From developer 11 bit studios, Frostpunk is a complex strategy survival experience that forces the player to make grave, moral decisions that will weigh heavily upon the immersive gamer. Set in a not too distant future, an apocalyptic event has caused an unending winter to strike the world, leaving England in the grips of a perpetual ice age. The core mechanics of the game will be familiar to any RTS fans: collect resources, increase the population, keep society going. Frostpunk reduces the number of resources utilized and instead adds a large variety of stipulations to them to hit home the more thought-provoking nature of the game.
With coal, wood, steel, and food as your main resources, each one will have multiple means of gathering them; whether building a mine on top of a large deposit or picking scraps out of the frozen landscape, you’ll want to constantly generate these resources as even a slight delay in their revenue could quickly mean your demise. Not enough hunters collecting food to cook? The people will quickly grow hungry and could die of starvation. Do you have plenty of wood? Even the basic buildings and homes necessary to shelter your people will require a solid structure, and those citizens left without a home will surely freeze outside.
It’s All About That Coal
Coal is, of course, the most dire resource of all. Not only will the main generator at the start of the game require coal to heat the city, each upgrade to the core as well as heating individual buildings, or placing heating posts around the city will continue to drain your coal reserves. That might not sound so tough to combat when you’re looking at 15 or 20 coal per hour, but during the night everybody is asleep and you have to sit there and watch your reserves slowly tick away until the tiny characters on screen get back to work. That is unless you decide to force extended labor upon them.
Frostpunk’s core mechanic that makes it stand out above the average strategy game comes in the laws you may find yourself forced to enact. The world is a terrible place; peoples’ lives are in your hands. Are you willing to make the people miserable in exchange for helping them survive? At one point my coal reserves dwindled and the central generator shut off. With almost no time life, I had no choice: I forced a law that would allow 24 hour shifts. The people were mad, but they surely appreciated it when they gathered enough coal to keep the city burning. While that might not seem like much of a sacrifice, the longer the game goes on, the crueler it can be. If your food supplies dwindle you could always start taking the meat from the hunts and turning it into soup, thinning it out for the people. Not a good enough solution? You could also add sawdust to make it last even longer. It doesn’t have to taste good, it just has to do the job. While this may seem downright barbaric, the fact is this was a historical practice at one point and it drives home just how important survival is.
You’ll also have to tackle the choice of what to do with the sick, injured, and dying. Would you put them into comfortable care and let them be a burden on your resources but increase your peoples hope of survival? Or subject them to experiments that could bring them back to good health? You’ll encounter more and more questionable choices that can lead to unexpected events including mutiny, attempted murder, or an anonymous thank you letter, to name a few. While the game does a decent job of explaining the importance of each of the resources, food became oddly inconsistent. Hunters will go out at night to collect meat, which is brought back to be turned into edible food. Despite having enough hunters to bring back plenty of food for my people, it never quite seemed to work out properly and later in the game I found them to be almost constantly starving. There is little in the way of help or a proper explanation, so you might want to consider that soup option early on.
Baby It’s Cold Outside
Pitting you vs the environment is not a new concept, but I can’t recall the last time I saw it executed so well in a game before. Not only do you have to contend with the freezing temperature and the potential loss of power, but you’ll be able to see the forecast a few days in advance and see when you have to prepare for an even worse cold snap. My settlement quickly reached -60 and I had to put all of my effort into keeping the fires burning until it would finally start to warm up again. There is a very real sense of danger from the elements here that goes beyond a random encounter, and the fact the game gives each citizen a name and face only adds to the gravity as they begin to die.
When it comes to Frostpunk’s presentation I was blown away. From the paths my settlers leave in the snow, to the ice precariously reaching down the side of the crater, to the fire and steam bustling in the city. Frostpunk not only looks great, but the soundtrack as well pulls you in to the immersion and sets the tone for both the genre and the era of the game. Much like playing a suspense title, Frostpunk pulled me in and left me pleasantly panicked as I was forced to play at its pace, not my own. It’s a game that punches you in the stomach and leaves you asking for another.
Frostpunk is a strategy game that doesn’t pull its punches, forcing you to make progressively harder moral decisions on how best to keep your people happy, healthy, and – most importantly – alive. Despite the somewhat odd hunting mechanic, Frostpunk gives you multiple options on how best to gather each of the resources, and in these decisions you help define what kind of leader you are and what kind of settlement you run. It may seem like there is no end in sight, no happy ending for those who survive, but with its fantastic presentation and no-nonsense attitude, Frostpunk is an exemplary game to learn from and with so many paths to go down, the replay value is through the roof, especially for gamers who happen to be a glutton for punishment.
**PC code provided by the publisher**
- Fantastic Presentation
- Complex Moral Choices
- Pressured Daily Timetable
- Powerful Narrative
- Never Enough Food
- Lacking Tutorial