Wait.. why Punk? Frost makes sense. Where does Punk come into it? Anyway, on with the review.
What’s the opposite of an empowering fantasy?
Don’t tell me. It’s Frostpunk, right?
Brought to you from the minds behind miserable survival game “This War of Mine”, Frostpunk has the bright idea of putting you in charge of a desperate colony on a rapidly freezing planet Earth.
Sounds like a laugh.
Emigrating to a generator housed in the arctic is a pretty desperate act. In temperatures of -30 you’ll attempt to survive by continually scavenging coal to feed this hungry device. You might also need shelter and a means to upgrade everything if you want to endure the coming winter. Oh, food might be a helpful too. Juggling the finite workers and engineers gives you an additional concern you’ll rarely have to consider whilst researching a sawmill. Discontent and Hope. I know, this doesn’t sound like a nice relaxing little game. Frostpunk is a series of tough decisions.
Do you research the ability to mine coal or upgrade the generator, which in turn, requires more fuel. Maybe consider passing a law to put the lazy children to work, which… for some reason… is frowned upon, but we are running out of food and the temperatures about to drop, again. What do we do? Gives them hope or grub?
Despair is a strong enemy and it would be unwise to ignore it. Sometimes you’ll need to ignore it. You monster. The people don’t know what’s required to last the storms. The fools.
It’s rare to have a strong narrative thread whilst constructing a city. You are regularly building towards a goal and you’ll need to throw scouts into the wasteland to search for survivors. The main scenario’s expertly balanced and gripping.
Far too much praise has been thrown around hasn’t it? So let’s look closer at the games interface.
Erm… that’s pretty damn fine. If you’re doing alright, your colony will become a sprawling mess and there will be times when you need to track down that group of engineers you foolishly chucked down the mines. How the hell do you find them? You can hover over the people tool-tip for an overlay showing you where everyone’s working. The whole games interface is that intuitive. Neat. The resource menus are clear and simple and a glance will show you of any potential production problems. You have no excuses for depriving the people of food… apart from ignoring this because they are freezing to death.
It’s brilliant that you can only blame yourself for your piss-poor management. Still, even with clear presentable knowledge Frostpunk presents an unceasingly stiff challenge.
Name Side Note – Ok, I thought about it some more. Your people are made up of English immigrants from an alternate 1886… maybe the Punk movement is… erm… no. I growing to hate the name again.
Graphics are usually a secondary concern when slapping down 10 identical tents on a map, but this isn’t the case here. The reactive weather quickly informs you how treacherous your current situation is. Watching your workers push through the thick snow does a good job of showing you their struggle, rather than noting numbers on a simple temperature gauge. The howling winds and crackle of ice are all very well, but the audio cues are as useful the visual. The crowds morning bustle and bitching gives you a nice sense of time and hearing the workers down tools inserts a minor panic if the coals running low. Best sign off on the overtime!
Looking and sounding nice is nice. Looking and sounding nice whilst being useful is fucking great!
There are a couple of very minor gripes. Expeditions can reach their destination after hiking long distances in perilous conditions and sit there bone idle as I missed the overly quiet klaxon. Plus, in peaceful moments, I would appreciate being able to really zoom in on your town. Then again, being at arm’s length might be for the best as amputations are horribly commonplace in Frostpunk.
I also found that there had been plenty of deaths that I was unable to prevent as didn’t understand why. The games heavily scripted and I was left wondering if these people were doomed to die? I played this game’s first scenario several times and knew what was coming. I had plenty of fully-staffed toasty-warm medical centers and yet the sick didn’t seem to want to use them? I built a second care-home which kicked them into treatment. Nothing indicated that they required a care-home. I’ve no idea if this was a bug, or I had missed something; it was the only real problem I came across after hours of play. I’m happy to write that the game is pleasantly bug free.
The script does touch on something else. Frostpunk is a game with little replay value, and yes, I’m aware that I have replayed this game a few times. If you do try again you’ll appreciate the excellent design and expert pressure inflicted on your journey, but it will break the masterful illusion weaved, lessening the need to ever return to the game. Prescience removes all dread. To offset this, there are a couple of additional scenarios to try after completing the main campaign, but they don’t have the same weight as that first play-through. This is not a criticism as this doesn’t diminish your time with Frostpunk. A strong definite end is preferable to an aimless whimper.
Frostpunk is a whole new way to play a city builder. Mostly with wonderful tension and unpleasant choices galore.
A stress filled job that I’ll forever recommend for fans of short term city planning and a god complex.