Review – Frostpunk
Frostpunk starts out pleasantly enough, at least as much as an ‘end of the world’ scenario allows, with your hardy band of survivors taking up refuge around a massive generator that will supply enough power and heat to allow that ‘survivor’ tag to stay relevant.
A minute into the game, tough choices start cropping up. You need to gather coal to keep the generator running and wood to put up some housing, but there aren’t enough workers to keep up on both fronts. There’s a handy workforce available, however, if you want to use them. Just like that your first choice of laws to pass is offered: put children to work or not? Put them to work and they might be hurt, even though you restrict them to generally safe labour, but it does solve your workforce issue.
Deciding their stance on child labour might be the easiest of the moral choices Frostpunk offers gamers, but it’s a perfect first step into this combination of city-builder and survival sim. Frostpunk relentlessly pushes you into uncomfortable places with a lack of resources and an endless string of disasters to overcome.
Problems snowball quickly in Frostpunk. People become sick or injured, prompting the need to build medical facilities while your workforce is diminished. Pull people off other duties and you’ll run out of coal or wood. Without heat, power, or places to live, more people become sick and suddenly you’re pondering whether you can justify putting your child labour to work in more dangerous jobs, just to get through this one crisis…
As a city builder, Frostpunk isn’t much to write home about. You aren’t going to be constructing elaborate metropolises teeming with life and perfectly laid out utilities or agonizing over how big the green space next to the mayor’s mansion should be. Instead, you’re given a central hub to build around and construct in a ring around it, expanding the ring when you upgrade the generator’s capability and extend the range it can heat.
The agony comes from not having enough room in the ‘warm’ zone, enough resources, enough workers, or enough time to solve all those problems before the discontent level reaches the breaking point and the other survivors exile you into the cold to die. It comes from having to choose what kind of laws you want to enact, and what kind of leader you want to be.
This is not a game for those who want a sprawling ‘endless’ mode, where you can build to your heart’s desire. This is a game with stories to tell and the part you play is guiding those disasters to their inevitable end. It’s a small bleak city in a dying world and you’ll never find a ‘perfect’ path to take through to its end, and that’s ok. After playing five or six games and reaching day 15 multiple times, I thought I had a great plan for the next run…I was exiled on day nine.