The Forever Winter is a looter shooter set amid a dynamic war between building-sized mechs, where firing your gun could be the biggest mistake you make

The Forever Winter is not your typical looter shooter power fantasy, where you rush around gobbling up loot so you can grow into a powerhouse. You're a nobody. A desperate scavenger looting corpses while titanic machines conduct a war that's consumed the world. You're not trying to fight them; you're just trying to survive, and bring what you scavenge back to regular folk who are hiding from the devastation.  

First announced with a grim cinematic trailer in February, developer Fun Dog has today given us our first proper look at its post-apocalyptic nightmare, with its miserable scavengers scurrying between burning, monolithic structures and looting the detritus of a fallen civilization—all under the shadow of huge mechs fighting their never-ending war. The gameplay trailer does not paint a pretty picture of the future.  

(Image credit: Fun Dog Studios)

"[The Forever Winter] was largely inspired by the opening scene in Terminator 2 and the future horror scenes in the first Terminator," says Miles Williams, Fun Dog Studios CEO and creative director. "And of course Animatrix: The Second Renaissance was a big inspiration as well. But if we go back even further, it was actually much more inspiration from RTS titles, where it was the OGs like Dawn of War or Command & Conquer. I remember spending thousands of hours basically building up armies in these different games, and just letting them rock and roll."

This is not a game full of heroics. While the four-player squads will face androids and even some human infantry that they'll be able to take down, one of those huge mechs is going to easily be able to wipe them out—and they're facing not one but two armies full of these seemingly insurmountable challenges. 

"It was interesting, because if we look back at that core fantasy of that resistance fighter, and that super-bleak nightmare scenario that a lot of those science fiction '80s and '90s films dug into, it was not a power fantasy by any stretch of the imagination," says Williams. So when you jump into a mission, you're not going to be looking for some epic battles to get stuck into. Although you'll certainly witness them. Preferably from behind some cover. 

Bigger fish 

(Image credit: Fun Dog Studios)

The two warring factions don't really care about your group of survivors at first, though. They're busy with the war, with dynamic objectives playing out as you do your own thing. You won't be encountering random mobs of enemies that spawn in to give you something to fight; instead you'll encounter organised fire teams on missions. Maybe you'll bump into some APCs on patrol, or a clash of the titans with gargantuan mechs tearing chunks out of each other. And, notes Williams, "sometimes crazy shit happens where it has unintended consequences".

And if we do go into that fight, everybody's fucking dead—like you and your friends are toast.

Miles Williams, Fun Dog Studios CEO

Every enemy technically has hit points, but they also could have reactive armour, stealth systems and all sorts of countermeasures, so a ragtag group of survivors ain't going to stand a chance when the factions wheel out the big boys. If you do bump into one of the behemoths, you're just going to have to hope you're not noticed. 

"So for him his POV is like, he's more of like a Godzilla/King Kong type unit," says Williams. "We're not trying to create a situation where you're just plugging away at the [weak spots] on the boss. This thing got deployed for a specific reason, which means the lethality of the thing that it got deployed against is up here, and we're talking like street destroying heavy ordnance that will suck the oxygen out of the immediate AOE and immediately kill you. So, you know, OK, we're gonna go near this fight, but we're not going into that fight. And if we do go into that fight, everybody's fucking dead—like you and your friends are toast."

Encountering an enemy force you don't stand a chance against doesn't automatically spell death, though. If you run into a tough squad you know you won't be able to deal with, but you know the enemy faction is nearby, you might be able to draw them into a confrontation, letting you escape in the chaos. Maybe you'll stick around on the periphery, waiting for the victor to be revealed, and then you can pounce on them while they're battle weary. Stealth and smart plays are your strongest weapons.

If we can get the player to survey an area, take a moment, and not immediately shoot at everything that they see, that's a W for us.

Miles Williams, Fun Dog Studios CEO

But as much as there are still ways for you to feel like a badass, that might not necessarily be a good thing. The more noise you make and the more successful you are, the more the machine factions will consider you a threat. Fun Dog wants players to actually consider whether they should even fire their guns, because that's a big choice. By doing so, you're announcing to the enemy that there's something causing a ruckus. That's when they'll start to take notice. 

"If we can get the player to survey an area, take a moment, and not immediately shoot at everything that they see, that's a W for us," says Williams. Scouting and doing threat assessments is going to be paramount. You'll want to pick routes with lots of cover, rather than rushing into "that open stretch of no man's land with a bunch of crosses and dead robots in it". Each run educates you, teaching you what sounds different enemies make, how they behave, if you can outrun them or if they'll immediately outpace you, grab you and gobble you up. 

Holster it  

(Image credit: Fun Dog Studios)

Williams admits that it might be tough to teach players not to use their weapons at the drop of a hat. Decades of gaming has taught us that, if we see an enemy and we have a gun, we put as many bullets in it as we can. But here, your guns are defensive countermeasures—you're using them to protect yourself and your team when you don't have any other options.

On the subject of your team, Fun Dog isn't quite ready to reveal how each character works, but Williams does confirm that you'll be picking from a cast of survivors that each have their own playstyle and skill trees. When you die in a mission you lose all your loot, but you still get XP, giving you constant progression—but that progression doesn't equate to becoming more and more powerful. The stuff you unlock gives you more options, more utility, giving you a sense of growth without diluting the theme of being a nobody in a war that's so much bigger than you. 

Then there's the world progression. The factions will react not just to what you're doing in that immediate mission, but what you've been doing in previous ones. So if you do something that really messes up one faction's plans, you might find they've deployed some units to hunt you down to get revenge, or sectors will become more dangerous as factions lock it down. 

(Image credit: Fun Dog Studios)

"Because we hit the supply chain, this boss got killed," Williams offers as an example. "Now that other army controls that sector completely. And on paper, it's like, well, you got batteries, or you got whatever you wanted from that particular unit, and your people are OK, but now you're fucked if you go to that sector."

Similarly, your actions are going to have an impact on the rest of the survivors—the people you're trying to help. If you did something that got thousands of people killed, vendors back home might be understandably a bit upset, jacking up their prices as a result. So even if you survive and grab lots of loot, there might be some unpleasant consequences. Life in a warzone, it turns out, kinda sucks. 

It's exciting stuff, and this persistency is something Fun Dog wants to expand on post-launch as well, but Williams is also wary of over-promising. It's easy to forget, given the flashiness of the trailers and the ambitious nature of the team's plans, that this is still a small developer. "We're trying not to promise something that we can't deliver at our team size," he says. "So I'm very much leaning into like, yeah, we think this is cool. And yes, we want to expand on it over time as we build out the world. But it's also kept in a way that makes sense to the player. So we keep it simple versus it being the macro promise of, like, every drop of water that you drink from your canteen will change the map next time."

War is Hell 

(Image credit: Fun Dog Studios)

This big picture stuff has absolutely piqued my interest, but really I'm just eager to play a looter shooter where I'm terrified. The trailer really goes all out, hammering home how brutally grim the situation is. There are shades of Terminator and Warhammer 40k, but it equally calls to mind images of the total devastation wrought by modern real-world conflicts. The team interviewed veterans, including friends of Williams who came back from the Iraq War, and that's where the emphasis on "consequences and tangible stakes" comes from. It's stressful to watch—and the animal lover in me really worries about that kidnapped cow—but there's a twisted joy in playing a game that turns you into a sweaty mess. 

Williams mentions Lethal Company a couple of times, and while The Forever Winter is a very different proposition to the lo-fi scavenger hunt, it clearly showed how much fun can be had by making players desperately vulnerable and forcing them to constantly juggle their desire for more loot with the horrible knowledge that death could be lurking around every corner. Every minute of it puts you in a position where you have to make difficult decisions and maintain full situational awareness. 

That's what The Forever Winter is offering, too, but obviously with a greater emphasis on stealth and tactics. You're getting one of your team to hang back and provide cover, huddled behind a burned out vehicle with their grenade launcher at the ready; another to search the area for loot, hoping they don't find a hostile machine instead; and another ready to create a loud distraction so the rest of you can flee if a mech appears, so at least some of you survive—like a horror-themed Ghost Recon. And that is very much something I want in my life.

Fraser Brown
Online Editor

Fraser is the UK online editor and has actually met The Internet in person. With over a decade of experience, he's been around the block a few times, serving as a freelancer, news editor and prolific reviewer. Strategy games have been a 30-year-long obsession, from tiny RTSs to sprawling political sims, and he never turns down the chance to rave about Total War or Crusader Kings. He's also been known to set up shop in the latest MMO and likes to wind down with an endlessly deep, systemic RPG. These days, when he's not editing, he can usually be found writing features that are 1,000 words too long or talking about his dog.