An assumption that’s easy to make, specially when on the internet, is that very one. Project Winter presents you with a wide open situation and a simple premise: Eight survivors need to escape a secluded mountain facility before a mega blizzard comes and turns them into a delicious popsicle.
It’s survival meets social manipulation. And clearly the social manipulation part is good at it’s job. You could say it’s almost too good. With eight survivors, keeping tabs on everyone is going to be complicated. When survival and frequent pitstops become a necessity, it just gets that much harder. Mix in some borderline exploit behaviours and the very fact that this system is open wide for Discord fuckery, and you have an infuriating experience.
However, the game being mostly centered around people means that almost anything can happen. It’s entirely possible to cut an uneasy deal with a traitor. It’s entirely possible to double back and shoot the traitor in the face for peace of mind. The social manipulation aspect of the game is even a little too complex, with very little things seeming to make a difference.
The server you choose will bring a different crowd, with intense, talky Americans who try to talk their way out of any sketchy situation, ruthlessly pragmatic Asians who execute underperformers as a way to both encourage an efficient working atmosphere and get rid of traitors, and Europeans who mostly do their own thing but can sometimes be persuaded in one way or another.
How you dress and look will make your avatar blend in or stand out, with faceless designs seeming to attract the least attention of the bunch and getting the worst descriptions, “man in a black coat”. How much you talk will persuade some people and turn others suspicious. What you do on the map will also raise red flags, or help people relax around you.
Or alternatively you can just make up some bullshit story about how the other guy shot first and it was totally self defense. It seems to work around 90% of the time. If someone told me my experience in Project Winter was going to be mostly NOT getting shot at for petty offenses, I wouldn’t have believed it. Hell, I would have shot them over less.
The game manipulates it’s players incredibly well, tilting them to the dark side left, right and center. There is no situation where being the last man standing isn’t worth it, on paper. Escape pods with room for one appear at a random time in the match, and sadly, not every player is good at doing objectives. For some matches, this is the only real way to escape with your hide intact, becoming a real source of conflict.
Food and crafting items aren’t very plentiful, meaning not everyone can be properly geared. This requires them to run on trust for their teammates, and that’s just akin to saying “Requires them to run on faith on GOD almighty.” And I haven’t seen any crusades happening lately.
Against a clueless team, traitors are succesful frequently. People splitting up, teammates turning on teammates over menial stuff like a bit of wood… Opportunities present themselves frequently. But against a team that keeps formation and rushes objectives, traitors are pretty much completely hopeless. It’s only when people get lonewolf ideas that the cookie crumbles. However, this is about half the time.
Any attempt to fight a team that stays tight will be quickly shut down. Project Winter is all about strength in numbers. The problem is keeping those numbers together. Dying doesn’t kill you, either. You’ll just be downed for a pretty ridiculous amount of time. And you can be picked up by a teammate. This, overall, makes it the survivor’s fight to lose.
Traitors get stat boosts for opening crates, which entails some risk. They are supposedly loud, but it’s actually pretty rare to hear one. However, they require the traitor to bail on their team, or take the other traitor on an adventure and try to cover it up as mere exploring. There’s a cold mechanic which can’t kill you by itself, but will make fights an uphill battle by halving your total health.
In the end, they have to try and spin a tale most of the time, rather than try to rely on simple skulking around. Whether this makes things more or less interesting is entirely up to the player.
You can cook, craft and warm up at the cabin, getting ready to jump into action fast. Cross your teammates, and it’s off the the tundra with your annoying ass. And the tundra is a little bit dangerous.
And I say a little, because save some freak accidents involving a pack of up to five wolves aggroing at once, the wilderness is a pretty safe place to be in. While food isn’t much for eight people, it’s plenty for one, and although fireplaces are rare, they do exist. You won’t thrive, but you can live.
Hell, you might even appreciate the peace of mind in deciding that indeed, everyone are assholes and you’re better off on your own, waiting for an escape pod by the edge of the map and shooting the crap out of whoever stands in your way.
Exiling someone is the blameless version of murder. You just throw them out and hope for a pissed off bear to sort out the unsavoury ordeal. However, it is fairly common for people to survive and even be less nervous when they know they should just avoid people like the plague. Not to mention, exile votes require three to come through… And there’s two traitors.
It’s time to talk about the balancing a bit. For starters, Project Winter is a social deception game that allows you to party up with your friends. Now the honour system is just a fancy way of saying “fuckery abounds”. Six stacks are instantly able to tell who the traitors are with a little info sharing via Discord. And there is plenty of that.
The experience for solos, unless you are both EXTREMELY good at making fast friends online, and lucky to be on their team frequently, is a little infuriating. There is simply no way you can leave the cabin when a fully armed Russian firing squad is waiting for you on the other side. Camera FOV heading north is perfectly fine. However, you can barely see south.
The map is randomly generated. Have to charge a protected extraction point lategame and it’s north? Expect an easy fight. If it’s south, you’re getting swiss cheesed before you even see your aggressor.
Walking on snow leaves very visible trails, making splitting as a traitor extra dangerous. And the biggest one is without a doubt the ability to become invisible by exploiting the terrain. As long as there’s a tall enough wall to the south of your character, you are perfectly invisible.
There isn’t any way to open bunkers on your own, or to craft weapons or items in the wilderness, making exiled characters underpowered in comparison to everyone else. This is most likely a voluntary choice to accentuate the importance of teamwork or deception. However, I’d still like to see a traitor camp of sorts so they can stay in the battle longer.
And most of all, I wonder why the hell do traitors start with a telltale radio on their inventory, which they will drop upon being downed. Hilariously, three groups I’ve had the pleasure of playing with agreed to being downed right at the start, which made the traitors run for the hills faster than Sonic the Hedgehog. Nothing builds trust like a solid hook to the jaw, it seems.
Project Winter is Early Access and for what it is, I can easily recommend it. There’s some bugs here and there, most of which can be worked around, and some balancing choices seem odd. I don’t think it has Rocket League staying power. And it probably can’t be your main game. But for 16 euros, it’s easily worth far more than twice that in game time.
There are lootboxes, but they’re fairly easy to grind, inconsequential to gameplay and always just another match away. Additionally, the game is entirely a terrible thing you keep doing to yourself, but the rush in managing to escape, killing a traitor, or wiping out a survivor team is very fun and somewhat addicting.
All in all, easily worth the 2 hour trial period on Steam at the very least, and if you have friends, I can only imagine the horrors you could inflict upon the playerbase. You BASTARD.