I feel bad for Icy.
It is a tough sell, sometimes, to publish an independent game. Even with the help of crowdfunding, some games struggle to really stand out in the now bloated independent market. With shoestring budgets, many of these games go unpolished, with errors that, much like the AAA industry, get ironed out through updates and patches. Icy is no exception in this, but the unfortunate truth is that the game suffers from this status as well, and suffers hard at trying to be something unique.
The setting is honestly brilliant. A post-apocalyptic role-playing game set in a winter wasteland, Icy scores big points off the bat for setting and mood. The world itself is a character, with roaming bands of nomads, bandits and mutants, several settlements, each with their own flavor and characteristics, and tons of backstory introduced to you bit by bit, giving the world detail that is often lost in some RPGs.
What’s more, the world is actually believable. Icy takes its time to establish the struggle of man vs. nature, and we get a sense of history on how the people you interact with have been influenced by the winter wasteland around them. Little touches, such as the fact that literacy is a rarity or working technology is now worshipped as gods, gives the world character beyond just showing the snowy landscape. If nothing else, Icy excels at creating a world with minimalistic effort; a feat that is quite impressive.
Sadly, much of the problems with Icy is everything else behind it. Not just an RPG, Icy is also billed as a text-based survival game. The title attempts to blend several elements together into something unique, but the mix is not perfect. The game certainly offers you a fair amount of options for character creation. You have three main attributes and a total of ten abilities that can be given points. Using a point buy system, these attributes kind of work and can influence how you play the game; better at melee and firearms, for example, makes you deadlier in combat, while speechcraft and intimidation allows you talk your way out of some situations.
The real issue though is some of these effects feel moot thanks to your list of followers. Each of them come with skills of their own combat related attributes for firearms, bows, or melee, without any deviation or depth to their progression. In a combat situation, the parties’ attributes often tip the scales for you more than your own, so players don’t need to worry about fighting or shooting as much as scavenging or stealth, for example.
Your own character also gains XP every so often without prompting. You can literally be on a stockpile of experience and pump up your attributes to high-levels within a few hours of playing, making the game ridiculously easy to get through. There are other balance issues as well; primary resources around the world are actually quite prolific, with plenty of medkits, food, and gas populating the map. Sometimes you get random encounters that allow you to give away or trade primary resources, but most of the time you will be stockpiling them and more or less traversing through the wasteland without fear of dying.
Icy can be dangerous if you do run out of these resources. No food, for example, is an instant game over, so constantly hunting or bartering for food is a must in the game. Still, even on higher difficulties, the scarcity feels negated by character stats, meaning the better you are at scavenging or hunting, the more stuff you will find.
To Icy’s credit, resources do come and go quickly. Food is constantly on a down-tick, and the size of your party can influence how much food is lost in a day. Every day you also lose fuel; without it you can get caught in a winter storm and lose characters easily. The game tries to make resource gathering a dire situation, and maybe the first few times it is if you start going around unprepared. After that, though, the survival portion of Icy becomes a shell of itself.
Many of these problems could likely be alleviated if the third portion of the game, the text-adventure, had some weight behind it. Part of the problem is how boring Icy is with its narrative; the main plot has you playing an amnesiac who later must track down a band of mercenaries with high-tech equipment, only to become embroiled in a political plot that feels like a side quest straight out of Fallout 3.
The side content fares a lot better and feels more believable as part of the world around you. Players take on cannibals, scavenging missions for religious items, and even solving problems without violence as a choice, which give the game a validation of its own mechanics and a reason to boost up stats like stealth and speechcraft. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between; there were also several times in the game where making a choice did not matter, and what’s worse, the options presented implied it did.
For example, at one point in the game I have to choose between two characters who are being attacked by a mutant creature. The options allowed me to pick either of them, or throw a Molotov cocktail at the creature. The cocktail freed both, but one of them died anyway moments later, and it was seemingly at random too, because I played this scene twice and in both outcomes, a different character died.
Some design choices like this highlight a problem with Icy; the game's own mechanics are severely uneven. If the choice was there, and based on equipment, but guarantees no outcome of success based on that choice, invalidates the choice. We all know that choices are illusions in role-playing games, but to offer the choice and then essentially swerve you regardless is just poor design.
There are several moments like this in Icy, although some of them may be chalked up to bugs. Icy is stable for the most part, but the dialogue trees have a few problems in them. Outside of poor writing and one-dimensional characters, Icy also suffers spelling and syntax errors, the kiss of death of any visual-novel game. Other bugs include prompts being ignored or dialogue options being locked out, which hinder progress on some questlines too. Thankfully the developers, Inner Void, have been working to fix these problems. Credit to them for recognizing the issues with Icy and attempting to iron out the issues as quickly as possible.
The presentation of Icy is not bad either, but has a few issues of note. The hand-drawn portraits and landscape pictures in the game invoke a Baldur’s Gate feel that works for the game's minimalist visual style. The overworld is simple like a flash game but has enough detail in it to at least be easy to navigate. The side-bars of scavenging and hunting are nice little adventures but tend to follow the same patterns each time and do lose their variety as you play through the game. Lastly, the music in the game is not the highest quality, so if it does start to grate you, you can thankfully shut it off if need be.
It is sometimes hard to really be tough on an independent game because you know the limitations they have. Icy is big on ideas, and credit to Inner Void for at least trying their best at making this world feel desolate and cold. While they may succeed on that front, Icy is most certainly a better setting than a better game. Truth be told, if Icy was a sourcebook to a tabletop game, it would probably stand out better as a well-thought-out storytelling system. As a video game, however, Icy is probably best left in the cold.
A review code was provided by the developers for this review.
A game with good ideas, but uneven execution. Icy struggles to stand out despite doing everything it can to be engaging.