Inside Pulse 12

Review: ICY: Frostbite Edition (PC)

ICY: Frostbite Edition
Publisher: Digital Tribe
Developer: Inner Void
Genre: RPG
Release Date: 08/11/2017

Post apocalyptic worlds will always have a leg up on getting people’s attention. There’s something intrinsically fascinating about a story that takes place in the remains of our ruined world. ICY is yet another game that is willing to take advantage of that fascination. It focuses not on how the world fell, but instead on how people adapt and survive decades after the fact. This basic story of humanity combined with a harsh winter world has the potential for a great RPG.

As the story goes, you play a character of your own creation two years after joining with a “family” of fellow nomadic survivors. Before that, your memory is gone, leaving you with no idea how you ended up in this environment or even where your from. After a group of slavers kidnaps and sells off members of your party, you end up in charge of the remnants. From there, you need to explore the frozen wasteland in order to hunt down your attackers and save your friends. You’ll also have to deal with other groups of survivors, and the various settlements they’ve established.

In typical RPG fashion, you explore the world by moving from place to place. You can talk to your party members to get to know them better, talk to NPCs and shopkeeps, and find random events that further flesh the characters out. You’ll also obtain and complete quests that will introduce more characters and details about the game world. Much of it is optional, although you’ll end up visiting each of the major locations at least once during your journey. Your choices and skills will also play a role in determining how things play out. For example, one mission tasks you with moving through a mutant-infested building. You could hole up in a room and fight them there, try to run and fight them outside, or possibly even get away without having a fight at all. Characters can join your party, leave your party, and even possibly die as well. These types of events can’t happen at literally any moment, but they happen often enough to keep you invested in moving forward.

The correct way to think of this game’s story is a well written paper RPG campaign. The characters are decently fleshed out, but exist only to fill a narrative role. Apart from party members, you can rarely make a long lasting relationship, or one with any depth. That said, the writing is strong, the choices make things interesting, and the game has multiple endings to support your decisions. It’s a short campaign, lasting only seven hours or so, but one worth going through.

You won’t get much in the form of visual effects from this game. The story is told with static images and characters portraits. The art that remains is often good looking and well detailed, but the descriptive words paint a more detailed portrait. Even the combat sequences are light on effects, with damage markers placed on shadowy, static silhouettes being the best you can hope for. The overworld map is a littler better thanks to a few sparse animations, but the game’s overall look is bleak and minimalist.

The same can be said for the game’s audio. It’s typically content to use spooky sounds and tinny footsteps in place of music. There’s also zero voice acting to be found. That being said, the approach often works well with the game’s more horror-orientated themes. The silence can often be oppressive, which makes appropriate scenes all the more atmospheric.

The game is split into a few different types of gameplay. On the overworld, you move from node to node, using up a point of food for each movement, and perhaps coming across forested areas and/or abandoned buildings. When you get to one of these points, you can choose to scavenge them for various supplies. Forest areas typically get you food from hunting, while you’ll find relics of the old world in buildings. When you go to scavenge an area, you’ll see two meters. The top one will show you how good the reward is likely to be, and the bottom will show you how likely you’ll encounter some sort of event. Events include environmental dangers that can harm your group if you don’t have the right items. For example, you might have a stairwell collapse. A rope on hand can get your teammate out safely, but not having one could leave you damaged. You could also trigger a fight.

Before we get to combat, it’s important to talk about inventory management and equipment. Each character can equip one piece of armor and up to two different weapons. Armor increases your squads overall health, while the weapons will add actions to your combat pool. You can also craft items as long as you have the requisite recipe. These can allow you to eventually create powerful weapons and armor that offer better options in combat.

During battle, your team acts as a unit. First, you select one weapon for each party member. The weapon, combined with that character’s skills, will determine what actions are added to your pool. Guns add gun actions, bows add bow actions, large melee weapons add heavy melee damage, and smaller melee weapons add light attacks. As for your skill, you get one negative action for each point below five you have in that skill tree. For example, if your character uses a basic pistol with a skill of three in firearms, you’ll add one gun action and two negative actions. There are also bonus support actions that can be added based on your skills, armor, and weapons. A good speechcraft skill, for example, can net you a moral boost action that you can use.

Each turn in battle, you get a group of actions randomly drawn from your overall pool. You can then use them to inflict damage or bolster your team. To use your actions, you must first select them. You can simply use them right away, or try to combine them with other actions to create more powerful skills. For example, a basic gun action will fire one bullet. Two gun actions together create five bullet burst that does more damage. Using a bow action is fine and dandy, but using that same action with a stealth action can give you a powerful sneak attack. You fight with a pool of health points that represents your whole group, and you fight foes the same way. So you have to drop the enemy group to zero health to win. Running out of health yourself is a game over.

There’s also a morale system in combat. You can raise your morale with various actions and combinations. A high morale grants you bonus damage and defensive buffs. A low morale means you take more damage while dealing less. The enemy groups have morale as well, and keeping it in check is a big part of battles.

The system is strange, no doubt, but it can be fun to experiment to find powerful action combinations. You can also see yourself grow quite well, as you’ll start getting fewer negative actions, which clog up your pool and do nothing, and start gaining more powerful versions of attacks. For example, the crude bow you start out with gives you a bronze bow action and a negative action. A couple steps later, and you get a silver bow action and a aim action. This means you’re more likely to get more useful tools in battle, and makes later encounters more manageable. You’ll certainly feel more capable as the game progresses.

What makes this game tick is the choices you make. Being able to handle different missions in different ways is a rewarding experience. You can choose to fight a group of mercenaries, for example, or persuade them to join your side. You can choose to help a hunted man, or let his enemies finish him off. There are no wrong choices, but your experience can change based on what you do choose. Combine that with a pressing need to scavenge for supplies, and an interesting combat system that rewards experimentation and careful planning, and this makes for a decent RPG. It will absolutely not blow your mind, but it’s a solid six or seven hours investment.

Short Attention Span Summary

ICY isn’t looking to replace the bigger names of the post-apocalyptic RPG world, but it manages to find a little niche to reside in. The story is reasonably well written and variable enough to be interesting. It might lack a punch in the production values department, but it looks well enough to keep you invested in the world. While the combat might seem awkward at first, it quickly grows into something far more interesting than it has any right to be. To be frank, this is a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re looking for a brief, but enjoyable RPG experience, this is certainly worth a look.

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