Insurmountable is the definition of a gaming slow burn. It’s a rougelike where you can take as long as you want to plan out your decisions and every move has random consequences. It seems like a simple and slow start as you attempt to ascend three mountains back to back but it’s the cumulative impact of your efforts that makes the game so engrossing.
At the start of each game you pick from three climbers and each has different skills and inventories. I found the adventure climber the easiest to get to grips with as he comes with tents to sleep in during a bind. Each character has five stats you need to manage as you climb up the mountains. Your overall HP – which when it hits zero is game over – is your overarching worry. Energy will be what you constantly monitor as every move consumes some. Body temperature is next and is affected by weather and day/night cycles. Drop too low and you start to lose HP and gain status ailments. Next up is sanity which goes down as you have traumatic events take place. Lastly, when you ascend above 6000ft, oxygen starts to reduce in the Death Zone.
Managing all these stats is a juggling act of eeking things out. As you plot your moves around the hexagonal spaces, terrain also puts a spin on things too as ice is more dangerous than rock and may spring random issues. Spread across the randomly generated mountains are a variety of events too. Some are caves to sleep or gain XP and items. Others are more roulette wheel choices that have random results every time so you never know really what a good choice is. You’ll want to try your luck in these events though – and some like vista points usually give benefits rather than problems. Why try these events? XP earned in them levels up your character to give passive or activation abilities to help you. These range from being able to see further on-screen to becoming a master on certain terrain types of improving lung capacity. All are helpful and so you have a constant risk versus reward at every turn.
Early on though, Insurmountable feels easy. It lulls you in at the base of a mountain with its beautiful graphics and plethora of events to enjoy. Then as you go up the mountain, the tables turn quickly. When I first played the game, I thought reaching the top was the end – oh no – you’ve got to get back to a safe base camp as well. This is where the rot sets in. Use all your stats and equipment to get up the mountain and you’ll run out of energy, sanity, temp and potential oxygen on the way down. When this happens, every other step causes you harm and that’s when you die very quickly.
Depending on your play style, when you hit the larger and tougher second and third mountains, you’ll bring along scars from your previous efforts. I made a mad dash on one mountain with no body temperature and so on the next mountain I had frostbite fingers which meant every action cost extra energy. Another one I went insane and next mountain meant I had a constantly decreasing sanity as I thought the wind had voices in. Your legacy mucks you up in the future when you have to do more with less for every mountain you attack. Thankfully, if you’ve levelled up, the random choices of upgrades you get may have been kind enough to compensate for it.
With the balance being so delicate, sometimes runs feel much easier than others. It just depends on what is handed to you. If you are successful, you unlock some boosts for that character and can then tackle harder difficulties. Here mountains contain more dangerous terrain and climbs are larger and require more energy between steps.
Insurmountable does have a very minimalistic story but it literally is a couple of panels of text between mountains and doesn’t really do anything. What really draws you in is the balance between risk and reward. Do you chase the XP events to have a better climber with fewer resources to manage? Do you take a slower route that requires less energy to climb as the terrain is easier or a more direct approach that will knacker you out but keep your tent intact? Everything is a juggling act and you can take as long as you want to map everything out in front of you.
For some, you may not engage so deeply with Insurmountable as it connects best with those that love to plan and roll the dice. Then you can get lost in the beautiful landscapes and the vast changes that each mountain brings. Over the last patch, more random events have been added in and if that and the mountain generation continues to improve in future patches, I think we have a true top tier gem on our hands.
Review code provided for review.
Every climb is vastly different.
Challenging but fair.
Legacy effects carry over to future levels to crank up the tension and drama.
Risk vs reward is at every turn.
The random nature of events sometimes feels like destiny is out of your hands.
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