Post-apocalyptic settings seem to be a staple of RPGs these days. With games like Fallout, Wasteland and Dead State (and even JRPGs like Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII) running the gamut from nuclear war to zombies and everything in between, “post-apocalypse” looks to be on its way to becoming the new “medieval Europe” as far as role playing goes. Inner Void’s new RPG/interactive fiction game ICY, however, brings a fresh new twist to the genre along with a (so far) unexplored setting, as it casts you as the leader of a nomad tribe trying to survive in a new Ice Age. Ultimately, it”s a nice idea that could be the basis for a fantastic experience, but unfortunately it’s spoiled by a few quite noticeable flaws.
As stated before, ICY is an interactive fiction game with RPG leanings set in a frozen cold Ice Age. The game is mainly text based, and most of the gameplay consists of reading descriptions of what’s happening around you and then selecting different responses to advance the storyline. The concept is simple, but it offers a lot of complexity in terms of role playing, with a huge variety of dialogue options for your character and a whole bunch of actions to perform in any given situation that usually lead to different outcomes. Many encounters in the game present options that are tied to your character’s stats or skills (for example, trying to talk someone down rather than fighting them) and so the way you create your character has a noticeable effect on the progression of the game, which means each playthrough will be slightly different depending on how you spend your character’s EXP at the beginning of the game.
So far, so good. At its core, ICY is basically a computerized, post-apocalyptic version of one of those Lone Wolf gamebooks from years gone by. The graphics and audio aren’t really the “point” of this game, but they get the job done. Textual descriptions are accompanied by pretty background art depicting the scene before you and hand drawn portraits of the NPCs you’re talking to. A moody, haunting soundtrack underscores everything, lending a palpable tension to your adventures. Sound effects are cleverly used to punctuate the action in the game (for example, hearing gunshots during a fierce battle, or hearing gusts of wind while trying to escape from a snowstorm) and they successfully ignite the imagination, making certain scenes seem more alive than simple text would allow. In terms of aesthetics, ICY is very well presented, and it’s clear that Inner Void have carefully thought about the art and sound direction of this game.
Unfortunately, there’s one aspect of ICY that falls short, and in a text based game, it’s a big one: the writing. I feel kind of bad to fault the developers for this, since it’s clear that English is not their native tongue, but ICY‘s writing definitely needs some work. Descriptions are stilted and sometimes unclear, leaving out important details (for example, early on in the game, you meet up with some soldiers described as being armed with “high tech” equipment, but we don’t have any context for what’s considered high tech in this setting so it becomes difficult to imagine exactly what you’re up against). Dialogue is cold and unnatural – it gets the point across, but doesn’t read at all like something an actual person would say. Certain sentences are littered with misspelled words and/or improperly used punctuation. ICY‘s writing seems very amateurish, and for someone like me who places a lot of stock into a game’s writing, this made it hard to really become immersed in the story, which is a huge failing for a text based game.
Aside from the writing, which really could do with a proofread by a competent editor, there are other issues that make ICY a more frustrating experience than it has to be. There are quests that don’t get properly marked as done once you complete them, and you can do them over and over. There are encounters that don’t trigger properly, such as a companion falling off a cliff while exploring an abandoned police station, or a guy who died weeks ago (or who you never recruited in the first place) suddenly approaching you at camp for a heart to heart talk. There are encounters that just don’t make any sense, such as being attacked by a bear while hunting which in the very next scene is a “pack of wolves” instead. Whatever handles the random encounters in the game definitely needs some fine tuning.
So, in the end, is ICY worth it? It’s hard for me to say. If you’re willing to overlook some poor writing and some very possibly broken encounters, then for $12.99 you’re getting 30+ hours of non-linear gameplay in a tense, interesting setting. If you’re expecting the next Fallout, however, or even just a cool Choose Your Own Adventure book in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, you’ll probably be disappointed. Until the writing, at least, is cleaned up a little, I can’t recommend ICY to anyone who’s into RPGs for the story.