Frostpunk’s Icy Wasteland Has a Heart of Stellar Sim Gameplay At Its Center

As mentioned last year when taking a look at She Remembered Caterpillars, it can feel a bit annoying at times when people just decide to seemingly add a “punk” suffix to the end of a random word in order to provide a quick description of the of the type of world one’s story takes place in. Of course, this mild annoyance can easily be excused if the work itself is highly enjoyable. And thankfully, 11 bit Studios have indeed crafted such a captivating¬† game and world in the form of Frostpunk, their follow-up to This War of Mine. Carrying over a lot of similar themes, the focus this time shifts to an overhead city-building simulation with survival elements, set in a snowy apocalypse. And as expected, surviving is a bit tricky in a type of game that’s easy to learn, but hard to master.

Set in an alternate era Victorian England, Frostpunk sees you attempting to build a proper settlement that your people can live in, all built around a massive coal-powered generator. Uniquely, new buildings are created moving outward from the generator, creating a circular village with a massive pillar at the center, making for an impressive visual. At the beginning, it starts out with you just assigning citizens the task of heading out to areas to search for resources and salvage such as coal, wood and steel, gathering what you need to keep the generator going and make sure the people are content. Heat is the most important factor in keeping this city alive, but eventually you naturally have to build proper settlements that house your people. From that point, you have to build medical tents, cookhouses, hunting outposts, and more.

Simple stuff so far, and the method of building on circular rows was rather fun, even if needing to create connections for electricity and the way of doing so wasn’t immediately obvious. But then the first citizen of this new village fell ill, and that’s where things went to hell. Suddenly I had to decide what was the best method of taking care for this man, and when he wasn’t getting better, suddenly a law had to be signed into action. Should radical treatments that may be able to save the sick be allowed? I agreed, and suddenly the meter measuring discord among the townspeople went up a bit. As expected, it isn’t just enough to keep these people alive, you need to actually make sure they get all the proper care they deserve in order to keep their hope up. And as expected, this leads to eventual sacrifices and tough choices.

The demo I played wasn’t long enough to delve into some of the deeper aspects of the game and the more extreme choices, such as whether or not to allow child labor or to build Thunderdome-style fighting arenas, but it was enough to paint a picture of what could be a captivating strategy game. One does have to wonder how this game will be able to compare in depicting a war-torn fight for survival like in This War of Mine. There, you controlled a small group of survivors, able to play as them individually and experience their thoughts and feelings, so when one died, there was a huge emotional impact not just among the group, but to the player as well. Can the same impact be delivered with a bird’s-eye view of dozens of survivors? If a meteor strike in SimCity doesn’t make you mourn for the people, will similar disasters be able to do so here?

Regardless of whether or not Frostpunk can match 11 bit’s previous work in terms of gut-wrenching blows, so far it makes for a highly engrossing simulation, one that has indeed crafted quite the stellar world (whose history you can discover more of in-game) that is worth checking out. Your icy city may feel quite bleak at times, but thanks to some stellar gameplay elements that give it some personality, damned if it isn’t a city worth fighting for when it comes out in the future for the PC.