Whenever mankind has been confronted with a seemingly impassable barrier, they will always seek to overcome it. Oceans are navigated, rivers forded and, of course, mountains are scaled by brave mountaineers. Insurmountable casts you in the role of one of these mountaineers, taking on a triad of mountains in an unusual tactical RPG/survival game.
Taking up the role of one of three unnamed persons, an adventurer, a scientist, or a journalist all of whom start with different gear and different buffs, you’ll need to move across a tile-based map as you attack three mountains one at a time. As part of your set up, you can choose which route you wish to take, each of which has plus and minus points, such as blizzards or more rocky areas.
You’ll control your character in a 3d rotatable view and you can plot your moves, clicking on a tile and then executing your move. There are four different gauges to keep an eye on as you play the game; energy, temperature, stress/sanity, and oxygen. Each of these are depleted by different things and running out of any of them will put you into a “critical” state which will then give you a random chance of dangerous events which can deplete your health. If your health reaches zero, you die and the game is over.
The game’s excellent UI will feedback to you what each route will do to the four dials as well as colouring the route in red if you’ll end up in the critical zone. There will also be small lightning flashes if you’ll be taking a chance with one of the particular ascents, such as moving up a tough ledge.
You’ll also see floating circular markers on the map which are random encounters. You can get a rough idea of what they’ll be based on the icon, such as the tent marker giving you sites that could offer you shelter or even find more equipment. You’ll need to weigh risk versus reward as you head towards them whether it’s worth the extra energy to go and investigate them. Some of the events even have small multiple-choice events attached to them so you can choose how to spend your time and what risks to take.
You’ll lose energy as you move, with more energy lost if you’re trying to climb a particular steep climb. You’ll lose temperature if you’re walking in the snow or ice, as well as whilst sleeping. You’ll lose sanity if you see unpleasant or strange things, such as dead bodies or you come close to death! You’ll only lose oxygen when you cross into the “Death Zone” and then you’ll lose oxygen every time you move.
You’ll restore lost energy with sleep or with food and lost temperature with sheltered sleep or with hot tea. You can get sanity back through certain events and you can find oxygen canisters to restore lost oxygen. Lost health can be restored by the rare pick up of first aid. You’ll never have too much equipment and the management of your dwindling supplies is a key part of the game. Even your tent only has a certain amount of uses and sleeping in the open is very bad for your temperature!
The game will keep a track of your buffs and debuffs as you go on, helpfully displaying them at the top of the screen so you can easily check and make your decisions. The UI in the game makes sure that you always have the data you need as you move up the map, even if sometimes some more granular feedback per tile could be useful.
You’ll also gain experience points as you move up the mountains and level up, gaining persistent skills that you’ll keep for the whole run. These will see you gain various buffs or skills you can trigger with their own cool down, such as the adventurer’s ability to sprint and gain a buff to movement and to gaining temperature. The longer your run lasts, the more skills you’ll have unlocked.
Once you get towards the top of the map, you’ll spot an “aurora borealis” around a hex or set of hexes which is the summit you need to head towards. Once you reach it, you’ll then be redirected to the downward climb. Pleasingly you don’t have to head all the way back down to the beginning, just a set of exit hexes.
Your health and stats are persistent between mountains, though you do get some small amount of restoration between mountains. Therefore, you’ll need to marshal your resources carefully and avoid taking “scars”, long lasting debuffs between climbs.
The game has a certain amount of maths and predictability to it with the resources, though there is of course the random element with the lightning flashes indicating areas where you have a random chance of suffering a negative event, as well as the fact that moving in the critical “red” will likely lead to bad times but isn’t sure to destroy you, the game will force you to push your luck.
The graphics are rather nice, with lovely ambient sound with bird calls, howling winds and crunchy ice and snow making up a lovely and evocative background sound. The graphics are crisp and clear, with most tiles fairly clear as to whether you can traverse them and whether they are snowy or just rocky. It would be nice to get some tooltips if you hovered over terrain though.
There are issues, however, with the presentation of the map. The game obscures the full map from you, only giving you a view of the surrounding area. This is a feature, not a bug and it limits you when plotting your route. If you’re not careful or don’t see enough of the map, you may find that you need to make a tactical descent for a bit to climb again later or, even worse, back track. However, at times the rotation of the map will see elements block your view in a way that is not likely intentional, with your camera view ending up inside the mountain.
It’s also not correct to call the game a true rogue lite. Whilst equipment and level ups are persistent across all your mountain climbs, when your game ends, you’ll start from the beginning with no permanent unlocks.
There are also issues with the games approach which is neither a traditional RPG as there are no real characters and only a minimal amount of story, or a tactical strategy game. Instead, it’s an odd hybrid of several different genres but it’s a rather unusual type of game and I for one have not seen anything like it presented in this fashion.
At present there is also a large number of repeated events, you’ll quickly see the same event appear several times during the same climb which can really reduce your immersion in the game. Insurmountable is a tough game. Even on lower difficulty levels you’ll be challenged to climb more than one mountain and getting to the third offers a really tough challenge for you. You’re going to have to be careful and lucky, making good use of your buffs and finding the right equipment to make it to the top of all three mountains!