Icarus is a sci-fi co-op survival game from DayZ creator Dean Hall

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

On the The PC Gaming Show today we got our first look at the next survival game from DayZ creator Dean Hall and studio Rocketwerkz. It's called Icarus, and it will be free-to-play. Also, interestingly, Icarus is a session-based game, rather than an open-ended survival game like DayZ.

The teaser trailer shows astronauts as they descend from a space station to mine resources from the surface of an alien planet. We see some trees getting chopped with a stone-age axe, a boxy fort being built, animals being hunted with bow and arrow, and a futuristic vehicle being driven through the primitive world—which looks an awful lot like the same activities we've seen in numerous survival games over the past decade or so.

But Hall revealed a lot more about how Icarus works, and the survival game is playing with a few interesting concepts—some inspired by games that aren't part of the survival genre at all.

Players in Icarus start out in a space station orbiting an alien planet. You can invite your friends to your station (Hall compares it to bringing your pals to your GTA Online penthouse before a heist) and prepare for a planetary drop. You negotiate a contract to complete—the mission could be to gather and deliver a certain amount of a specific resource from a biome on the alien planet, for example—and down you go to the surface in a dropship.

(Image credit: Rocketwerkz)

The contract could be for a short mission, 30 minutes or so, or considerably longer, up to 48 hours. Those are real-time minutes and hours, too, so you could wind up playing Icarus for multiple sessions to complete a single, long contract. A drop that involves visiting the planet during the night will be much more dangerous than daytime drops, says Hall.

So, rather than open-ended expeditions as in survival games like Ark or Rust, Icarus is about session-based, timed excursions to the planet, which makes me think of Escape From Tarkov—get in, do your job, and get back out safely. The planet's terrain, Hall told us, is all hand-crafted: Icarus is not relying on procedural generation. 

The materials you haul into orbit can be used to improve your space station and survival gear, modify your landing craft and ground vehicles, unlock new technology, and build futuristic weaponry. 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.

Hall says that with Icarus, Rocketwerkz wanted to emulate that feeling of the first tension-filled hour of Minecraft. "Really what we're trying to do is capture that and then basically build a game where you can do that over a long period of time," Hall says. "So it was really getting back to the roots of what a survival game is and what makes those moments that you get in them really intense and emotional."

The catch? Hall says there is only one failure state in Icarus. If you're late getting back to your dropship, it'll leave without you. And if you're left behind on the planet, that character is dead. All the progression you've made with that character is lost and everything they've got with them is gone. That's why, Hall says, the tagline of Icarus is "There are worse fates than death."

"If you run out of oxygen, someone can come and revive you," says Hall. "If you get attacked by this particular animal and damaged, someone can heal you. But if you run out of time, it's over."

(Image credit: Rocketwerkz)

Rocketwerkz looked at a number of other games as inspiration for Icarus, and not just ones from the survival genre. Hall says Skyrim's archery, Mudrunner and Snowrunner's vehicle systems, Kerbal Space Program's rocket modification, and Deep Rock Galactic's mining were all influences. He also cited the rules of battle royale games as a way to give players direction and structure in Icarus.

"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 says. "We want to do that same thing with PvE survival."

Icarus is planned for 2021, and you can find its official site here.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. 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 storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.