I’ll get this out of the way, right off the bat- if you’re familiar with Among Us, then you’ll have a good idea of what to expect from Project Winter. However, whilst Among Us was a personal choice of games to draw comparisons to, there is more to it than just being a carbon copy of that and other similar titles (plus, Project Winter initially released first, so consider that).
Project Winter falls under the umbrella of games that doesn’t necessarily have a defined genre (that I could find anyway), but one that some call a ‘social experiment’ game. There are overall objectives for players to complete to ensure victory, whilst a couple of members of this unit are actually working in opposition to the group with the aim of sabotaging objectives. It’s basically a game filled with trust, lies, and deception. And believe me when I say, things can get tense.
The game is split into two teams within the overall groups- survivors and traitors. There is a 6:2 ratio of survivors to traitors as, of course, things couldn’t be made too easy for the sneaky fiends. However, this is also in Project Winter’s favour; having an equal balance would mean weeding out the naughty boys and girls far quicker, and thus you’d have less fun with the game.
There are also, in normal mode at least, extra roles dished out. The Medic can heal downed survivors, whilst the Scientist can raise the dead (If the prerequisites are met). The Scout can use traitor hatches and can locate others on the minimap if using the same colour radio. The Defector can open traitor crates, the Soldier can take more damage from wild animals and knows the location of an armoury after completing the first objective and the Hacker can unlock a bunker or use electronic scrap to open the truth serum lab or armoury on their own. The Detective is able to interact with the environment to determine the traitors, and finally, the Identity Thief must steal the role of a dead player to ensure survival. All that may have gone over your head a little, but each aspect will be broken down somewhere in this review.
Before the game starts, there’s a tense (but thrilling) wait to see if you’re on team survivor or team traitor, and which role you’ve been assigned. The extra roles don’t come in to play on basic mode, but all are present in normal mode, and can be tinkered with in custom games.
Both basic and normal mode has you knocking down trees and smashing ore to obtain the right materials to craft certain parts required to fix the two generators. However, in basic mode the map and time limit are smaller and finding bunkers and other areas of interest is easier. In normal mode there’s also a ‘dig site’ task in which you use photos to determine the location of certain repair parts. Whichever mode you opt for, the core premise of the game remains largely the same- survive! You’ll still have a hunger and warmth meter in basic mode too, but they seemed to decrease at a slower rate. There’s a third ‘blackout’ mode to try, but this is DLC I didn’t have access to, so I cannot comment on how it plays out.
Once all eight players spawn in the mountain cabin, it’s time to get things underway. The cabin is your main base of operations in many ways; here you can cook, craft, warm up, eventually (hopefully) use the radio, and even vote to exile other players if you feel they are the traitor. Doing so locks them out of the cabin, so that lovely, roaring fire won’t warm them up should they get too chilly.
The time will quickly come to leave the cabin though, as you’ll want to go about fixing the generators so that you can power the radio and call for a helicopter- this is the primary goal of the survivors. The aim for the traitors, whether they themselves live or die in the process, is to ensure that doesn’t happen. Traitors can sabotage repairs, hindering progress, or may simply waste time by not helping at all. If they are sneaky enough, one may disappear for a short time, only to seemingly return to aid you, before quickly cutting (or shooting) you down in cold blood.
Scattered around the map are bunkers which require two to three players (unless one of you is the Hacker) to open. Do this successfully and you’ll find lots of goodies inside, including food, tools, repair parts, and weapons. When it comes to gathering resources, bunkers are arguably the best option for doing so.
Whilst bunkers can be used by all players in the game, including traitors, there are also traitor-exclusive boxes that often contain weapons and traps for the fiends to utilise. Traitor tokens are collected by opening these boxes and staying close to survivors, and whilst not every item in a traitor box requires these tokens (they can also be used to sabotage machinery and change signposts around so that survivors may become disorientated), some do. There’re also traitor hatches that can zoom them to different parts of the map, these aren’t the most discreet when used, mind- be warned.
You’ll find resources out in the world too and crafting back at the cabin is where you’ll note the range of craftables on offer. From repair parts, to traps, tools, and radios. The first of those are the most useful, but tools and radios are also very handy, as are traps if you want to catch animals (meat sustains hunger, after all). Of course, if you’re a traitor then you can use all these items for more nefarious means. However, this only adds more tension and hilarity to the game. Did that player craft an axe to chop trees, or are they looking a bit too suspiciously at your head? Hmm.
Melee combat felt a little clunky but in a sort of natural way if that makes sense. Realistically, most humans won’t be able to fell someone in one swipe, so it felt normal for it to take several hits to down someone. Ranged weapons will alleviate this problem, with the shotgun arguably being your best friend. But don’t worry if you’re looking to practice your aiming skills without harming others, for you can enter a snowball fight while in the lobby. It’s charming and a great way to get to grips with aiming. Win, win.
Should the traitors kill all the survivours then they win, but should a single survivor escape, they get bragging rights. You can even have both traitors die and still be victorious if the survivors all perished. Remember though, traitor or survivor, you’re going to need to keep fed and warm. Fire kits can alleviate some frosty problems should you be quite a way from the cabin, but they won’t be much good if a blizzard gets you.
On the subject of blizzards, there are also global events that can shake things up even more; many, but not all, involve blizzards of some description. Some are VERY chilly, whilst some will impair vision or sense of hearing. There’s also a whiteout which can teleport you across the map, and global events where scores of wild animals may descend upon you. I’ve even heard rumours of more bizarre global events, which I won’t spoil, but hope there’s truth to. I
Whilst both sides attempt to complete objectives, there’s several ways to communicate. Text chat and emotes may serve beneficial for some, but a more efficient method of communication in Project Winter is proximity voice chat and utilising the craftable/findable radios that allow you to communicate with players of a same radio colour from a further distance. The intention of this method of communication I’m sure is to add more tension and a sense of survivability to the game. Which I am happy to report-it does. Hearing the voice of a fellow survivor (or potentially dubious traitor) get louder as they approach, or fade away as the leave your close proximity, really does give a sense of being alone in a harsh environment. I had some games where I didn’t hear players for several minutes, it didn’t make things boring, per se, but it did make things seem lonely.
If you want a laugh, picture one scenario in which I was calling for help after being downed by a moose, only to have a fellow survivor reach me just a little too late. I can only imagine my cries started very faint, and then by the time they’d reached me, became nothing. There was also a humourous occasion in which a player started punching me by accident, but I thought it was a traitor trying to do me in. Being one of my first games, I responded with violence and the whole thing descended into chaos between me and three others. Amusingly, in the post-game lobby, it transpires none of us were traitors, and our cries of innocence were genuine.
If you’re not too great (and I’m not judging) at communicating with other random players then you may struggle a little with Project Winter. As the game points out though, communication is key to the game- I mean, how else are you meant to insist that crossbow bolt was meant for a wolf and not a survivors head? I know it’s easier said than done, and as with any online game you’ll find bad apples amongst the bunch, but the randomness factor of not knowing who you’re talking to and how they’ll deal with the situation can be absolutely brilliant, hilarious, and even quite heart-warming at times.
Project Winter’s map in is somewhat randomised each game. The cabin will always be in the same place, and bunkers/power stations tend to be in one of four directions, whilst resources are thankfully usually fairly easy to locate. So, whilst there may be similarities in layout, you can never be 100% sure, but I liked that- it added to the survival aspect. And don’t forget, signposts will always guide you back to the cabin. Unless a pesky traitor has spun them around.
As I start to wrap this up, I have to give credit to Project Winter– the game isn’t too complicated for new players or veterans of the genre alike (even though I found myself learning far more from experience than the initial tutorial will teach you). I will note, depending on the time of day, sometimes finding a game proved a little tricky, but at others it seemed fine. There were a few occasions where I tried to join a game only to realise it was password protected, but this wasn’t too much of an issue, I just moved on.
Speaking of time, normal mode games can last up to thirty minutes- basic mode is half. Quite often I found myself playing games right up to the end, whether I survived or succumbed to death in those final moments. For the most part, these games were fun, but if things go awry at the start, it can be a little dull from time to time if the remaining players aren’t really doing much. Don’t get me wrong, being a spirit (who can heal, warm up, or feed players, or freeze them if feeling naughty) and listening to others let the paranoia creep in can be brilliant, especially when players realise they’ve made a mistake. However, in games where chat is minimal, things can be a bit less entertaining.
Still, whatever the outcome, you’ll earn currency to buy new cosmetics and items for your character. I haven’t put a huge amount of time into the cosmetic side of things, but there’s a sort of loot box system to spend the in-game currency on and you unlock more items by completing tasks, too. I will say though, my experience with all that stuff was a positive one, and my character is sporting some fetching winter attire, let me tell you that for free.
I’ll also note a few final bits and bobs. The soundtrack to the game is funky. There’s a track that plays over the top which is upbeat and makes you feel optimistic, but then ambient sounds or no sound at all add to the atmosphere of Project Winter. Visually, I also enjoyed how the game looks, the screenshots will give you an idea, and the isometric camera design worked well in my opinion. Basically, if you’re looking for the ‘technical’ stuff, the game performs well.
Remember, Project Winter is entirely multiplayer, so that may swing your decision on whether the game is for you. Sure, I had a few rough games, where people seemed to forget basic decency towards others, but this is the sad reality for many games. Best you can do is not rise to it, call out the bad behaviour, and move on. However, when I was having good games, and things were playing out as intended, I was having a damn fun time. Can’t blame the developers for bad players, and as it stands, Project Winter plays very well indeed.
Ultimately, Project Winter is a (icy) blast to play if you can get into the groove of things and people in the lobby are decent human beings. More often than not I did find people were of a good nature, and so my first real foray into the world of a social experiment game, mixed with some survival mechanics, was a positive one. I mean sure, I may have become a paranoid wreck from time to time but it’s all in good fun. Now hand me that axe, I’ve got necks, I mean trees, to chop.