A game like Insurmountable, when you first hear about it, seems so unusual on paper. After all, who would play a game where you must survive climbing mountains? It doesn’t seem fun or even much of a challenge at first. It certainly doesn’t sound like it would have universal appeal either because of its niche focus.
Yet, the idea behind it is still unique enough because of that niche. What you initially think about Insurmountable will quickly fall by the wayside when you start playing the game. A game that is well-made, challenging, and despite some flaws, it provides a solid experience for players looking for something new to try.
The goal of Insurmountable is to climb three different mountains, reach their summits, then climb down to a safe zone. Along the way are markers dotted across the map, which trigger special events. So a cave marker would have you sometimes explore a cave, while a treasure marker has a chance of recovering an item for your inventory. The markers are often out of the way of the direct path to the summit, so there is a risk-reward portion of the game to consider as you trek through the mountains.
Insurmountable is billed as a roguelike, and it certainly does live up to that expectation. Each of the three mountains you are tasked to climb is filled with difficult pathways and terrible conditions, and with one false move, you are basically dead on the slopes. There is no saving your game, no continues, once you lose all your health, you die and start over. The goal of completing all three climbs in succession is the main challenge of the game, and let me tell you, it’s tough.
With that, you also need to monitor all of your stats and inventory. You have five total stats to track, from health, energy, oxygen, heat, and sanity levels. Events and general movement, time of day, the randomized conditions on the map; everything right down to your gear affects your stats. Keeping these at healthy levels is the only way to really survive the climb, and it is incredibly easy to lose them all in an instant if you make one bad decision.
In my first playthrough, for example, I got lost in a blizzard at night and began going the opposite direction of the safe zone exit I was heading for. This proved fatal, despite the fact that I was able to climb to the summit and make my way to the exit of the mountain. My oxygen was nearing zero, I was freezing with low temperatures, and my energy was sapped to the point where trying to continue would cause frequent, randomized events that harm your climber. And this is all due to taking a wrong turn with little cover from the storm.
Random Rolls and Cliffside Woes
It is this type of challenge that makes Insurmountable compelling. The mountains are more or less similar in their makeup, (if the layouts are procedurally generated, I didn’t notice) but everything else, from the random encounters to the scripted events, are at least randomized enough that they are worth exploring. That doesn’t mean there are no drawbacks to this. Several events, while randomized, seem to repeat constantly.
One particular one I keep running into is a decrepit house where a couger has made it their nest. You have the choice of leaving the house or searching for supplies, risking being caught by the couger. The first few times I ran into this scenario it was an interesting little story, a vignette of adventure in my own climb to the top. After the fourth or fifth time on the same mountain, I began to wonder if the entire lion population is just hiding in old houses on the slopes here.
The number of randomized elements in Insurmountable is actually pretty impressive, ensuring that some climbs may be easier than others depending on how lucky you are. Each of your three distinct climbers ‘classes’ starts with unique equipment and abilities. As you do random events (which again, are a risk-reward choice by the player) you level up and gain new abilities to help you overcome some of the challenges. Some of these abilities have timers, such as allowing you to climb faster once within a 24 hour period. Some are passive buffs, like gaining more experience or energy every time you trigger an event on the map.
The variety however is not only there but offers enough of a choice to customize your climber for the challenges ahead. Of course, some abilities are arguably better than others, but the fun of a game like Insurmountable is how it gives you options that are valid enough to warrant consideration based on your current circumstances. Maybe you don’t need an ability that will cut down on your temperature loss at night, but having it for those moments where you do need to climb or rest at night might make it worth the pickup.
If there is any drawback to any of this, it is how it’s too random in what it gives you. This is a normal quirk for most roguelikes, but in Insurmountable it felt more often than not my success boiled down to luck more than pre-planning than most of its brethren. There is not much skill involved, since you are essentially pointing and clicking where you want to go, but any strategy you employ can be ruined with a quick weather change, a random event, or just bad luck with the events of the game. This is not so much a negative than it is just a personal gripe though.
The Hexagonal Mountaintop
What does hurt Insurmountable is how minimalist it is presentation-wise. Visually the game is nothing special. The scenery is nicely rendered and your climber is well animated, but the decision to make the mountain a 3-D hexagonal board I feel backfires heavily on the aesthetics.
I know why it was done; specific pathfinding that allows the player to select their movements is a good move mechanically. That said, Insurmountable is a game that already has a solid base for its mechanics, it didn’t need the entire game to reflect the artifice further. It also doesn’t help that the hexagonal tiles are too similar to consider their conditions or costs. It’s easy to determine, for example, an ice, snow, or rock surface, but the game even points out the general shape and cracks along the base of each surface determines how hard it is to climb or move on. In-game, that is almost impossible to see at a glance though, instead, it’s just another hex to climb on.
Music and sound effects are pretty stock standard. The audio is mostly for the narrative events, for some moments of heavy tension or near death, elevating music for moments of joy and wonder. You have ambient music that plays as you climb, but it is often pretty mellow and overshadowed by the various sound effects added to the soundtracks.
I really enjoyed playing Insurmountable. It surprised me with how well thought out and unique the mechanics were, despite the familiar trappings of the roguelike genre. It allowed me, as the player, to make the choices that would either help or harm my progress and despite some frustration with the randomness of it all, it was well worth the time and effort to go through.
Insurmountable is definitely a hidden gem of a game, one that provides the right mix of challenge and fun for the player’s delight. It is easily a mountain I would keep climbing, and that is as high of a recommendation you can give for anyone looking for something new to play.
TechRaptor reviewed Insurmountable on the PC, using a code provided by the developers.
- Solid Challenge Based on its Premise...
- Great Use of a Risk/Reward System...
- Decent Replay Value
- More Tactical Than it Looks
- ...Awkward Visual Aesthetics and Minimalist Music
- ...May be a Bit Too Random at Times