Frostpunk – A Slow Cold Death Brings Strategy to Life
If you happen to follow me on twitter you will know that I am a very big fan of both Strategy games and Dark Souls games. Now let’s leave the dark souls games aside for a moment and talk about strategy games. As far as I see it, you have two types of strategy games, combat-focused titles like the Total War games, and then non combat games like the early Anno games and Cities XL et al. Frostpunk sits squarely in the non combat camp, surrounded by a deep layer snow and ice, quite fitting really considering the name.
Set in the not too distant future, it’s fair to say that the calls for global warming went unheeded and the entire northern hemisphere is covered by about 20 meters of snow and ice, which seems to be working out fairly poorly for the folks who are trying to live there. Our story centres on a group of Londoners who have had enough of living in a city full of crime and despair and have decided to take a long walk in the snow and hope for the best.
This is where you, the player comes into it. For some reason (probably some sort of frost madness) you have been elected supreme ruler of New London and are in complete control of carving out a new existence in this snow-covered landscape.
The tricky thing with non-combat strategy games is keeping the player focused and engaged enough to both continue playing, and also care about the people whose lives you hold in the palm of your hand.
Frostpunk does this by having your people die. They die because you run out of coal and the thermal reactor shuts down and they freeze to death, or they die because they are working in sub-zero conditions and accidents happen, or they die because you forgot to research a cemetery (?!) and disease spread through your colony like it’s going out of fashion.. Or they die from a hundred other things. They die ok.
Now in your usual strategy games, it’s not really a big deal if your inhabitants die, however in Frostpunk, you only have a finite amount of workers. You can’t just pop down to the worker shed and build 10 new workers. No, in Frostpunk to get new workers you need to send out expeditions. In order to send out expeditions, you need to workers to go on said expeditions, which means you are down worker nows, cause you are sending workers to find more workers (workerception).
And to just kick that “am I doing this right” stress into the next level, Frost Punk has a beautifully rendered day/night cycle. So if you are running low on coal, and you are worried that you will run out, you get to watch your coal supplies dwindle between the time your workers clocked out and before the clock back in again in the morning (if they survive the night).
Thankfully there are speed controls, so you can fast forward while they sleep, but that doesn’t reduce the stress of a low coal pile overnight, if anything it made it worse because the coal number went down WAY quicker than on normal speed.
As well as managing worker count, you also need to manage their happiness. I mean it wouldn’t be a strategy game if you weren’t worried about your inhabitants starting a revolution to overthrow the cruel dictator that wouldn’t listen to their cries for little things, like food, shelter or warmth… Frostpunk does this with the Hope/Despair sliders. Make a good decision, boost that hope, make a necessary, but (in the eyes of your people) bad decision, in kicks the despair. Things like sending the children to work, or watering down the food, they all have Hope/Despair modifiers attached to them, sure you may increase the amount of food you have by adding in sawdust (ewww!) but it’s going to make your people sad, also probably sick, you know, cause they are eating cold saw dust.
All these game mechanics are great, but how does it look and sound you ask? Oh, my friends, it is just gorgeous! The area starts as a big snowy circle that your people need to trudge through in order to reach whatever task you have assigned to them. Each individual person makes their own way there , leaving their own marks in the snow. It’s a credit to the art and animation team here who clearly are masters of their trade because you can see how difficult it is for the people to walk through hip-deep snow, there is a real weight that has been animated into the people and it’s just tremendous.
Not to be outdone by the visual team, the audio team have also stepped and knocked the sound design out of the ice filled park. The snowy blizzard that is always just outside the area of the thermal generator is always howling, threatening to freeze you solid the first chance it can get. Thankfully the constant hum of the generator is there to remind you that all will be well, providing you have enough coal that is.
I could probably keep writing about Frostpunk till the cows come home, and freeze to death because there is just so much to this game. It’s no surprise to me that the developers, 11-bit studios, nailed the look and feel of this ruined frozen world, as they did it previously in This War of mine.
If you are into these non-combat/city building types of strategy games, I highly highly highly recommend Frostpunk. The gameplay is very engaging, the sound is amazing and the game is just stunning to look at. Just so you know, expect your people to die, because they will. So, so many of them will die. Just like in Dark Souls (see I told you we would eventually get back to dark souls.)