City/Society building games are grounded in the choices you make, the moral standing you exude as a ruler, and the rich lore that comes forth during your reign. Are you tyrannical? Are your people more interested in the pursuit of knowledge? Do you believe in world peace or in ruling the globe yourself? Your standing as a leader is most often compared to how well you do against your opponents: How well do you treat your people? How hard do you work them? But what happens when you suddenly have no opponent? What if your ability to lead is judged solely on some of the hardest decisions you would ever have to make, decisions with no true good or bad choice, but simply trying to keep your people alive? Frostpunk – from developer 11 Bit Studios – is one of the most emotionally and morally challenging games I have ever had the pleasure of trying.
The plot of the game is simple, yet grim: an event has occurred that wiped out the majority of the world’s population. The range of the devastation is unknown as all power and communication has been destroyed. There is only you, those who survived and need a leader, and the vast expanse of snow which has now covered the Earth. It’s a chilling plot, to say the least, and the game rarely holds your hand: right out of the gate you must immediately begin taking care of your people or they will surely die.
” At no point did I feel like I could casually let time pass as my resources stocked up, I had to keep moving to keep the people safe.”
Frostpunk asks you to meet the basic needs of the people: keep them warm, fed, healthy, and a roof over their head. The central tower of your base uses a series of steam powered heat generators that must not only be repaired, but have a steady supply of coal to keep it running. A timer at the top of the screen lets you know how long in game time your supply of coal will last. With each successive generator repaired, the range of heat generated will expand to make the city more livable. Hospitals must be built and manually staffed, homes must be built, kitchens to cook the food, etc.
Within the first few minutes of the game, I already had the people asking me what I planned to do about their lack of shelter. They gave me two choices: promise to house everyone within the week, or promise to house at least half the population within a few days. Whichever choice I made, it was vitally important I keep my promise or suffer the consequences. These sort of events would pop up every so often and it kept me on my toes. At no point did I feel like I could casually let time pass as my resources stocked up, I had to keep moving to keep the people safe. Should a situation begin to get dire, this would prompt the option to enact laws.
“It took very little time for me to feel genuinely concerned for the well being of my people.”
Laws can be cruel, and passing them does not mean you are guaranteed to use them, but they open up opportunities to help your people survive. If you can’t find enough food, add sawdust to the rations. Need more resources to survive the night? Make your people work a 24 hour shift. Need more workers? You can force the children into labor, opting to give them only safe jobs or any possible jobs required. As if the brutality of your decisions didn’t already weigh on your conscience, every citizen of your town can be selected to see their picture, name, relation to other settlers, health, etc. It took very little time for me to feel genuinely concerned for the well being of my people.
Frostpunk also has two meters to keep an eye on: Discontent and Hope. Obviously you want to keep Discontent low and Hope high, but having to enact these cruel laws – regardless if you use them – will make discontent grow and hope dwindle. It becomes a tough line to walk, wanting to keep the people happy but also make sure they can survive. It’s emotionally difficult but it draws you in and drives you to keep your people going.
Frostpunk is a survival-society builder with incredibly weighted moral decisions, stellar graphical detail, and it instills a true bond between you and your people that I have not felt in other games since I was little. The controls are simple and intuitive, and this game has shaped up to be a must-have for experienced society-building gamers. Frostpunk is set to launch sometime later this year on PC. For more information, check out the official website.