Frostpunk is a brand-new title from the creators of This War of Mine: 11 Bit Studios. It’s a society survival game that asks what people are capable of when pushed to the brink of extinction. In an entirely frozen world, people develop steam-powered technology to oppose the overwhelming cold. The city’s ruler has to manage both the citizens and the infrastructure they live in. The leader’s tactical skills face challenges that will frequently question morality and the basic foundations of what we consider organized society.
Optimization and resource management often clash with empathy and thoughtful decision-making. While city and society management will consume most of the ruler’s time, at some point exploration of the outside world is necessary to understand its history and present state. Frostpunk is a city-builder (to put it simply). You build and expand your city using the resources found around you to survive the harsh winter in this post apocalyptic world.
11 Bit Studios have done marvellous work on evoking the symbolism of the central engine giving life. As soon as the engine starts, it begins belching a heavy plume of black smoke, the ground around the stack is bathed in orange, and the snow melts away. You can tell if a building is heated or not by how much snow and ice covers its walls and roof. In contrast, everything outside of the heated area is locked in ice and smothered in snow.
Your people are needy. Successfully juggling all of these needs is where Frostpunk is at its most challenging. Your people are hungry, so you take some of them off coal mining duty to go out looking for food. The sick are piling up so you turn the heat up on the engine to warm them better, increasing the drain on your coal supplies.
You start with nothing but a couple of resource piles around you, and a meagre population of children, workers and engineers. You then assign your population jobs, sending some out to gather coal, others out to forage for food, to build infrastructure and work in medical tents.
As you gain more resources, you build more buildings, which provide food, warmth, shelter, and more resources for your civilization.
Eventually you will be offered the ability to research tech which not only makes jobs more efficient, but also opens up access to newer buildings and structures. If everything goes well, you will eventually build yourself a self-sustaining cycle which should allow your city to flourish.
Unfortunately, things are rarely that simple in the post apocalypse. Managing temperature is a constant worry. Even on the sunniest day, only the structures closest to the generator are warm enough to provide comfortable living. You can eventually research portable heating hubs, but these take up space in your infrastructure and act as a constant coal drain. You can also research the ability for buildings to come with their own heaters, but this makes them more expensive and acts as an even more intense resource drain. Everything is a balancing act in Frost punk.
It’s times like these where you are going to be most tempted to draft in some unsavoury laws. This is when the game taunts you by prompting you to open up the book of laws. Here you can sign laws into effect that drastically change the rules of the game. For example, if you need more resources you can choose to extend the workday even going so far to call 24 hour emergency shifts. Of course, this will raise the chances of people getting sick and will spread discontent among your population.
As harmless as burying the dead in the cemetery or a hole outside of town, or something drastic like disagreements between men can be resolved in a duel fought to the death. People will lose hope but your resource gain will increase massively. This game doesn’t shy away from the harsh reality of survival either, eating is a must and when the animals stop, and the cans of beans are empty, I guess trying human flesh couldn’t hurt. When you don’t have enough workers, don’t worry the kids can help too.
I love the frozen post apocalypse, but, Frostpunk has few bugs that should be pointed out. For one, it’s not very stable. As I was reviewing this, the game crashed on me four times and would randomly freeze …makes sense in frozen tundra but it’s still annoying. It also doesn’t like you using Alt-Tab to change to another running program.
It’s also disappointingly short, the main campaign can be beaten in about 6 to 7 hours, however this survival sim luckily involves additional scenarios such as a science focused map where you have to protect the last seeds on earth from freezing to death, or a map where you lead a revolution against the wealth who hog all the heat for themselves, but these too can be quickly beaten. Each scenario has difficulty sliders for individual game aspects like economy, heat and health, and this gives you some impetus to dive back in and increase your score, but there is still less replay value than you might find in other sims.
Luckily, I could see Frostpunk eventually becoming a legacy platform if 11-Bit studios decide to continue releasing updates, we could see new tech, new buildings, new scenarios and more. This would be more than enough to push me back out into the cold. There is definitely something to be said for buying Frostpunk on future promise and the budget £24.99 price tag doesn’t hurt either.
11 bit Studios showed us in their previous game (This War of Mine) that it’s survival of fittest. That it’s your group or the Other’s and that’s it. Frostpunk’s target is similar, it’s survival at all costs.
Frostpunk is also one of the better looking city-builder games. Zooming in as much as possible looks great and seeing these survivors dig their way through the snow to get the resources around the crater. Seeing the Steam cores instantly melt the snow around it will makes you feel warm inside (literally). The way the city grows slowly as you build new buildings. especially seeing the robot spiders climb the buildings, amazing. Running the game at max settings i got a stable 60Fps with my NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980, the game doesn’t use much RAM either. the game is beautiful to say the least, and was one of the things that invited me to buy it.
The games music is soul shattering, but that’s what the game wants you to feel in this unforgiving environment. Life here isn’t easy, and listening to a sad violin over the sound of blizzards everyday just gives it that extra little touch to make feel like its actually happening, like you know how the citizens of this town feel.
All in all this game is well worth buying and I highly recommend it. It’s an experience that will please both the casual city-builder and survivalist in you while often causing you to pause for thought when a morally grey decision has to made.
OVERALL: 8/10 – GREAT
Reviewed by Jack Moody