Icy Review: Out of the Box

Inner Void brings the classic text adventure experience many have loved from games like ‘Oregon Trail’ and turned it on its head with “Icy.” The journey in this post-apocalyptic tundra is interesting and ambitious in its intent, but sadly not as much in its execution. “Icy” is a game of survival, attempting to bring the struggles of a harsh, frozen world to the player and their band of nomads as they travel. All while guiding the player through an interesting narrative unique to games of the genre.

“Icy” immediately captivates you in its beautifully done oil painted environment. The representations of the landscapes and characters can be works of art on their own, and truly paints the color of the universe Inner Void attempts to build. Every expansive and bleak representation of the snowy dangers conveys the sense of hopelessness many of the characters feel. The abandoned buildings bring an air of mystery. And the rather surprising and unique environments amongst the White Wasteland will stun you. The detailed paintings of each individual encountered brings them rather close to reality, making it easy to envision their voice simply by looking at their portraits. Visually, “Icy” succeeds in immersing you in their universe.

Immediately, the player is tasked with building the base of their character. They choose to level up three main attributes; body, mind, and word. Which affect your health points, experience gained, and your conversation options respectively. Along with these are several stats to allocate your appointed experience toward. These include your effectiveness with weapons, increasing the damage you deal in combat situations. Several survival based stats, including hunting, scavenging, medicine, and exploration. These help with the daily survival situations, allowing you to travel faster and become more efficient with hunting and scavenging scenarios and how effective your medicine usage is. There are also speechcraft and intimidation elements, which open new conversation options. And then there is stealth, which is difficult to tell what precisely it affects in-game with the vaguely given description. After crafting your character’s stats, you choose between three physical representations of either a male or female and then you jump right into the story.

The White Wasteland is a future created by an unknown force where its inhabitants’ lives are a constant struggle. As you move around the map and complete quests, you run into a colorful cast of characters that have much to offer in terms of personality and characterization. None of these characters falls into any cliché archetypes, which makes each one feel unique, begging for the player’s interest of their stories and how they might interact with each other character. These are offered fairly often in between major events to make you love or hate them accordingly. You start investing in these characters enough to the point where you care if you’ve lost them and think about how the dynamic of your party might shift.

However, this is soon overshadowed by the narrative the game moves you through regarding the mystery behind the White Wasteland. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The plot is interesting, and as you progress through it, you become eager to unfold more of it. But this comes with the sacrifice of the more personal character interactions, pulling you away from characters you might have been attached to, to the point where you might even forget certain characters were there until they spurt out some random dialogue during a plot event. It becomes counterproductive in what it tries to accomplish.

In between the story, the gameplay leaves a bit to be desired. The initial working of stats makes you think deeply about what you want your character to excel in. Should they be strong to fend off attackers? Should I make them a survivalist? Should they charm their way out of tight spots? As soon as you have decided this and have gone through several encounters in the game, you realize that it doesn’t matter as much as it seems. As you level up your stats throughout the game, the differences in their supposedly applied situations become hard to notice. The biggest difference that is noticed as the game progresses is how quickly you defeat most enemies in combat situations. As you gain party members, your strength increases severely and it becomes much less challenging. But the survival aspect of the game never seems to shift significantly as time passes on.

This doesn’t at all help the rather systematic feel of the events featured in the game. Hunting, scavenging, and random attacks from multiple types of assailants break up the traveling across the map. On the first few encounters, they felt like exciting experiences where you wouldn’t be entirely sure of what you received from a scavenger mission, or you wouldn’t know how your enemy would respond to certain actions. But very quickly each consecutive occurrence repeats the same approach, making them feel more tedious. Although this  is a  sharp contrast from the plot related events, it offers many options in how you approach each problem that drastically effects the outcome. It could be argued that this methodical approach helps the feeling of survival. You need to hunt to survive, and it couldn’t possibly be exciting every single time. But ultimately it makes traveling between each quest point blander than it should be.

“Icy” has a lot to offer with its narrative. The environment and the story are a lot different than what we see today and do a fantastic job of highlighting what can make text adventure games great. But the bland survival interactions across the map don’t offer much in between the major plot points, and the inconsistencies in stats don’t supplement this issue. Moving through the story and learning more about the world and its captivating inhabitants is completely worth it, but the rest of the gameplay easily becomes a chore. And the temptation to multi-task while moving through the map is certainly there, with only the ominous ticking down of your resources as an incentive to perform the necessary tasks of your survival. If you are looking for an out of the box narrative amongst today’s market or a resource management challenge in the higher difficulties, “Icy” can fulfill that for you if you can push through its issues.

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