A long long time ago in a land lost to the mists of time, people used to read books that were actually role playing games. This form of gaming probably still exists in some model. This was in the days before computers grabbed both the mantle and attention of gamers worldwide. For those of you too young to know, or even maybe missed this seemingly strange pastime, gamers would sit with book in hand, reading and making choices as to which direction to guide their character on a journey into goblin filled dungeons and adventures.
The mechanics ran as simply as this. Turn Right?
Go to Page 51. Turn Left go to Page 47.
You meet a group of angry cross-dressing harlots (my memory may be tricking me on this one, but stick with it). Fight? Go to page 22. Flee? Go to page 16.
If and when combat did occur, you would actually have to throw some dice to complete a RPG battle system that decided the fate of the skirmish. I remembers lots of pencils and paper being involved. Then, with the advent of computers in the home came the text adventure. No graphics, but often incredibly well written and sublimely captivating. It would be remiss if I never mentioned the Level 9 Computing text adventures and a nod to them. A collective of writers that came up with some cracking adventures that really managed to inspire my own imagination. Level 9 Computing.
Graphics did come, and some beautiful games were created, but technology evolved and these games of course fell out of fashion and favour. A few years back a Japanese action RPG came along called Nier, the game included a text adventure section and it was incredibly well written and gave me hope that maybe there could actually be a revival in some way for this medium. Why the history lesson!? Let me just move on to tell you about ICY and hopefully all will make a bit more sense. ICY is developed by an Italian games developer Inner Void and was seemingly partially funded by crowd-funding, although they have chosen to opt out of the early access route many games seem to take these days. It is described in the marketing blurb as “a narrative-driven post-apocalyptic survival RPG” and I’m not going to disagree with that. It has a RPG levelling up system, it has resource management, as a lot of your game will be spent both hunting for food and scavenging for anything else that might help you and your survivors from coming to an abrupt, shivering end. ICY is all of the above, but pure and simple, ICY is a story and told in a way that immerses and plays very much like the text adventures of yore.
The game begins with you briefly being told that two years ago you were taken in by the people you travel with now- a group of nomads wandering this arctic wasteland with one objective: Survival. Then through a series of brutal events you find yourself the leader of the group and their lives are now in your hands. Now, me comparing this game to the books of old may have led you to believe that ICY is nothing more than an interactive novel, this couldn’t be further could be from truth. You explore, interact with both your companions and the deadly frozen wasteland, you will be fighting bandits, wolves and the most deadly of foes – starvation. You will be on a quest to both lost comrades and your lost memories and bigger connection with all that is going on (sorry for being so vague, but I would hate to give any spoilers away). The narrative and pacing is bang on the money. For the purposes of reviewing the game, I’ve just been sticking with the story mode, but there are other modes that offer a greater challenge and a more vicious icy sting that should be at least tried. You’re essentially left to your own devices as leader… At any point when on the world map you can click on a list of your current tribe members and speak to individuals. Some will make demands of you, will question your leadership and maybe have issues with decisions you have made.
Your job is to keep your tribe fed, keep them from falling out and keep your own head whilst searching for a small section of your tribe that has been kidnapped. OK, cliché time. Paintings and thousands of words and all that, but it would be criminal of me not to talk about how darkly enchanting the presentation of this game is. Each scene is presented in the form of a hand painted picture and they manage to really encapsulate the dark brooding painful ambience of this frozen wasteland. Couple this with a very well-pitched soundtrack and the atmosphere is perfect. Characters are roundly written, but and there’s a bulbous but here; translation has been slightly ropey. The odd sentence does pop that is in broken English (I have to admit I sneekingly enjoyed it, as in my head everyone had Romanian accents) and some clumsy mistakes- such as describing a black character as ‘the black man’, these made me wince a touch. They’re aware of this and are patching the mistakes as they become aware of them, all credit for that and considering this in an independent game made by developers not from an English speaking country, hats off to them (and lighten up moaners). To make myself feel even older and possibly alienate anyone under the age of 40, apart from my text adventure comparisons, anyone that ever played Lords of Midnight might feel at home in this icy tundra. Clumsiness aside, ICY is a very cool breath of fresh air influenced from a bygone age of gaming.