Developed By: 11 bit studios
Published By: 11 bit studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Imagine yourself guiding a group of survivors into a snow ridden foreign land with nothing but your wits and instinct. To survive is the goal and to sustain is key to overcome most if not all obstacles that will test your aptitude in making decisions as well as your moral compass. Welcome to Frostpunk, where being the leader of your people is fun and a pain all at the same time.
Frostpunk was released on the PC back in April 2018 and the game was success both commercially and critically. It has also gone on to won numerous awards including “Best Polish Game” at the Digital Dragons, “Best Game” at the Brazil Independent Games Festival as well as “Strategy Title of Year” at the Australian Game Awards 2018 just to name a few. That is some serious accolades and now this well coveted game has finally made its touchdown on console platforms. According to developer 11 bit studios, the console version was actually developed simultaneously along with the PC version but due to a lack of resources, they focused more on the PC and once it was released, they pulled in everyone and everything in the team to fully develop the console version. From what I have experienced thus far, this particular console release is indeed worthy of the long wait.
The game is actually quite the graphic resource hogger on the PC version as especially with the amount of graphical power it needs to showcase the layers of snow as well as the calculations that make it look realistic and beautiful as it is. That said, the console version is capable of hitting a solid 30 FPS with some occasional drops especially when there is a lot of buildings and smoke particles on screen but that doesn’t happen all the time. One thing I do want to point out is at times the graphics can look a bit blurred and this can make spotting a building you are looking for a challenge. I am unsure whether it is intentional so that the harsh weather environment looks more realistic or something else. It took me quite a while to spot a building which I want to remove so I can relocate it elsewhere. Nonetheless, this is still considered a minor gripe as this can be overcome by having better management in using the available spaces and segregating them into different structural types. All in all, to be able to run the game quite smoothly graphically is amazing and 11 bit studio did an amazing job in the optimizations.
Another aspect that needs to be highlighted is none other than the controls. Many console gamers would always wonder how certain strategy games coming onto consoles are going to work. This is especially true with building management games that require quick immediate action. We all know controller pads can’t be compared to the quick precision of a mouse and keyboard however the developers here did an astounding job to get this working on the console. This is also partly one of the reasons why the console version took a while to be released. 11 bit studios totally revamped the whole control and UI (User Interface) to suit consoles. The shoulder buttons L2 and R2 will be your most pressed button. The L2 opens up the Command Hub and R2 opens up the Express Navigator which opens up certain options such as removing the building, forcing the workers there to work extended shifts or immediately fill up an empty production building. Take note that not all buildings have access to these options.
The Radial of Our Lives
The Command Hub is where you gain access to everything you need to build a sustaining and survivable home. It is broken down into sub-menus which consist of the Technology Tree, the Book of Laws, Construction, City Info and Economy. These sub menus here will be your important tools and it is best to get to know their functions. One of the sub menus I would like to highlight is the Book of Laws. As you progress the game, you will be allowed to sign a new law which will be passed down and shape how you will govern your city and its people. Many of these Laws brings in real good benefits but also some equal consequences that comes along. For example, there is a law which you either choose to build a shelter for children which will guarantee their safety and a slight permanent boost to your Hope or you can opt for them to start early labour work which will train them up and speeds up the production. There is no right or wrong in the decisions, while it does seem to touch on some moral grounds but the main priority here is what will work for you to survive and sustain.
This is where it caught my attention as morally I would definitely would give those children a proper warm place to stay in but I also ended up having my production process a lot slower then I have planned which cost hit me during the time I am trying to get my city sustaining as much as possible. That said, what I have outlined is not a definite way to plan your city because of all the multiple attempts I did towards the game, things just turned out differently. One of my attempts I had a child shelter and it went fine and another I forced them to labour and it became disaster as well and vice versa. Hence it all depends on the given situation you are at.
Unforgiving but Addictive
Now coming into the gameplay aspects, as mentioned earlier, Frostpunk is a city-building management game with also the emphasis on survival. The game itself is quite hard even when you tweak everything to the easiest parameters when starting up a scenario. Furthermore, hard is actually an understatement. This game is rather unforgiving especially when you are like yours truly that likes to build stuff and have no proper planning and management skills. If there is one thing, I would like to point out is that this game does not do a good job in explaining things properly as you start things off new. I am very certain the majority that start the game on their first attempt will fail cataclysmically. There is so much to take in, from sustaining a good amount of food which can really get depleted fast even on the early stages of the game to suddenly needing to prepare for a huge blizzard. The change of weather especially is one of the hardest enemies in the game. The colder it is the more heat the people needs which means more resources such as coals needs to be doubled up. Not to mention the need to quickly unlock further technological upgrades to further spread the heat that comes out from the Generator. The Generator itself is the heart of the city where the majority of heat-generating equipment in and outside of buildings depends on it.
I would go as far to call this the Dark Souls of city management because you have to go through some failures through the many attempts in order get a hang of the central crux of the game. You will learn through those failures but once you understood and at least improve on managing things properly, the game actually rewards you with the sense of achievement that can be addictive. It will hook you into it, until of course if you messed up somehow and somewhere.
The Console Edition come with all DLC released thus far. It is broken down into a scenario mode and Endless Mode. The scenario mode can be considered as a lite campaign with some objectives to achieve in order to move forward to the next challenge. The Endless mode on the other hand is as the name suggest, there is no objectives to fulfil. You are free to build the city you want without any pit-stops or restrictions. There are two sub-modes to choose from in Endless Mode. There is Endurance Mode and Serenity Mode. Endurance Mode as the game itself described is for the survivalist. You will have scarce resources and bad cold weathers as well as blizzards that will happen very frequently. This is essentially for those who think the game is not hard enough for them. Serenity Mode is the total opposite of Endurance, you are free to build the city to your hearts content with mild weathers, short blizzards as well as plenty of resources scattered around. That said, it doesn’t mean you are going to be able to build and access to everything easily. This mode will still punish you, severely, if you messed up.
While the game is unforgiving, the crux of the whole gameplay is simple but not obvious. You are basically required to put emphasis on your decisions and building choices based on two meters in the game, Hope and Discontent. The Hope represents the well being and spirit of the citizens around while Discontent represents the unhappiness of the people. Basically, a happy and not happy bar. It is crucial to always keep the Hope bar from dropping to zero because that means its game over. Furthermore, as Discontent rises, the citizens will start to question you and some would even start to stage a protest to have you step down. There will be some would even cause disharmony by displaying acts of violence. As you can see, it is simply because keep the Hope up and things will go smoothly. It is not obvious that when there is a problem and discontent is not easily contained, it can be tricky business to find the root cause of the issue. Even if you do find the root cause and try to amend it, it may or may not even solve it immediately.
Another part of the game I really enjoyed doing is building a Beacon which allows me to send scouts out into the Frostlands. This is where I found to be one of the most efficient ways to gather huge amount of resources as well as expanding the number of citizens into the city. When a scouting party reaches the destination you choose – which can take hours or days in-game time, you will be greeted with a simple window which explains simple but detail scenarios that your scouting party encounters. It is these little touches that I find very intriguing and It always kept me wanting to keep exploring the Frostlands even further which you can but there may be a situation where you need resources and you have to ask your scouting party to return. The choices in the game can either make you or break you yet it’s very thrilling nonetheless.
What I Liked
There is actually a lot I liked about this game. For someone like me who don’t really play let alone enjoy a game of this genre, Frostpunk really got me hooked despite the brutal difficulty. The nail-biting experience especially when you are racing against time on certain small objectives such as getting certain houses warmed up within 2 days whilst knowing you are severely lacking in coal. I had to actually put my thinking cap on to see how to overcome the matter. Once I thought of an idea, I decided to put it into action, not knowing whether it is going to work. To my biggest surprise, it actually did, though by a scrape only. Nonetheless, it is this kind of experience that actually feels very rewarding and above all genuine. It is not about able to get the best upgrades nor able to build as many buildings as you like but actually putting everything you learn into practice and in full swing seeing them work.
What I Didn’t Like
As much as I enjoyed it, there are two things which I do find a little annoying. As pointed earlier, when the amount of building increases, your vision often times can be obstructed by the smoke particles not to mention on top of that the snow effects as well. Looking for specific buildings can be a hassle and I do wish there is an option or a way to be able to detect a specific immediately such as highlighting it as you scroll through a set of filters. Another would be the difficulty. While I do love the unforgiving nature as it does give players the opportunity to find ways, there are times I do find the difficulty can be rather unfair. For instance, I need to get the generator running for at least two days without fail. It was a difficult task but I managed to scrape enough coal that would last more than 2 days. However, at the last hour of the last day, the number of coals were depleting faster than I anticipated, hence ending up having the generator stop and fail right at the very last second and that led me to increase the Discontent higher and some of my citizens died due to the cold. My displeasure is not knowing where it went wrong. There is a possibility that it is caused by own poor management skills but at least I would like to be pointed out where were my mistakes and I could improve on my subsequent play-throughs.
While I have mentioned that the overall experience is a very good one, nonetheless it can get repetitive in the long run. While subsequent attempts have you facing unexpected issues that will crop up, you will eventually familiarize what are the major problems you will face. Once you figure out and know how to effectively remedy the problem, the difficulty will start to lose its novelty. Much like any other city building management, you will eventually reach to the end of what you can go for and then there is nothing else to look forward to and thus the replay value will begin to diminish eventually – after an umpteenth time perhaps.
A Fine Blizzard
Frostpunk, by far is the best survival city management game that I have ever played – at least to date. This game truly puts your patience and ability to adapt and learn to the fullest. That means forcing you to replay the game with what you have learned. The experience it provides is truly one that encapsulates the meaning of survival and you will need to do what it takes to make it through even if you have made certain choices that goes against your moral values. There isn’t a lot of games that captures the imperfection of the decisions made and the consequences that may bite you back later.
Furthermore, the developers have put in so much effort by integrating what I think is one of the best controls for a game that seemed more natural for a keyboard and mouse configuration. While there are some issues that needs to be addressed, the experience is more than enough to overlook them. While the offerings in the game is not many in choice, at least the upcoming paid DLC will surely whet the appetite for those expert survivalist. One things for sure, Frostpunk may well have to pave the way for more games of this genre to graced onto console platforms.