Played on Xbox Series X
I was recently offered the chance to have a relaxing time with seven other people in a cosy snowbound cabin! Sadly, due to the current Lockdown restrictions I was forced to turn that down. Thankfully, the next best option was to team up with a few of the XboxEra team and play Project Winter, a title that is out today on Game Pass.
After slipping into my ‘Prince Purple’ survival suit and tipping my Bowler Hat at a rakish angle we set off into the wild. Welcome to the Xbox Era review of Project Winter.
Traitors Among Us
Project Winter is a multiplayer title that mixes elements of survival games alongside the shenanigans and ensuing hilarity that come from lying to your friends in an effort to completely ruin their attempt to win. The setup is simple – within your small group of eight survivors, all of whom should be uniting against the elements to secure rescue for everyone, two of them are ‘traitors‘.
What this means for a survivor is while you’re busy trying to restore power, avoid being eaten by a pack of ravenous wolves or simply not freeze or starve to death, these two sneaky companions will be doing everything they possibly can to sabotage equipment, betray and eventually murder you.
Extra depth to this setup is applied via Character roles, applied at random at the start of each match. Medic, Scientist, Soldier or Hacker and more, each of these roles have traits such as the ability to heal other people but are controlled by a charge meter and cannot be used unless the meter is full.
In nice touch whilst you are waiting in the Lobby to start a game you are given the option of taking part in a snowball fight with the other lobby members. This is certainly worth indulging in, not only because it is cute due to the stylised, cartoony graphics but just to get used to the aiming controls for your character. Want to practice your combat skills on a nearby snowman? Sure, but you feel bad afterward!
Survivors of course, have no idea who among them is a traitor and must complete tasks to ensure survival and rescue, while also figuring out who is actively working against the group. The tasks are nicely varied, ranging from repairing equipment for certain installations via the crafting of necessary resources to collecting batteries to restore power or even just repairing gear while fighting off waves of wolves or bears.
These tasks, while not insurmountable, require the team to work together as there is no way to complete the objectives solo. If they can do this successfully, they can call in a rescue vehicle and escape to win the match.
Having very few resources at their disposal survivors have to scour the map cut down trees, break rocks and bust open bunkers in order to craft and gather everything they need. A good first move is to craft an Axe to make collection of base components easier; who wants to break up a rock by punching it repeatedly when you could use an Axe? The aforementioned bunkers containing ready made parts, food and weapons are scattered around the map but generally need two or three people to press a button at the same time to open them.
While your crew are beavering away at all of these tasks, the traitors in your ranks have other ideas. Traitors are identified to each other but no one else, and whilst the survivors are trying to carry out repairs it is the job of the traitors to gain their trust while undermining their efforts. If possible, traitors will sabotage equipment, steal resources, lay traps and even murder the survivors.
A win for the traitors is when they remain undetected and no survivors manage to escape. Resources are plentiful for the outnumbered yet unknown traitors. There are numerous boxes of supplies that can only be opened by them and they are replenished by airdrops regularly. Quick Tunnels connecting different points of the map are also available to the treacherous ones, so they are far more mobile and less exposed to the elements than the survivors.
Cabin in the Woods
The cabin acts as the main shelter during gameplay and contains several tools that are useful to everyone. The first of which is a nice big log fire, which offers much needed respite from the cold. There is also a crafting table, which you can bring along your gathered resources in order to create more complex parts, fuel and weapons.
There’s also a stove for cooking food – whilst food can be eaten raw at a push, it is far more restorative when you’ve cooked your chunks of moose or perhaps made into a pie. A communal storage box is also on hand, so you can leave items that other people can use as part of the overall team effort.
This may all sound relatively simple but there are many other considerations that need constant monitoring. As well as a standard Health Bar which drops due to physical damage etc. it is also necessary to keep an eye on your Warmth and Hunger bars. Should either of these get too low due to the harsh environment your health bar will start to degrade without you taking any physical damage, until you’ve either returned to the cabin to soak in the warmth of the fire or crafted a small log fire from wood at the crafting table ahead of time, for use if you’re stuck out in the snowy tundra.
Wild Animals such as wolves, moose and bears share the environment with you. They are also focused on their own survival and are frequently hungry, meaning some will attack you without provocation. The only good side to their presence is that killing them allows you to raid their delicious cadavers for meat.
Global events are other distractions that need careful monitoring. Being too far from the cabin when a Blizzard hits the map can be fatal if you are not adequately prepared or able to shelter elsewhere such as an already opened bunker.
However, the weather is not the only thing you’ll need to keep an eye on. Global events I feel are where the developers are assuredly having some fun – one event is like a descent into madness, where every players outfit is morped into an identical giant bunny rabbit suit, making it more than difficult to track who is who – very handy for any would be traitors in our midst. Having everyone be identical in appearance makes running into anyone else at that time particularly stressful. Being in the cabin with traitors is a bad enough position to be in when you can identify people but meeting others in the woods with no idea who they are is next level descent into madness material.
Another may force a complete whiteout, resulting in you being teleported across the map unexpectedly. This was particularly disorientating, completely disrupting the task that I was trying to complete. I’m not sure I’ve seen all the global events yet, and they certainly keep you on your toes.
It’s Good to Talk
Communication is incredibly important for success in Project Winter. The game forces you to use its own in-game voice comms which gives it a very ‘old skool’ nostalgic Xbox Live circa 2002 feel, and means no more private voice parties.
Moving away from other players means that you lose all contact, therefore a survivor wandering off on their own totally isolates themselves and makes them an easy target for traitors and wild animals as there is no way to call for help or warn anyone about who has started attacking you. Traitors have walkie talkies from the start, so they are always able to stay in contact with each other to spread confusion and protect each other if suspicions arise regarding their intent.
The whole ‘fifth column’ dilemma of the game creates a real feeling of paranoia and suspicion within all the people playing as survivors. Should you stick together and work as a team or not? This allows you to hear what people are saying, keep an eye on them and try to work out if they are on your side but at the same time you could unknowingly choose to work with the two traitors allowing them to lead you off to a bunker and betray you far from the eyes and ears of the other survivors.
One factor on the survivor’s side is that if they strongly suspect a particular person of being a traitor, they can vote to Exile them. This means that they cannot enter the cabin for a certain amount of time. They lose all the Cabin benefits (warmth, cooking etc.) and are unable to eavesdrop on any discussions going on inside.
In my first game I wandered off and got hopelessly lost as I had not seen the map before. When I finally located the Power Station and some other players I was immediately treated with suspicion because they had not seen me for a while. Where had I been? What had I been doing?
People talking openly about not trusting you within earshot can be really hurtful so prepare to fall out with your friends playing this game. It did not help matters when I accidentally removed two fuel cans from the console being repaired rather than adding the can that I already had. I was instantly accused of sabotage when I was just being a newbie. Of course, perhaps I just learned a handy ruse for later on….
The most hurtful incident by far was when a dear friend of mine refused to let me carry the final part that we needed when he was at deaths door as he was not sure if he could trust me. The strange thing is he was quite happy for me to revive him as I was a medic and then carry the part, but it took that olive branch before some trust was regained.
This did however lead to a dramatic finale when we had to race to a waiting Submarine with only seconds left on the clock. Unfortunately, the three of us that managed to embark the vessel accidentally started the departure countdown and we ended up abandoning the other survivor just as she got to the jetty. How we laughed nervously as she turned the air blue, but we were still close enough to hear what she called us.
Death is not the end
I did mange to survive by myself for a long time when I was stuck at the top of the map behind a wall of rock. I managed to shelter in a previously opened bunker with a makeshift fire during a blizzard only to fall straight into a frozen river and die when I was nearly back at the cabin. It is treacherous out there.
Thankfully, even in death I can be of use – as a ghost! Project Winter is a game where even dead, I am persuaded to stick around as you are are able to help fellow survivors (with health and heat) or try to hinder the activities of the Traitors. Trying to cool down a traitor who is deploying numerous bear traps around something the survivors need to fix at least gave me some satisfaction after dying mid-game. Ghosts are in their own voice chat channel upon death, and cannot warn remaining survivors.
The game has a surprising amount of depth for something that from the outside may look pretty simple. There is progression, unlocks and customisation. DLC is already available and new game modes are something that the developers, Other Ocean Interactive is looking to work on in the future.
It’s also got full cross play and private game functionality, as well as matchmaking. While testing the game for this review, we were using Xbox consoles but we were matched via cross play with other people playing on PC – it was seamless and no problems were encountered.
Project Winter looks and plays really well. The in-game comms system has a quite different sound design than we are used to these days, and hearing your companions voices fade out as the distance between you grows can induce some mild panic. The game has plenty of depth and detail to make it far more than a one-dimensional experience and is all about team work and communication. This is certainly a great game to play with friends and even people that you do not know as it will not matter so much when you fall out once their treachery and dishonesty becomes apparent.
This is not the “Among Us” clone you suspected after all, and I’ve come away impressed with whats on offer here. Unique and surprisingly deep, Project Winter is definitely something you should add to your download queue.