabilities for when you run into dangerous foes. It's unlikely that you'll experience the full extent of these quest lines in one play through and they've clearly been designed to encourage multiple campaigns. Again, all of this is actually quite interesting, so it's a shame the connection to your party members is ruined by having to constantly hold their hands.
The overwhelming majority of Impact Winter's gameplay is focused on scavenging and looting. Most quests will send you on a journey to a specific house or location in order to find some component that is needed in order to craft a new asset for your home base. The gameplay is incredibly simple, but can be shockingly enjoyable and cathartic. You'll find yourself slipping into into a rhythm going from house to house searching for resources and end up losing track of time. Before you know it the game is alerting you that Jacob is running out of energy and you need to head back.
Unfortunately, even the enjoyment of scavenging rubs off. While there are occasional variations to the formula where you need to place signal beacons and activate radio towers, which decrease your 30 day timer, these are few and far between. Eventually going from location to location becomes mundane and boring, particularly because there's almost no sense of danger. You'll occasionally encounter enemies, but foes are so rare it's a wonder that weapons are even included in the game at all. The only real danger you'll face is the possibility of running out of supplies, but this hazard is mostly forced upon you by the game's sloppiness. The radar you're provided with that functions as your map is almost useless, and offers no help in your search for new places to loot. You're forced to wander without much purpose until you come across a new location that holds enough resources to restock your camp.
One in-game hour corresponds to a real life minute in Impact Winter, which results in a 12 hour experience. However, the game features a levelling mechanic to speed up this process. As you complete quests, discover new locations, and craft various items you will receive experience, and once you have enough you'll progress to the next level. Every time this occurs a certain amount of time will be wiped off the countdown, pushing you further to salvation, and this is desperately needed as the game is not nearly engaging enough to sustain your attention for 12 whole hours. In fact, it's barely able to sustain your attention for an initial playthrough, let alone multiple.
Quite possibly the biggest problem with Mojo Bones' efforts here is how easy it is for the entire game to devolve into a boring chore. If you mismanage your reservoir of rations and start to run low on food or water you essentially become trapped forever in a cycle where you're always running to find more resources. With the limited amount of items you can carry and the time it takes you to travel to new locations, you find yourself almost immediately being forced to go back out and scavenge again. This results in you never getting to focus on story quests and makes the game really drag. At this point you have no choice but to spend the rest of the game trying not to to die, rather than completing quests, essentially cutting off the most appealing part of the experience.
There is an extremely interesting world on display in Impact Winter and there are traces of greatness scattered throughout. Unfortunately, there are far too many examples of cumbersome, clumsy, and frustrating execution that end up melting away the game's frosty facade. With such a heavy emphasis on multiple playthroughs, most players would be lucky to stomach their first 30 days of survival.