Icarus breaks up the survival genre into smart session-based gameplay

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Icarus is the new game from developer RocketWerkz, which DayZ creator Dean Hall founded in New Zealand following his time at Bohemia Interactive. The quick-and-dirty description for Icarus is that it is like Valheim in space. It’s a survival game where you’ll need to gather resources and build up your tech tree to survive harsh environments. But Icarus puts a spin on the formula with a session-based structure that may make the game even more addictive and appealing when it launches on Steam for $30 on August 12.

I’ve spent some time playing Icarus, including a session with Hall, who showed me around the world. And one of the first things I noticed is that I had no desire to cut my first run into the world short. I was getting my bearings and learning the mechanics, and the last thing I wanted was to go back up to my space station. And that’s something that Hall said the team learned when testing the game.

RocketWerkz originally designed Icarus with short early sessions and longer late-game sessions in mind, but the team actually found that people prefer the opposite. Like me, most people want to spend a long time in a world when they first boot up Icarus. Then later, after leveling up a character and getting in a flow, players enjoy shorter, more goal-oriented runs. And while that was not immediately intuitive or obvious to RocketWerkz, the designers see why that makes sense now.

Like in a lot of sandbox-style games, everything seems possible when you first land in Icarus. And you want to take time to learn the boundaries and dynamics of the world. You will then apply those lessons to accomplish specific purposes once you know what you want to do.

Systems, DLSS, and ray tracing

We tried to start a forest fire. That’s the key takeaway from my time in Icarus. It has physics systems that simulate fire and its spread, but we actually failed at getting the fire to jump from one tree from another. But Hall thinks that is because it had just rained in the game. That thunderstorm itself was spectacular — with its own fire-causing lightning strikes. But the moisture left the forest too wet for our arsonist inclinations.

Icarus is brimming with systems like that, and it adds to the sense that you’re exploring a sandbox or possibility space.

Another factor that makes Icarus stand out is its visuals and tech. RocketWerkz has already implemented Nvidia’s deep-learning supersampling (DLSS) as well as RTX-powered global illumination. This means that you can get realistic-behaving light rays, and DLSS then means you can even run the game at a decent framerate. Even in my early sessions, Icarus regularly hits a better-than-playable framerate thanks to DLSS. And that’s before RocketWerkz had given the game its final optimization pass before launch.

We’ll see what the game is like once its out for everyone, but it’s definitely a game I find myself gravitating toward. A part of that is I haven’t had a survival game in my life recently. But I also think Icarus is promising a compelling loop with the potential for emergent storytelling, and that could help it find an audience when it’s available beginning August 12.


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