Wednesday 28 November 2018

DARK GAMING: Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

DARK GAMING: Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

By Casey Douglass

Trying to Survive Extinction in Frostpunk

11 Bit Studios’ societal survival game Frostpunk intrigued me from the moment I started reading about it. Its mix of steampunk technology, harsh frozen environment, resource management and societal strife all seemed to paint a world in which I wanted to meddle. So I did, and along the way I found out that extinction level events seem to turn me into a bit of a scheming bastard. This isn’t a review, more a taster of what the game is about and how things can go bad very quickly.

FrostpunkThe main thing to know is that the most important building in the game is the Generator, a massive tower that sits in the middle of your fledgling city, spewing out heat and life-giving warmth to the citizens that huddle around its base. At the start of the game, it’s cold and idle, the first action you need to achieve is to get some coal and to fire that puppy up. Flicking the “On” switch seemed far more satisfying than it had any right to be, the way light and heat bathed the surrounding area with radiance and seemed to hold the snow back. In the early days, I only fired it up overnight as I wanted to preserve my coal supply, but as the weather worsened and certain buildings needed a minimum of heat to function, I had to keep it on. The people also complained, and I didn’t want the people under my care to turn into human ice pops.

FrostpunkThe early part of the game is very much “gatherer mode”, your well-wrapped citizens trudging trenches through the thick snow and bringing back various resources from surface-based debris and deposits. It’s slow work, made even slower by the shift schedule. You can use another important part of the game to alter this however: the ability to pass laws. These can relate to work, health, and other areas, and often involve a choice between two possibilities. One such law is about letting children work in safe work places. I passed this one quite early on. They could trudge to a pile of old wooden crates and bring back the timber just like anyone, and with so few supplies, every hungry belly needed to be put to work, or everyone would die. Once you advance your technology far enough, you can build coal mines, saw mills and other industrial structures, and when you do this, the resource freedom seems heady and powerful. Well it would, if you didn’t have to give thought to your people griping.

You have to keep your people happy, by way of the Hope and Discontent bars. If people are cold, hungry, dying too often, or hear some bad news, your Hope rating plummets and your Discontent one rises. If the Discontent gets too high, you are at risk of being exiled or executed. After some particularly crushing news, a split emerged in the city, and these people were referred to as The Londoners (in the scenario I’m playing at least). These folks wanted to head back to London, feeling that they were better off there in the first place. This group was disruptive, and as the leader of the city, I had to choose how to combat the Discontent they were spreading. It came down to two choices, rule by Order or rule by Faith.

After some thought, I opted for Faith. Sure, some totalitarian state-type shenanigans might have been effective, batons cracking a few skulls certainly sends a message, but I ultimately felt that religion was a far more effective (and insidious) route to control a populace. After all, we’ve seen it done very effectively on our own planet for millennia. I know that I sound like a dictator right now, talking about control and whatnot, but these people were starting to piss me off at this point. So I gave them churches and faith, and let them fall into the idea that something larger than they actually cared. I still cared too, but they needed to accept the reality of the situation, and some were struggling to do this. While this was all going on, my first mech reached the city, and I always love me some new tech!

FrostpunkYou explore the world by way of Scouts. These can find other survivors and loot, and hopefully, get them back to my city safely. Ooh I just called it my city, I think I’m getting attached to it. One such expedition found a mech, a spidery-robot thing that works continuously and replaces an entire workforce. I watched it stomp around at the saw mill I pointed it to throughout the day and night, and this set me dreaming of an army of mechs that would streamline my resource gathering and let me advance my populace at a higher rate.

A test loomed though, one that I wasn’t sure the city would survive. I said “the city” this time, maybe I’m distancing myself from the consequences of what might happen. The weather forecast said that a colder spell was blowing in, one more bleak than any the settlement had faced to date. I had the coal, but I wasn’t sure the Generator was powerful enough to keep people functioning. They were already complaining about the cold, and kept moaning about wanting more heat-effective housing. I was doing the best I could but it’s hard to keep on top of things. I thought this cold front would be the litmus test of my city. The Londoners were stepping up their efforts to unseat me and the medical buildings were full of the sick and dying. There would be deaths. If it all went wrong, I decided that I wouldn’t be the scapegoat. I thought about stowing some gear on my new mech so that I could make a hasty getaway. I might freeze to death once it ran out of coal, but I’d rather that than a bunch of ingrates hanging me from the nearest tower.

As it turned out, it went to shit before the weather-front even arrived. There were protests, nasty graffiti popped up all over the city, and a rush (for me) to build shrines to calm the populace down. I had too many balls in the air and ultimately, I dropped them all. My time had come. Thankfully, due to “services rendered”, I was only exiled, rather than executed. Life in the bitter cold was more than likely a death sentence of its own, but at least this way, I could die without spectators cheering and whooping. On the down side, they kept the mech, so I only have the meagre supplies they gave me. Damn it.


Frostpunk is a grim but beautiful game, one in which you have to balance your concerns at any given moment, and in that lays its fun. You’ve just read about my first play through, and in that journey I’ve learnt a decent amount about what I would do differently next time. The game has a number of scenarios and a new Endless mode, so it seems likely that it will have a good amount of re-playability. Time will tell on that front. All I can say is that I enjoyed my first play through and have already started another. Oh, and just to make it clear, the stuff about running away on the mech at the end was a little bit of embellishment for this piece. As far as I am aware, you can’t do that, but it would certainly be nice if you could.

Thanks for reading, and please feel free to let me know if you give Frostpunk a try. Or, if you have already been baptised in the snow of its grim world and feel like helping a newbie out, post some tips below, they'd be greatly appreciated.