Insurmountable dares you to survive its harrowing mountaintops

By Steven Nguyen Scaife, Contributor

Climbing in video games tends to revolve, quite understandably, around the threat of falling. It’s a series of immediate decisions that determine whether you safely advance from one position to the next.

Insurmountable from developer Byterockers’ Games, however, makes the inspired choice to take a more long-term outlook. As a climber traversing a vast and pitiless landscape one hexagonal tile at a time, you must learn to pace yourself. Your biggest threats lie farther down the line, in the depletion of stat bars for not only health but energy, body temperature, oxygen, and sanity. Each of these is impacted by the type of terrain, current weather conditions, the time of day, and other variables.
Insurmountable Dares You To Survive Its Harrowing Mountaintops Night
Through this intricate system, Insurmountable offers a truly ingenious experience that plays like a particularly tense board game, invigorating a familiar video game pastime in the process. If you climb at night, for example, your body temperature will drop while you puzzle out the map with decreased visibility. Elevations past 6,000 feet put you in the Death Zone, where the air is thin and your oxygen ticks down with every action—including going to sleep to restore valuable energy. Energy, in turn, is vital for passing through certain types of terrain or climbing to tiles at different elevations (most of the map, in other words).

The meat of Insurmountable, then, is all the perilous, player-generated stories that naturally result from trying to balance all these devious, interlocking elements. You might find yourself without a tent at night, searching the icy darkness for a cave that you saw during the daytime, only to blunder into a dead end. By the time you reach the cave—if you reach the cave, that is—you’ve expended more stats than you would have simply by suffering through the penalty for sleeping outdoors without shelter. Or you might find yourself desperately climbing toward a restorative Shrine, energy almost gone, only to suffer a leg injury on some precarious terrain. With your injury increasing the energy cost for climbing, you must choose whether to forge ahead and risk exhausting yourself or take a more roundabout route.

If this sounds like a lot to keep track of, that’s because it is. But the information overload is also the point—Insurmountable asks you to track so many details knowing full well that you’ll inevitably slip up, and that there’s an unparalleled thrill to overcoming trouble that you’ve created all by yourself. It’s what makes the game so utterly gripping, the push-pull of weighing risks against benefits, and then having your best-laid plans blow up in your face.

The payoff, one assumes, is not quite on par with climbing an actual mountain. But Insurmountable is rewarding in its own right, with each successful excursion giving you a leg up on the next one. Upgrade points go toward character skills, inventory space, and even ways to mitigate obstacles like oxygen loss in the Dead Zone or losing body heat at night. You’ll need that edge, too—as the game goes on, the mountains grow far more complex, and the challenge becomes quite steep. Luckily, the towering sense of accomplishment rises along with it.