Post-apocalyptic games aren’t going anywhere and we may as well just accept that fact. Despite the bleakness of the setting and the outcry of people that don’t want to see empty wastelands, its story attributes lend it to be popular area for games. Icy is billed as a narrative-driven post-apocalyptic survival RPG. Yes, that’s a mouthful but it also explains the type of game you’re getting with Icy. Story is the focus and gameplay takes a backseat. That is both to the game’s detriment and benefit as the narrative focus gives the game a sharp, tight focal point but the execution of the narrative can leave the player with some head scratching along the way.
Icy is played out through a series of portrait-driven conversations between characters. Players have multiple options of dialogue depending on their skills and all dialogue is presented without audio so get ready to read, read, read. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing if there weren’t typos and errors within Icy's text. It doesn’t ruin the story but errors like that, in a written-narrative game make the it feel less professional and takes the player out of the experience.
Icy starts off the way any RPG does, with a character creator. After deciding what your character looks like and going through a rudimentary, and rather weak, skill selection, you’re dropped into the depressing world of Icy. The word has had yet another ice age, and you and your group are some of the few survivors of that event. One thing leads to another and you'll be placed in charge of your ragtag group of scavengers. It becomes quickly evident that every decision you make has repercussions not just for your character but also the entire group.
I couldn’t help but think back to The Banner Saga and how choosing the option that seemed right at the time could come back to bite you later on. Unfortunately for Icy that comparison leaves the game in the dust as The Banner Saga had decisions that felt much less contrived and consequences that were unexpected. Icy, on the other hand, has events that feel shoehorned in just for the game’s story.
While making your way through the story you’ll be treated to the beautiful oil-painting look of Icy. Locations and portraits all have a hand-painted look to them, which does a lot to make the game visually interesting. The calm and beautiful look of Icy is a stark contrast to the bleak and depressing narrative that surrounds the characters. It’s a technique used here and there in indie games of this nature and it’s alive and well in Icy. Character portraits all look appropriately down in the dumps and landscapes look, well, snow-covered and cold. It’s when those landscapes lead to combat situations that Icy feels less exciting.
Some games are better without combat due to their narrative focus. Games that understand that fact and build the narrative without combat rather than around hastily put together combat do far better in the long run. Icy’s combat has all of the feel of a D&D style game but none of the excitement. When you run into danger the game gives you multiple options for handling it. Will you shoot the wolf with a bow or a gun? Or perhaps you’ll try and use your knife or run away instead. Each action connects to a particular stat of the player and picking the one that meets your highest stat will result in a successful outcome. However, choosing to use a gun because you’re good at shooting will also waste valuable ammunition. While you’re choices are sometimes hard to make the act of making them feels like you’re just clicking the next button. There is no excitement to the action sequences and I often found them to be more of a roadblock to the next story sequence. It’s much like the inventory system which often feels like a tacked on feature with no huge game impact.
For a game built around its narrative Icy does a decent job at telling its melancholy tale of survivors. Narrative choices, while sometimes contrived, do feel like they have an impact on everyone on the group. Rescuing someone may seem like the right thing to do but it may anger other members. Going one way instead of another may split the group, leading to harsher consequences down the road. And other times, doing what seems obviously right can be the worst thing you can do to someone. These types of choices keep the game moving and serve as a buffer between hasty combat scenarios.
The constant push and pull in Icy was my biggest drawback. The art looks great, even if the setting and tone has been done to extinction…get it? The writing in terms of story is decent but in terms of technical execution it’s not great with too many typos and errors to be considered acceptable by any means. Having typos and errors in a game based solely around written narrative is just lazy. Combat feels rushed and thrown together, and often doesn’t pay off in any meaningful way. While there are elements in Icy that feel interesting and well done, there are too many faults in execution to warrant a play through unless you’re hungering for a wasteland-trekking narrative.