I love survival games. There’s something about starting off with nothing but the shirt on your back, and pitting your character against everything a wilderness has to throw at you. So, when I was asked to review ICY: Frostbite Edition, a snow-filled survival game developed by Inner Void Interactive and Digital Tribe Games, I was very excited. So stay with me for a while and let me go through just what ICY: Frostbite Edition is all about.
Frostbite Edition is the remastered version of the original game released two years ago. The developers took a long hard look at it and improved on the original by squishing bugs and improving the game mechanics.
But what is ICY?
In short, it’s a survival RPG game that leans more heavily on an RPG than a survival game. The character you create dictates how easy certain actions are for you to do, which in turn changes the path you take through the story. It’s an RPG that seems like it has been strongly influenced by the Fighting Fantasy series of books. Each movement through the game takes a certain number of resources, whether it’s food, ammunition or medical supplies. Always make sure you have enough of these otherwise the icy wilderness, raiders or vicious animals will end your adventure prematurely and rather bloodily.
So with no more ado let’s jump into the game and take a look around.
Once you’ve installed ICY: Frostbite Edition you go through a fairly quick character creation process. You decide on the gender of your character, which dictates the set of face images you can choose from. There are also a number of skills in which you can add points to, such as bow, melee, hunting, acrobatics, scavenging etc. You have an initial pool of 35 points that you can allocate to these skills, with five levels for each skill.
Each level of skill costs one more point to train than the last . So, all skills cost one point to get level 1, 2 points to get to level 2, 3 points to get to the third level all the way up to level 5. Rather obviously, the more points you put into a skill the better you are at performing actions that rely on using that skill. In truth I think you do get a few too many actions points at the start of the game, I’d have liked a few less so there’s a little more challenge at the earlier parts of the game.
Once you’ve created your character, the story begins that acts as a basic tutorial for the game. You start hunting for food with your companion Jerome and meeting the rest of your group. The terminally ill leader of the group wants everyone to travel south to avoid the deadly bandits roaming the area.
The group argues about whether this is the right direction, and without really deciding everyone eventually turns in for some sleep. Which is interrupted by a dream involving weird technology and a white tower, but you’re woken as your group is attacked by a large and incredibly deadly group of raiders. Although, this is where you’re given a tutorial on combat, it’s clear that your no match for them and your group soon succumbs and gets captured.
You’re with the slavers for a while, but they’re too strong and you’re just about to give up the idea of ever escaping from them when a few odd (and technologically advanced) traders buy a few of your companions from the slavers, claiming they’re not interested in you or the rest of the slaves. Seeing this as your chance to escape you break free and escape, with the rest of the companions knowing one day you will return to free your companions. Before that though, you need to survive and get strong enough to tackle them.
That’s the basic intro story, and I’m not going to reveal any more because, well spoilers. Suffice to say that the weird dreams and the technologically advanced people are key elements to the game’s story, and that more will be revealed as you play.
Taking a look at the gameplay itself, the game is broadly split into four distinct parts. You have the map based exploration, combat, crafting and combat.
The map screen is, in short the element of the game that actually moves your party from one area to the next. Each area represented by a node, depicts an element of the landscape. They will also often have different elements within them. For example, if you move to a node shown within a forest, that may bring up areas within the forest to investigate such as a cave, a hut or a particular area of that forest.
Each of these sub-areas will then have two bars that essentially represent the risk and reward of that area. The top bar shows how much resource can be found by either hunting or scavenging that areas, the bar below that indicates the level of risk or danger in that particular area. It’s worth mentioning here that you have skills for hunting and scavenging which can affect how successful you are at these activities.
Depending on your success, you could find some resources, start a fight or conversation with any number of outcomes depending on the situation. It’s worth bearing in mind that every movement on the map screen costs your group some of their food resources, so if food is low plan movements carefully.
It’s also worth noting that you should make sure you have armed your group and created any items you may need before accessing these nodes, as once you are inside the node you will not be able to do this.
Story Driven Screens
Conversations are driven by a select-a-response system. You read through the text of the conversation, and you choose a response on the left of the screen that suits you. Some of the responses are reliant on the skills you have, predominantly speechcraft aids you in conversations. Successful conversations can lead to an increase in resources, or a new companion while failed conversations can lead to lost resources, injury or all-out combat.
No true survival game would be worth its salt without a crafting system, and ICY: Frostbite Edition keeps it fairly simple while covering all the bases. As you explore the various map nodes, you’ll pick up random items, bits of leather, rope, batteries, not to mention weapon parts, and ammunition. It’s these parts that you can use to craft other items, clothing and weapons for your group to use.
You start off with a rudimentary list of things you can make, and there are plenty of other schematics for things you can make scattered throughout the game itself. Anything you have all the parts t make is shown as glowing in the crafting window, simply click on the desired item you want to make, and then click on craft. Your items are used up and the item is created.
There are some items you can find that are always useful to have around, ropes, lockpicks, and crowbars for example can always be used to open tricky locks, safes, doorways that just may have those resources you need to survive. Luckily, even if you don’t have those you can craft them just to make sure they’re on hand. Assuming you have the right parts of course.
Ah, combat. Combat is a critical thing to get right, especially in survival games. It needs to be balanced just enough so that it feels that each combat could teeter you across the survival line. If the combat is too draining then you’ll use up too many resources and die too quickly. Too much the other way and it’s a fairly pointless exercise.
Anyway, let’s take a look at the combat itself, and see how it’s all done. Depending on the weapons and equipment that you have equipped your companions with, you will have a number of actions at your disposal during your turn. Some of these actions cause melee or ranged damage, some increase or decrease your or your enemies morale while others protect you from or increase the damage you cause. These actions can sometimes be used in conjunction with other actions, which increases their effects. Once you have used all your actions, you’ll end your turn and your opponents will do the same.
What’s this morale then? Glad you asked. Both you and your enemies each have a morale bar as well as a health bar. The health bar is fairly obvious, and works like any other health bar in nearly any other game. Morale dictates the amount of damage you cause and take. The higher your morale the more damage you cause with your attacks and the less damage you take from your enemies. So, as well as actually causing damage you’ll want to keep your morale bar as high as possible while lowering your opponents.
In short, combat at the early stages of the game at least is thought-provoking enough so that you do have to put some thought in to it. How it scales up later in the game is open to debate and very much depends on how you developed your character and how well you survived the earlier parts of the game.
After all of that, is ICY good enough for a second playthrough, or even a third? It’s always difficult to truly predict but there enough elements within the game to allow you to have a different playthrough next time round. You can create a differently skilled character which would affect how successful you were at given parts of the storyline, but that main story wouldn’t change all that much. It’s a mixed bag, but it has the standard replayability markers of an rpg that will help.
Graphically ICY: Frostbite Edition is a rather smart-looking game. Artistically it has a graphic novel, Fighting Fantasy novel feel about it. Combat is done with icons and not fully fledged action scenes, and most of the core game is done by click-through conversation cards, However, for what it is ICY holds up very well with a great story running through it.
If you want to take a look for yourself, wander over to the ICY Frostbite Edition Steam page and grab yourself a copy. Of course, you could always just enter our sweepstake and have a chance to win one of four Steam keys, you know. Your call.