A Gamble for Survival – Frostpunk

Dracolich – Thursday, May 31, 2018 6:58 PM
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Anyone that had ever attempted to imagine what an apocalyptic ice age could contribute to humanity will likely come to the same conclusion as 11 bit studios – “nothing good”. The game uses the above scenario to give us a realistic take on a steampunk world where your only task is base survival. And it does this not with a done-to-death premise involving an undead invasion as a result of a hybrid virus that just got unleashed from a lab, but something far more down to earth: a global temperature drop as a consequence of drastic climate change.

You might think that the game will give you everything you’ll need – a generator for providing your people with a heat source, a seemingly inexhaustible supply of resources nearby, and a place where – due to your isolation – it’s only up to you to survive the end times. Well, not quite. The game makes you feel like there’s a constant knot in your stomach by never making it obvious exactly what the next day will bring. You send out your workers each day, only to see them end up suffering from temporary or permanent paralysis – and then, at the end of the work day, you can only hope that there’s enough food and coal left for everyone to survive another night.

Meanwhile, despite seeming like the world had come to a halt, each new day proves that just when you think things couldn’t get any worse, they do. The game delivers a believable post-apocalyptic atmosphere where it doesn’t matter how technologically advanced you were prior to the global temperature drop, what ultimately ends up mattering – aside from your most basic needs – is your people’s faith and despair. Moreover, as the leader of the survivors, you must tackle difficult situations and make heavy decisions, all in the name of survival. And just like in any survival simulator worth its salt, each decision carries its respective consequence.

Gameplay

Frostpunk’s minimalistic interface lends the game an easy to operate and easy to understand system that allows players to jump right into the thick of things without too much effort.

Your experience is largely defined by micromanagement without any reliance on the AI: you serve as your people’s leader, and it’s your job to ensure that they’re sufficiently warm, fed, and overall hopeful about their chances of survival, all the while making sure that workplaces and refineries function as intended. If that wasn’t enough, various events can occur to hinder your progress – events that necessitate making big decisions, provided you have time to pay attention to them. Forcing players to divide their attention between various things is Frostpunk’s most fundamental tool in establishing its challenging gameplay loop.

Aside from the game’s sheer uniqueness, moody, dynamically changing soundtrack and the stellar atmosphere it contributes to, its building system is another aspect worthy of note: the circular layout utilized by the game gave it an appealing sense of freshness while also keeping it grounded in the storyline’s basic premise.

Stress above all else – everything is lost

At several points during my playthrough, I felt like I’d reached the end of the line and wouldn’t be able to survive any longer. My people often starved and froze to death whenever the coal ran out and the generators stopped functioning – yet every single time, I was compelled to press on, refusing to give up. I faced a new set of challenges yet chose instead to erect more hospitals and dig fresh graves for the fallen.

Whenever I felt like I’d acquired some breathing room, accumulated a modest amount of resources or created slightly more livable conditions for my people, the game then proceeded to throw another challenge my way, effectively robbing me of said breathing room. Circumstances forced me to resort to such morally questionable decisions that – albeit creating a bit of a contrast in my brain – make the oft-repeated business term “we’ve been pushed to the brink” seem like a comical quip at best. In the future, I’ll no doubt think back upon it and just smile.

In the end, surprising even myself, I managed to survive. The game made me face the consequences of my actions, citing every single order I gave that crossed moral and humanitarian boundaries in the name of survival, ultimately asking me if it had all been worth it. The answer is yes; survival is coded into our DNA.

The game is available on Steam.

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