True story. I played for honestly ten hours straight through the night last weekend during one play session. Last night, my wife asked me for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at 8pm. At 9:45pm I made her that sandwich. This game will make you ignore everything. Seriously, it’s that good… or bad, because my wife was upset.
Developed and published by 11 bit studios (This War of Mine. They also published the excellent Moonlighter and my favourite game of 2019 so far Children of Morta), Frostpunk is a strategy game that presents you with the very small task of saving mankind from extinction. Snow and blisteringly cold temperatures blanket the Earth. Small pockets of humanity remain, but not for long unless you decide to do something about it. Your source of heat is the massive generator that sits at the center of your soon-to-be thriving or dying city. It is the lifeline of your people. Without it running constantly, they will all freeze to death. There are four different scenarios you can play, each with different beginnings. If you decide to start with the main story “A New Home“, you begin in a valley surrounded by high mountains. Resources such as ore and lumber sit around you, ripe for the picking, but they won’t last long. From nothing you will try to create something. Along with the main story there is “The Arks“, “The Refugees“, and “The Fall of Winterhome”, which throws you into a giant metropolis on a downward spiral to failure. In order to survive you’ll need to break down ruins to rebuild the once thriving Winterhome. Along with the scenarios, there is Endless Mode, which can be set to either Endurance (scarce resources) or Serenity (plenty of resources). I have a city currently in Serenity that is on day 123 and is functioning very well. If I’m failing in one of the other scenarios I’ll usually come back to this mode to see what a successful playthrough looks like. Serenity is also a great way to figure out different strategies and technology to research earlier on for easier progress in the main scenarios. I like to think of it as a training mode.
To succeed in the scenarios, you really have to be a step ahead. Half the fun is discovering the best way to go about tackling the situation at hand. Certain actions you perform will either raise discontent or hope with your population. It’s a balancing act, but if discontent fills, you’ll be banished. The fundamentals are explained to you and there is a sort of checklist in the bottom left hand corner that keeps track of certain things you’ll need to accomplish within a certain period of time. It’s fine to follow those sometimes, but you’ll need to branch out on your own. You’ll have access to workers and engineers. Workers can do any manual labor job, but Engineers can do that and run medical outposts, research new technology, and run factories to build Automatons to work for you. You can also create new laws and one of them is to hire child workers (if you’re that despicable).
In order for you to put your citizens to work, you’ll need to create jobs. You could build a mine to extract coal for heat. There’s something satisfying about running out of coal and as the temperature starts to drop, you’ve resupplied just enough coal to fire the generator back on. You can chop down trees or tap into steel veins to build houses for everyone. You can open Hunter’s Huts to send workers out for raw food, and open Cookhouses to feed your population. You can research and build a Recon Beacon to send out patrols into the harsh landscape for resources or to find more survivors. Depending on the scenario, you’ll have to tackle certain objectives and research certain technology if you want to get through the harsh environment alive, but in between the important stuff, what you do with your time and resources is ultimately your choice.
While researching new tech and buildings is cool, the real moral choices that come into play when deciding new laws are far more interesting. Do you go the route of Order (Guard Towers and Prisons) or Faith (Sanctuary’s and Healing Centers). There are also laws you can make in the Adaptation law tree, such as handing out extra rations to the sick or creating a whore house to keep your discontent down. The game always asks you how far you’re willing to go to succeed. If you do decide to go complete Order or Faith, hope will never be an issue again. You’ll just have to deal with discontent from time to time, which usually means you’ll just have to execute someone to bring that meter back down. How lovely.
While Frostpunk has a bit of a steep learning curve, it’s undeniable just how addictive it can be. Getting into a groove and watching your city thrive gives you a great feeling and what started out as a quick two hour session ends up becoming an all-nighter (I would know). Once you have the appropriate work stations running, your city will basically run itself. The medical stations will take care of the sick, the cookhouses will feed, the hunters will provide. It’s fantastic. At first you’ll have to micromanage how much heat you’re using in different areas, as well as delegating tasks to your workers, incase someone dies on the job and you have to hire someone new. It’s a juggling act, but once you’ve got everything in place, you can just sit back and watch your world work its magic.
For my first successful “A New Home” playthrough, I went the Faith route and my city became a bunch of religious fantatics. If the people were discontent, I’d just have one of them publicly executed. That seemed to get them on my side pretty quickly. We’d have nightly prayer sessions in the streets, and if things got really bad, I’d have my followers whip themselves. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted, but it kept everyone in line and got the job done. When it came time to survive for the massive storm approaching, I barely made it through with only 21 people left (I started with 80). Sure, I had made it through that scenario, but at what cost?
My only gripe with Frostpunk is that things can go wrong very quickly. I found that once something went wrong, it was extremely hard to recover. Frostpunk is not a forgiving game. If you’ve put your resources into building something you don’t need at the time, your hard work will quickly devolve into a complete disaster with the population unhappy and then you’ll be banished. Game Over. Frostpunk is a rewarding game, it just demands that you learn its various systems in order to become a great leader or die trying.
Finally, I should mention the controls since we’re now playing on console. Frostpunk makes the transition from PC pretty seamlessly. I’m sure selecting units would be as simple as a click on your mouse, but it’s no problem here. It does get a little confusing once you have a whole city going, but it was never unmanageable and bringing up quick menus with L2 and R2 allows access to menu wheels. It feels intuitive and was easy to learn. You’ll be the fearless leader of a frozen apocalyptic wasteland in no time.
Frostpunk sinks its teeth in early and doesn’t let up. It’s a great strategy game with some interesting moral choices and its risk/reward gameplay is always engaging. If you already own it on PC, there won’t be anything new here for you to check out. Console players on the other hand have one hell of a strategy game that is a worthwhile investment. – NVJ
Frostpunk is now available for PS4, Xbox One & PC
PS4 review code provided by Evolve PR