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Icarus Review

There’s (space) gold in them there (space) hills

If you ask any creative person what the hardest part of their passion is, the likely answer would be ‘originality’. How do you set your work apart from peers when every story has been told a thousand times over and every setting has been done to death? Well, every so often, pondering that question will lead to a breakthrough, which is exactly what’s happened in the case of RocketWerkz’s new sci-fi survival/crafting game Icarus. A bold new twist on the foundational mechanics of the genre aims to shake up the desperately oversaturated market, but do these changes to the player experience help Icarus stake its claim or does it fly too close to the sun?

Unless you’ve literally been crafting crude tools and surviving a hostile environment in real life for the last few years, you’ll no doubt be aware of the cultural revolution that’s putting stone pickaxes in the hands of gamers across the world and causing 10 minute Primitive Technology videos to garner millions of views on YouTube. You’ve got creative juggernauts like MineCraft that present an almost limitless sandbox to build in, more brutal and combat focused titles like Ark: Survival Evolved, grotesque nightmare fuel like The Forest and finally, quasi-realistic and narrative-driven adventures such as Green Hell. Icarus shares a lot in common with these games in that you essentially start with nothing and must gather, hunt, mine and craft if you want to last more than a few minutes.

I love the juxtaposition of the spacesuit and the bone spear

Surviving on Icarus (that’s also the name of the planet you find yourself on) means keeping your character fed by hunting for meat or gathering fruits and veggies and staying hydrated by finding potable water sources. Not only that, but similar to Subnautica, you also need to keep on top of your breathable air meter as the atmosphere of the planet is incredibly toxic to humans. Once your basic needs are met it’s time to start thriving in the wilderness, and you can start by building things like primitive stone tools and thatch dwellings. Doing pretty much anything in Icarus will net you some experience points, which can be used to progress your character through technological advancement and survival skills. All of you that play games like this will no doubt be well versed in the gameplay loop of gradually getting better equipment (stone tools shortly become iron tools and so on), but it is here that Icarus begins to diverge from the beaten path and establishes itself as a massive contender for your precious time.

Before I can talk about the twist on character growth, I must first talk about the overall structure of the game, as this is also quite different from what fans of the genre may expect. Typically, in survival/crafting games, your character wakes up in some unknown location with little explanation and a whole lot of stuff to kill, eat and build. Icarus, however, presents players with a narrative reason for their predicament and ask you to willingly place yourself in harm’s way with nary a thing, several times. Icarus (the planet) is a failed terraforming experiment that has transformed the environment into one that only genetically modified plants and animals can survive on. The reason for such a catastrophic event is a previously undiscovered (and incredibly valuable) material Exotic, that is buried beneath the surface of the planet. In a movement that echoes the real-life gold rush of our own past, desperate people, henceforth known as Prospectors, are cashing in everything they own and heading planetside to risk it all in the search for a massive payday.

Instead of just dropping you in the dirt and letting you run wild, Icarus offers players prospects to engage in, essentially timed missions that ask you to complete various objectives for rewards. These can range from ‘deploy scanning beacons’ to ‘kill this massive beast’, and even ‘mine X number of resources’. Each time you stake a claim to a prospect, you’ll drop onto the planet with nothing, and a timer will appear at the top of your screen. Now it’s really up to you what to do next. Will you just gather what you need, make a bee-line for the objective and hope for a quick buck, or will you put down some roots and progress your character’s experience to unlock better tools for the job? Bear in mind that each prospect must be completed within a certain time or another of the game’s twists will get you.

Hydration is key, so I built a rain catcher right next to a lake

Although you essentially start with nothing each time you choose a prospect, your experience level and unlocked technology is persistent. For example, my first few missions were chaotic affairs where I ran around gobbling berries and grabbing sticks to make a spear so that I could fend off the hungry wolves that circled my little plot of land. As I advanced in levels, I was able to unlock the ability to build axes, bows, arrows and little dwellings. Gaining experience also gives you skill points, which you can use to upgrade your characters base statistics (damage output, resource consumption bonuses and the like), much like an RPG system. When I finished that mission and returned to orbit, I selected another job and went straight back down for those sweet rewards. Although everything I’d built and crafted were no longer there, I could build anything I’d been able to previously, without needing to unlock it again and my stat increases still applied. If you fall unconscious (die) during your adventure, you can respawn near your initial drop zone, although all experience points that are going towards your next level will be frozen and must be re-earned before you can earn any more. This can be especially punishing in later levels, although mitigated if you play with a friend, which I’ll touch on later.

This may seem to fly in the face of something like Ark: Survival Evolved, where the aim is to essentially become a technological god, but for me it keeps the excitement of starting fresh each time and doesn’t force you to anguish over the decision of where you are going to invest all your time and build your base. If your prospect is just to set up some beacons, you might just build some cloth armour, a spear and get some food before going on your way – after all, you’ll be in and out in a flash. However, if you need to head into Icarus’s more demanding biomes (Scorching Desert and Arctic Tundra) you might need to establish a base so that you can stay alive long enough to craft warmer clothes and a water skin. Remember though, Father Time waits for no one and if you spend to long building the perfect metropolis, your prospect timer will run out and your pick-up window will vanish, leaving you stranded on the planet. The cavalier among us may scoff at this, but it’s actually really bad, as your character will permanently die, and you’ll really need to start again, unlocking all the crafting recipes and skill boons from scratch. Ouch. Thankfully, you can have up to three different characters available for prospects at a time, mitigating some of the loss, but once they’re gone, they’re gone for good.

There is A LOT to unlock

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Although growth and evolution are enough of a reward for some, completing prospects also nets you various levels of the in-game currency. This is used in a separate advancement tree, which unlocks even more advanced technology for your character. The best part is things that are unlocked in orbit can be taken on and off the planet with you. This means that you can unlock and craft things like clothing and tools that you can take along to later prospects, saving you precious time when you land. You won’t need to scrape together a stone pickaxe if you land fully equipped with a sci-fi 3D-printed one! Be aware though that these tools MUST be brought back with you when you finish your prospect, otherwise they’ll be gone for good, and you’ll need to spend your hard earned currency to buy another one. Later, better gear also requires you to spend Exotic material that you’ve mined from the planet on your various sojourns. After all, nothing worth having ever comes for free. It’s also worth noting that if you do suffer a “permadeath” on Icarus, your advancement and saved currency in orbit remains, meaning you needn’t worry about losing all your hard won spoils.

While the prospects start off quite simple, later missions will require a proper time investment of hours and sometimes days. Thankfully, you can recruit up to seven other players to assist you in completing them, which can make things go a lot quicker. That being said, even one of the mid-range prospects took me and four other advanced players the better part of five hours to complete. The way that Icarus handles multiplayer is also a bit strange and bothered me at first. In other survival/crafting games of this size, there are usually public and private servers that you can join to find a crew, both PvE and PvP. Surprisingly (at least to me), you can only play Icarus in PvE, with people who are on your Steam friends list, who are also playing the game. Since I have a dearth of friends on Steam who play things like this, I had to join the game’s Discord server and post in an LFG channel to find someone to play with. Now that I’ve got a few chums on my list, it’ll be easier in the future, but I was really confused and a little lonely to begin with. If you are interested in playing Icarus with other people, I highly recommend visiting the official Discord server for it.

I can’t tell if the tiny amount of light makes it more or less scary

The last thing I need to mention is how gorgeous this game looks and sounds. Everything from the dense, lush forest floor to the terrifying polar bears on the barren snow-drifts is just gorgeous. It’s also a sonic delight when a deadly thunderstorm threatens to blow down your ramshackle hut, even if you are fretting over losing your meagre possessions to the harsh winds. I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to games like this, especially when it’s made by smaller development teams, but it feels like no concessions have been made in bring Icarus to life.

Aside from a slightly bumpy launch and a few technical issues I encountered while playing, I don’t have many bad things to say about Icarus overall. Although this is technically a full release, there were still some things that felt a little early access, like missing UI elements, a few niggling quality of life issues and Coming Soon banners in certain areas. However, since the developers and community managers are incredibly active and supportive of the game, there have been several hotfixes since I started playing that have patched over many of the issues I found and even added new content. It feels very much like a living game and if you don’t mind a little dust here and there, chances are you won’t have to live with any issues you have for very long.

DUNE simulator 2k21

Final Thoughts

I do not understand this primal urge inside me that compels me to try every survival/crafting game on the market, but I am grateful for it. Icarus is a fresh, engaging and rewarding take on a well worn genre, that has something to offer both old time survivalists like me, and green-horn prospectors alike. Even if you’ve played the other games I’ve mentioned in this review to death, I highly recommend giving Icarus a go, I reckon you’ll find something new to love.

Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher

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Icarus Review
Waxing or waning?
Icarus boldly stakes its claim amongst giants in the field and swiftly proves to be a worthy contender. Everything I saw in the lead up to the release of Icarus made it seem too good to be true, but my faith and patience was rewarded many times over when I finally got to drop planetside for the first time, and the time after that, and the time after that. Icarus is going up on my list of favourite things to come out of New Zealand, alongside pavlova and Lord of the Rings.
The Good
Deep and rewarding survival/crafting systems
Interesting sci-fi narrative
Beautiful visuals and sound design
Prospects make you consider risks and rewards
Rewards long term investment and punishes apathy
The Bad
Multiplayer is frustrating and complicated to begin with
Later levels can be punishing to solo players
9
Bloody Ripper
  • RocketWerkz
  • RocketWerkz / Yooreka Studio
  • PC
  • December 5, 2021

Icarus Review
Waxing or waning?
Icarus boldly stakes its claim amongst giants in the field and swiftly proves to be a worthy contender. Everything I saw in the lead up to the release of Icarus made it seem too good to be true, but my faith and patience was rewarded many times over when I finally got to drop planetside for the first time, and the time after that, and the time after that. Icarus is going up on my list of favourite things to come out of New Zealand, alongside pavlova and Lord of the Rings.
The Good
Deep and rewarding survival/crafting systems
Interesting sci-fi narrative
Beautiful visuals and sound design
Prospects make you consider risks and rewards
Rewards long term investment and punishes apathy
The Bad
Multiplayer is frustrating and complicated to begin with
Later levels can be punishing to solo players
9
Bloody Ripper
Written By Edward Darling

If they had waterproof controllers in the 80s, Edward would probably have been gaming in the womb. He'll play anything with a pixel and would rather make console love, not console wars. PSN / XBL: CptLovebone

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