Review: Frostpunk

If there’s one genre that sticks out in the PC gaming realm, it’s strategy games. Developer 11 bit studios, the studio behind This War of Mine, has released what it calls a city-building survival game named Frostpunk. With the ultimate doom-and-gloom premise on survival, Frostpunk takes place in 1886 as major snowstorms have caused death and basically blacked out the planet. Frostpunk takes a different approach on the strategy element as it involves the most basic premise: providing heat, shelter and food to survive. The game revolves around maintaining a generator as it does an excellent job of branching out to different obstacles from there. Frostpunk offers a unique take on strategy games that’s as much engaging as it is addicting.

There is no combat or warfare in Frostpunk, as it’s strictly focused on the evolution and politics behind building back the city. Providing hope and limiting the discontent of the citizens is key, as this will literally have you walking and losing the game. There are plenty of political decisions that you will be forced to make that are a bit unorthodox, however fit the scene. Some of things involve putting children to work, putting sawdust as a filler in soup and even deciding on what to do with people that need to have body parts amputated. The producers of the game took every bit of hazard possibilities with the situation of the game and implemented it. These are laws that get passed in the game as you can put a new law into effect every eight hours.

A good portion of the game feels like Age of Empires. Gathering wood, coal and food while building bigger resource houses and mills to accommodate a greater need. Technology grows as the city builds back up and eventually scout teams can be created to go on expeditions to find more people or supplies. The city continually evolves and you have to keep up with every aspect. One thing I want to mention is the experience never feels overwhelming. There isn’t an abundant amount of micro-managing and since the layout of the area is small, you won’t be going all over a giant map to give individual units work.

While Frostpunk is eventually coming to consoles, it’s favorable to play on a PC with a keyboard and mouse as opposed to using a controller. Navigating the map is done with WASD with rotation tied to the Q and E keys. Running at 4K, the visuals capture the doom-and-gloom quite well with little opposition. Using a NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1070 and an i7-4790, the game ran on the highest settings in the 40 FPS consistently. The only dip in frames came when zooming out as the snowstorm renders above the gully the city is in. Zooming in showed off the fluid animation of people working and traveling. If anyone is homeless, you’ll see them sleeping in the streets at night.

There is a day-to-night transition in Frostpunk where your people need to sleep. If there needs to be more work done, a law can be signed into effect for 24-hour work. The game also tries to put names and family ties to individual people, but this amounts to the XCOM Effect where there’s so many people and deaths that the effect isn’t lasting. The temperature also plays a big role in the city. If a place is too cold to work, people won’t go in. You can view the list of people and what they are doing and some will flat out protest. Heat can be turned on in individual buildings and eventually steam generators can be researched to improve heat on the outskirts. Roads are also used to connect areas for quicker access as initially you will see people dig through the snow to get to destinations outside of city limits. There are a great amount of little details in Frostpunk that thoroughly engage you into the world. There’s no shortcuts in the effort made to create this snow-pocalypse.

The sound and music all add to creating this depressing environment. Combining the sad violin soundtrack with the sounds of a blizzard and industrial-era machinery sound effects couldn’t make you feel more for these people. When a law is signed or an event of significant importance occurs, a man announces it out loud so people can hear it. Every new day, pop ups will show comments from citizens.

The only real knock on Frostpunk may be in its longevity. At least with games like Sim City or Cities: Skylines there are different terrains to start anew with. Once you play a couple of times and know what it takes to make the city thrive, the possibility is there for Frostpunk to lose its engagement and addiction feeling. There is no competitive portion and the inability to share cities for other players to maintain could leave it lacking in the long run. You can change the needs of the people and a few other options before creating a scenario, but the setting is the same. Personally, this would make an excellent board game as it almost feels like a board game brought to life.

Closing Comments:

Frostpunk is a unique strategy game that offers both an engaging and addicting element. Hours will go by as you are consumed into the doom-and-gloom of your city while trying to make sure people don’t die. The game is fairly linear in its premise, but offers unique situations that haven’t been seen in other city-building titles. Tailored to experience on PC, the first couple playthroughs will have you hooked, but the longevity aspect comes into play due to the linearity and the setting. Players will truly appreciate the little things this game does while not overwhelming them with a lot of micro-management. Frostpunk will be right up the alley of those familiar with This War of Mine and the emotion it offered.

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