Overall Score 77%
(Before I progress into the main body of this review, I'd like to point out that it has been based on my experience with the demo version of Icebreakers. Although contact was attempted with the developers in order to organise access to an evaluation build of the game, no communication was received. Therefore, the views and conclusions that I draw from my time with the demo may or may not apply to the final, retail build of the game.)
The first thing that surprised me about Icebreakers was that it isn't a racing game at all. After a precursory glance at a few screenshots, I decided that it must be another Mario Kart clone, but first impressions can be deceiving. As it turns out, it does share a little in common with the Mario Kart multiplayer (split-screen) mini-games. Icebreakers is an arena style game where the players compete in various disciplines in rounds that last for about 5 minutes or so. It's a fast paced, action intensive game where twitchy reflexes will prevail over grand strategy and cunning tactics. In fact the game has more in common with an arena shooter than a driving game.
In this game players scoot around the levels in bob-sled type vehicles and attempt to stay alive while knocking out opponents. The main weapon is not a gun, or even direct physical contact with other players, but rather a cool looking ice-trail that extends a fair distance from the back of the bob-sled. The mechanic in play here is derived from the old Sneaky Snake game. By out manoeuvring opponents the player forces them to have to cross one of the ice-trails on the level, and in doing so taking damage. Some tools available for both offensive and defensive measures are available, and these include special moves, snowballs, and a turbo boost. Each character has their own special move, but snowballs and turbo boosts are common to all. Special moves and turbo boosts are finite and need to be periodically recharged by moving over pick-ups in the field. Players can survive multiple hits form ice-trails, but each hit drains a chunk of health. If health is reduced to zero the player is knocked out and respawns after a short delay.
Players take to the ice as pre determined characters. 2 are unlocked in the demo, and it looks like another 6 are available in the full game (of which 2 are presumed locked from the outset). Characters have differing values that determine maximum speed, manoeuvrability and resistance to damage. 5 game modes are available. The two that are available to try are Battle Royale (a deathmatch type of game mode) and Capture the Monkey (a variant of King of the Hill).
Despite there being a minimap in the bottom left hand corner of the screen, I find that I rarely have time to glance down there as the action is fast and furious. There seems to be more than a little luck involved in coming out on top. Of the two demo characters available, one had a vastly superior special move to the other. I have a feeling that if you like twitchy arena shooters, then this game will be right up your alley, but it's just too manic and reliant on quick reflexes to hold my interest for very long. There are a whole bunch of stages that I never got to experience in the demo, as well as a story mode that sounds more like fun to me than random skirmishes, but that too was not available to play.
One area of the game that really sets it apart from similar titles is the quality of the graphics and visual effects. The characters and art style are quite cute and cartoony, as well as animating fluidly. Translucent ice-trails shatter as players smash through them, and the semi-reflective surfaces of an iced over world afford a very atmospheric backdrop indeed. Presentation is similarly professional with easy to understand interfaces, menu screens and options screens that allow full customisation of the game to the players liking. Sounds are not quite as impressive; they seem to lack a bit of weight and impact, but I guess this is intentional to fit in with the light animated feel of the game. Music consists of light ditties that entertain at first, but will have you reaching for the mute slider if you play for more than a few minutes.
The game would be ideally suited to local multiplayer. There is an option for split-screen play that I couldn't get to work, but that sounds like a great way to enjoy the game, possibly the best. There are also options to start and join games over IP, but the demo does not allow you to try these out. Perhaps if a few of the story mode levels were included in the demo, I'd be more inclined to want to see more, but from what's on offer, I don't see a great deal of longevity in the title for players who like deep, thoughtful games. Meta-achievements and rewards can sometimes work in quick, action oriented games like this, but there seem to be none of these, nor any other system to keep the player interested over time.
Icebreakers is wonderful looking game that is happy to be played in short bursts, or as a party game with a few friends. Although it seems to lack any real long term appeal for the fairly hefty $20 price tag, the production values are impressive, and the integration of the Sneaky Snakes mechanic into an arena game is a clever hook that perhaps could have worked even better if the pace of the game were a little slower? It feels too much like a crapshoot when all players are bunched up making trails everywhere and there are KO's happening left, right and centre. Hardcore players might shun the cutesy appearance of the game and strategy fans will not look at it twice. Casual gamers are also likely to be deterred by the twitchy action gameplay. My play-through left me partially impressed, but wondering exactly which group of gamers that the developers were targeting with this game.
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