Winter Survival Will Make You a Wolf Mass Murderer

Winter Survival Preview

It’s become a new annual tradition to re-install snowy survival games every winter. I see the snow outside, I give thanks for being inside. Then I venture out into the great outdoors, from the comfort of my warm home. I have a few favorites I keep coming back to (such as The Long Dark), but I am always open to including more games in my chilly rotation. Does Winter Survival join the pantheon of great frozen survival games?

The Grey

Winter Survival comes to us from DRAGO Entertainment, best known (to me anyway) for Gas Station Simulator. Right off the bat, it’s clear the devs got their fundamentals down. The controls, level design, and atmosphere are solid. The rules of the genre are pretty clear- you’re going to need wood and rocks, and you’re gonna shove them together to make stuff. All of that helps you survive.

If Winter Survival has a main gimmick, it’s building. Uh oh! Building and crafting games have been on a tear lately, with multiple popular new titles debuting in the first few months of 2024. Fortunately, the building system is totally fine. You have some good options to start putting together a little cabin base. I liked what I came up with, but the game really suffers from coming out right after Enshrouded, which totally rewrote the rules on first-person base-building. I didn’t have trouble building my cabin or anything but after getting used to all the neat and easy-to-use snapping, construction was taking up an awful lot of time and effort.

Beyond the building, there are some very neat sanity mechanics. Neat on paper at least, at the moment they seem to fluctuate a little too dramatically. I found myself getting new negative sanity status conditions as quickly as I could lose them. This ultimately made me feel like I was stocking antidotes before exploring a poisoned area. With some fine tuning though, I can see a game where the sanity mechanics really guide the player’s decision-making.

Hat and Beard

As for the other survival systems, you probably have a good guess. You must manage hunger and thirst. This is a winter survival game so of course you also must track your cold to not freeze to death. There’s also a fairly involved sanity system, which has a lot of good ideas. At the moment though, the balance of those things feels way off. Needs like hunger and thirst build up fast, but it isn’t hard to satisfy them. This is exactly the wrong balance you want in a survival game. Instead of feeling desperate for resources, I felt nagged by notifications telling me to use my items.

A game such as this doesn’t even really need a story, but Winter Survival has got one. It’s rather simple, which is good, as there are a lot of mechanics and nuances to master. You play as a Beardy Guy trying to survive and look for his friends from this freak cold snap. This mode didn’t do it for me at all. I found Beardy Guy to be sort of annoying, his friends doubly so. It also removed that sense of isolation you get from so many survival games as they were constantly giving me instructions. Eventually, I switched to the more free-form mode, and that was a lot better.

Impaling Woodland Critters

I was also struck by the violence… which is a little weird because I have no compunctions about Doom or Half Life or Mortal Kombat. More so than any similar game, Winter Survival has robust combat mechanics. You mainly use them on the classic wintertime foes, bears, and wolves. There’s a cool timing-based move where you brace a spear and let the animal charge into their doom. You can wave around a torch and scare them off. But these fights happen a lot. It felt more like a combat game than a survival game. Using stealth to sneak past wolves through the tall grass also damages the feeling of isolation. I want to feel the crushing, uncaring weight of nature coming down on me. That’s tough when I am merking fools like Solid Snake.

I don’t want to give the impression that Winter Survival is incompetent. It’s very solidly designed, drawing from a lot of popular games. It’s actually crazy how common base-building mechanics have gotten. To be able to express yourself and problem solve creatively is always going to be fun in a video game. And I surely had some fun while playing Winter Survival.

Winter Survival is still in early access, so it’s a bit of a wait-and-see. Some mechanics, definitely need more time to cook. With tighter controls and better pacing, Winter Survival could evolve into a very solid game. Other aspects seem to be part of the design. I don’t know that I will ever click with fighting animals in this game. The story and the writing will largely remain the same. There are games in this genre that I would recommend first, but if you’re looking for something new and solid, Winter Survival might be on the road to becoming that game.

***PC code provided by the publisher for review***