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Icarus: Everything we know about the sci-fi co-op survival game

Announced at this year's PC Gaming Show, Icarus is an upcoming co-op survival game from Dean Hall (of DayZ fame) and developer Rocketwerkz. In Icarus, players descend to a hostile alien world from an orbiting space station to gather resources, build tools and structures, fight alien wildlife, and try to make it back to their space station alive.

Above you can watch the teaser trailer, which shows astronauts landing on the planet, cutting down trees, hunting creatures, building a fort—and one point, running out of breathable oxygen. But there's a bit more going in Icarus than just crafting axes and driving dune buggies.

Here's everything we know about Icarus.

What is Icarus' release date?

We don't have an exact date yet, but it's scheduled for sometime in 2021. According to Dean Hall, who spoke to us at the PC Gaming Show, the development of Icarus is "advanced" and Icarus is already being playtested.

Is Icarus free to play?

Yup. Hall has confirmed Icarus is a free-to-play game. We don't yet know how the survival game will be monetized, however, or if there will be season passes, microtransactions, or other paid-for content.

How does Icarus work?

Players begin in a space station orbiting an alien planet. It's a co-op survival game, so you can invite your friends to visit your space station (kind of like visiting a friend's apartment or penthouse in GTA Online), and then negotiate a contract—a mission to a biome on the planet below, and a list of the resources you'll need to bring back within a set period of time.

These surface missions can be short, 20 or 30 minutes, or much longer, up to 48 hours (and those minutes and hours are real-time).

Icarus, unlike survival games such as DayZ or Rust, is session-based. You don't live full-time on the planet's surface, you travel down from orbit, complete your mission, and return back into space before the timer runs out. Think of it a bit like Escape From Tarkov, where you need to get in to a dangerous area, do your job, and get back out, only some of these missions can last much longer than the ones in Tarkov.

(Image credit: Rocketwerkz)

Tell me about that planet I'm on

Fun fact: Icarus is being developed in the Unreal Engine and the planet's terrain, according to Hall, is all hand-crafted—Icarus is not relying on procedural generation.

While on the planet, players can craft tools, build roads, bridges, and other planetary infrastructure, which may be necessary to transport the materials they've mined back to their dropship. Players will need to stay hydrated and fed, and there's plenty of alien wildlife to hunt for food or defend against.

Otherwise, the planet doesn't look all that different from Earth. There are trees and other plants, and we caught a glimpse of a desert biome. There must be a little oxygen in the atmosphere for the campfire in the teaser to be able to burn. Just not enough to breathe, apparently.

And the space station? What's the deal there?

The space station forms the other half of your experience in Icarus. While you can build primitive tools on the planet, you can build advanced ones on your station. Using the resources you bring back to orbit, you can upgrade your station, build vehicles and vehicle parts, improve your spacesuit, and unlock other new technologies. You can even alter and improve your dropship.

That doesn't mean you can bring every single thing you've built on your space station with you on your missions. Hall referred to the dropship system as a "chokepoint" since it limits what you can bring down to the planet with you, which he says creates a balance between the "uber-technology" of the space station and the primitive world of the planet.

How many players can co-op support?

Judging by the trailer, it looks like you can have 4 players in a session together. When the astronaut climbs out of the dropship, you can see two others standing there while a tree is falling over in the distance—implying a 4th player just chopped that tree down.

4 players are also seen sitting around a campfire together, and in a few shots that display a HUD, you can see readouts for the status of 3 other players in the main player's helmet. Hall didn't specifically confirm this, but it looks like Icarus a 4-player co-op survival game.

What happens if I die? Do I lose my stuff?

VIDEO: Watch the full Icarus reveal and Dean Hall interview from the PC Gaming Show above. Also on YouTube.

Well, that depends. If you run out of oxygen on the planet, someone else can revive you. If you're hurt by an alien creature, another player can heal you. The real danger is if you miss your ride back up into space.

Every contract has a ticking clock based on your dropship's orbital launch window. When that clock expires, your dropship is taking off, with or without you.

If you don't make it back to your ship in time for launch, and you're left behind on the planet, it's over. The character you've been playing is dead, the progress you've made with that player is gone, and everything piece of equipment deployed with that player is lost. 

Hall called getting left behind "the one failure state" in Icarus. So keep an eye on the clock and don't miss your launch—or you'll lose everything.

(Image credit: Rocketwerkz)

Is there PvP, like DayZ?

It sure doesn't sound like it. Hall described Icarus as PvE survival, and made no mention of PvP. Admittedly, we still have a lot to learn about Icarus before it comes out.

There are some similarities to DayZ and other survival games like Rust, but a lot of ideas for Icarus were inspired by other games, some of which aren't even in the survival genre. Hall says Rocketwerkz looked at Skyrim for its archery (you can craft bows and arrows), Kerbal Space Program for its rocket modification, Mudrunner and Snowrunner's vehicle systems, and Deep Rock Galactic's mining. 

Hall also cited the rules of battle royale games as a way to give players direction and structure in Icarus, hence the countdown timer for every excursion. "I think if you look at Fortnite and PUBG, they've really shown us if you package things well and explain it well, it resonates much better with gamers," he said. "We want to do that same thing with PvE survival."

Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring stories in RPGs so he can make up his own.