11 May 2018

Frostpunk PC game review

Frostpunk is the new game from the same studio that released "This War of Mine" a couple of years ago (review of that game can be read HERE ). Both games share similar themes, you play as civilians and both games focus on fighting the cold and staying alive in harsh conditions.
The difference between the games is that This War of Mine was set in a fairly contemporary setting and focused on a handful of individuals in a city under siege and focused on the micro management on getting food, supplies and improving your shelter. 

Frostpunk on the other hand is set in a steam punk city managment late 19th century setting where the world has been struck by a winter with freezing temperatures of up to -120 Celsius. Not much of a back story to this is given, and the game offers 3 separate scenarios that are unlocked as you play the game.

The first scenario is focusing on survival alone and mixes various aspects of the game. At the beginning of the scenario a group of survivors will find a steam furnace in a crater, and set up a small colony around it. You forage coal, wood and steel from pieces of junk found in the crater to build better shelters, upgrade new buildings and eventually set up self sufficiency with your own food productions. You can send out hunters to hunt for meat, and designate expeditions to wander the surrounding plateau looking for resources, survivors and "steam cores" which is  a rare resource that you can't manufacture yourself but which is vital in order to upgrade or build certain buildings of importance.

The weather grows colder as the days pass by and keeping people warm is necessary to keep them healthy. You have to manage your workforce in your small city by keeping them fed and warm, cold workplaces and poor food can cause sickness, and you will have a bunch of patients in your hospital instead of healthy people at work manufacturing important resources. The community you are in charge of can develop both technology by research and come up with new laws that will steer your civilization towards law, order, faith and various options regarding work conditions and medical treatments. Developing better dwellings, insulation for buildings, upgrading the main furnace at the center of town and placing steam dispensers around your inhabited areas is necessary to keep up with the falling temperatures.

People may eventually need to amputate limbs and you need to research prosthetics, or research mechanical walkers that can operate in factories without heating around the clock instead of only during daytime.

Hope and discontent are two individual measuring sticks that operate alongside each other, and your decisions and ability to satisfy your people will determine the level of content or anger in your town. People may abandon town if they think you are a poor leader, various emergencies need to be addressed in time in order to prevent hopelessness, expeditions need to be sent out to guide stragglers to your camp etc.

With all that said, the core task of the first scenario is to prepare yourself, stock up on coal and food and be ready for the winter blizzard that will strike your town towards the end of the scenario. Temperatures will become so low that work will need to cease and people will start freezing to death. If you manage to survive the blizzard the storm clears and temperatures rise, and you have won.

The other two scenarios currently available are variants of the first. The second scenario, "The arks", focus on engineers (elite workers) and you will not have any regular workers or children in your camp. Instead a small group of engineers need to build steam walkers to handle resource gathering and work at the factories while you try to keep 3 silos filled with seeds from freezing. The seeds are needed for when the winter is over and you need to do everything to keep the silos warm. In the middle of the scenario you will encounter a nearby town with ill prepared people - you can divert your resources and workforce to help them prepare for the winter as well - but if the end date comes and you have not stockpiled or prepared your own camp well enough the scenario is lost  regardless of whether you helped or did not help the other town.

The final scenario available "The Refugees" puts heavy emphasis on being able to adapt quickly to large numbers of people arriving in your town over a fairly short period of time. It becomes a race to feed and shelter them all. Midgame the nobility arrives and social strife in the camp puts your efforts to the test. If you save enough people and keep them happy by the end of the scenario you will win.

So what about the gameplay? Well, the game looks fantastic, and the setting is great. You can pretty much feel the cold as people wade through waist deep snow drifts trying to salvage resources and it is great fun keeping up with the cold and preventing freezing and sickness. You can adjust the difficulty level of all scenarios to your liking. The game is fairly hard and it is difficult to understand how things work in the beginning, requiring a bit of trial and error during each scenario before you know how to proceed. The gameplay is fun. However it is not a perfect game.

What lowers my impression and final score of the game are a number of points. First of all, the policy/law making of the game is a bit shallow and not that flexible. You get boxed in and can't change laws once you have made them, meaning some options will be locked. The game is a nice city building simulator - and I would love to explore this further in a more open fashion. At the moment all 3 scenarios are located in a fairly small crater with limited room for expansion. I would love to build a larger settlement. All scenarios also have definitive endings, meaning you can't keep playing once the scenario victory conditions are met. Open play or a free roaming mode would be much welcomed by me as a means to experiment and try out new things without the pressure of fulfilling the predetermined and timed goals of the scenarios.

The game is also fairly short, each scenario takes about 4-6 hours to finish. There are 3 scenarios you can play at the moment, and even if they have a bit of replay value allowing you to make things slightly different, the replay value as a whole is low in this game at the present state. I also think that the game would benefit from having trade and more interaction with other settlements instead of focusing on your own camp. All the above points simply mean that the game has a tight experience and deep focus and is good at what it does. But the potential that this game has means it could have been so much more. Who knows, maybe the expansions will bring more content to the game. 

As it is now, I think This War of Mine has both more replay value and is still a better buy. It is also a cheaper game compared to Frostpunk. I can't recommend this game in its current state for what they are charging (about 30 euro at Good Old Games / gog.com):

Final score 7/10
+ Great visuals
+ Unique city building aspects
+ Great survival elements with dropping temperature

+ Nice theme
- Short
- Expensive
- Limited gameplay, variety and replay value

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