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Posted by GG Goblin On May - 9 - 2018

It’s getting a bit chilly.

11 bit studios’ This War of Mine was a great game to play, but it also highlighted certain uncomfortable aspects of human nature in a way that was both shocking and thought-provoking. The studio has now turned their hand at what could be described loosely as a city building game, but they haven’t left behind that general idea that, as a species, we really do suck. Be prepared for some really hard decisions.

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Frostpunk sets the player as the leader of a small group of survivors trying to just stay alive in a frozen world. We are not talking the Disney kind of frozen either, with singing and talking snowmen. No, this is the proper cold, where food is hard to come by, heat is the most important resource, and frostbite is an everyday occurrence. It is a grim world, and the game starts out being fairly grim as the survivors come across a massive steam generator in a crater. However, the generator is not working, so it is down to the player to start assigning jobs to the survivors. Send some to collect coal and get the steam flowing, at least providing a little warmth to those close enough, and then start setting the others to fetching different resources, such as wood, or building.

The steam generator is set in the very centre of a large crater, and the buildings can be erected around the generator in a circle. As the settlement gets larger and more buildings are needed, the circle will expand outwards, but the player will have to ensure they have a way of providing heat to these outlying areas, as no one wants to work in the freezing cold, and having to shelter there at night is a short cut to illness and death. However, to start with it is important just to get some shelter up to keep the populace from losing all hope.

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The hope and despair of the survivors is probably the most decisive thing in the game. These survivors have needs, some of which may seem unreasonable or harsh, and it is up to the player to make the decisions that not only are in their best interests, but also keep the hope for the future alive. Fail to do so and, well, you won’t be in command for long.

But you do what you can. Assign some survivors as hunters and send them out looking for food, while some other survivors can work in a building preparing rations from the food. The more educated survivors can be assigned to medical buildings or research buildings where they can either help the ill, of which there will be many, or research new buildings that can improve the life in this frozen wasteland. This could lead to small steam outlets that can spread the heat beyond the initial area, or to heated greenhouses that can grow food. However, there is always a compromise in this game, and more heat will mean needing more coal, and until the player researches how to mine coal, they are limited to the resource piles that are scattered about, which will mean assigning more survivors to collect coal, mean less to heal people, and so on.

There is a lot of juggling in Frostpunk, where the player is constantly reassigning survivors to different jobs, just to fulfil a need. Before long, the player will be able to send out small teams of survivors as explorers, looking for resources, other survivors or even answers to questions, such as why is it so damn cold. Sometimes they won’t come back, but other times they will return with desperately needed resources or even more survivors, which means more workers, but also more mouths to feed, shelters to build and ill people to treat.

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As the leader, it will fall upon the player to put laws in to place, governing the various aspects of society. While some of these decisions may seem obvious, there are always reasons that go either way. An example may be the law on child labour; on the one hand it would seem that making children work is wrong, but on the other at least they would be contributing and not getting in peoples way. There are so many choices to make, even out side of the more overriding laws, that shape the game and the society that the player is creating. Things like dealing with amputations from the cold, an accident in a mine, or whether to choose religion or more of a police state to keep everyone under control. Very few of the choices are easy or straight forward, and many of them can have downright depressing outcomes.

But then, Frostpunk is a really difficult game. Sure, it makes sense to cut that survivors leg off, it’s got gangrene. Yeah, let’s see how that works out. You breathe a sigh of relief as you have a decent stockpile of coal. Then a particularly cold snap forces you to use more coal, and the coal pile comes up empty. Frostpunk is the sort of game that offers you a sweetie, and then throws it on the floor and stomps on it before you can take it. It can be quite horrible, but it is so good at the same time.

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Frostpunk is a city builder that puts as much emphasis on keeping the little people happy and alive as building an actual city. It has a story that runs through it, and it has a purpose beyond just catering to the players god complex. It can be thought-provoking and, at times, quite scary. And it is also very compelling. Frostpunk’s grim outlook may not be for everyone, but if you fancy some city building with an added sense of threat, Frostpunk really hits the mark.




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