The Frosts: First Ones (2021)
Developer: Ivan Sukhanov
Disclaimer: I received this game for free from the developer.
I apologize for this review being a day late, I'm currently traveling and just finished moving - it all really caught up with me. Thankfully, I've been receiving a few game submissions to my curator profile on Steam so I had some new indies to pick from. The interesting take on pixel art is what drew my attention to this next game. The Frosts: First Ones is a point-and-click adventure game about a hunter on the search for a missing tribe member deep in mysterious lands. The Frosts uses intricate, realistic environmental art and sound to take you deep into its untamed world, but is sometimes interrupted by its weaker writing and confusing movement.
You play as Berak, a hunter in his tribe who narrates the story. A woman from his tribe, Cilla, comes to him desperately one night as he sits by the fire and asks him to look for her husband, Hendrik, who has not returned from his hunting trip. Although Berak thinks the length of Hendrik's trip is not concerning, he agrees to go search. Near the beginning of the journey, he meets a man who met Hendrik passing through and you learn that Hendrik, unable to find any animals around this area, has instead gone to hunt in the "Spiritlands" - a forbidden, mysterious place where few have gone. Berak is shocked and concerned to learn this, but he continues on to find his friend. As you continue your journey to find Hendrik, you find that the Spiritlands are truly much more mysterious, strange, and unknowable than you accounted for.
It stood out to me how interesting and beautiful the environmental art was in The Frosts. It's highly detailed pixel art, and it somehow looks really realistic and alive. The entire world of Frosts is essentially pure white, all covered in snow, almost everywhere you go. And yet, there was diversity in environments through your journey. There's icicle covered, bluish frozen lands. There's heavily wooded areas, steep cliffs, and plains managing to look like their own environments despite the deep snowfall. The animals also have the same feeling of realism and wildness to them. The soundtrack is an interesting mix of ambient music with rock, amplifying certain moments of your journey. Also, I don't think I've ever mentioned this in a review before because I know very little about this subject: the sound design of this game was excellent. As you walk, you hear individual, heavy but fluffy steps through the snow, cracks of the twigs below you, and the cold wind whistling through your ear. It sounds simple enough, but the accuracy and immersion of it all really added to the experience.
I recommend playing The Frosts with mouse and keyboard, rather than controller, as it makes you use a cursor either way. I switched between using keyboard and mouse to move, as you can use just the mouse to guide Berak along a path. Sometimes moving around is a little tricky, because from a top-down view you can't always tell what's an obstacle and what's not. This worked okay for me because it felt like journeying through a real forest, messy with fallen trees and large rocks. However, it became really frustrating during a specific chase sequence. You're moving as fast as you can (there's no way to run) trying to escape what's chasing you, and yet you keep running into what appear to be invisible obstacles. Once you get caught, you have to start over from the beginning. I had to redo this so many times because it seemed every direction I went, even the direction the game seemed to want me to follow, I would find myself blocked. It's possible that I just wasn't moving "pixel perfect" through where I was supposed to go. After many tries I finally found the spot where I was supposed to go through, but I wish I'd just been more free to move around during this part. The Frosts makes little puzzles out of tasks you do along the way, such as climbing a steep cliff or helping a wounded animal. These were good in theory, like figuring out right place where to put your next hand when climbing, but other times there was no guidance or logic to it at all. It was just a guessing game and you didn't really learn anything from failure except to memorize it for the next time.
The Frosts was made by just one person and it's quite impressive as such, but I do feel that the writing could have been approached differently to tell its story. According to the game's website, the game was inspired by the works of author Clifford D. Simak. I'm not familiar with this author, but since the game was narrated by the protagonist but also included their actions, it could've used a writing style more like a book instead of using the early-internet methods of describing actions, such as below. At times, there were short voiced lines from Berak, which did add to the character, but for some reason these weren't given in text. They were separate from the game's dialogue.
The Frosts ends in a sudden way that made me believe it's setting up for the next part of the story, or will have a sequel of some sort. It leaves you wondering about not only Berak, but this world's fate. I recommend this game for its art style and interesting story, especially if you like adventuring through mysterious, quiet wilderness. It definitely made me want to play more like it, but it would benefit from improving the movement mechanics. I definitely want to know more about its story and would play a sequel in the future.
The Frosts: First Ones is available on PC
Played on: PC
Playtime: 2.5 hrs