Frostpunk Review

So, it turns out I wouldn’t be much kop should we reach the end times as a leader. In my time playing Frostpunk, I must’ve matched some of the worst dictators in history’s body counts. Not intentionally you understand, but regardless, I struggled quite a lot to survive. Chances are though that most players will find this, at least at first.

The difficulty here is punishing. From the word go, you’ll need to be as proactive as possible to ensure your clans survival. Sourcing coal will be an immediate priority; after all, the massive generator in the centre of town isn’t going to power itself. But even this brings risks – those that gather it will need to trudge their way through the ice and snow to get there, meaning that if you don’t power the generator on as soon as possible they will fall ill and, in all likely hood, die. There really is no mucking about here. You’ll also need to source wood and steel from nearby areas for housing, medical centres, hunting stations and more; each putting more strain on your already fractured community.

It’s vital you get things done quickly, but also sensibly. Sending out a hunting party for food but not having somewhere to cook it will lead to unrest, as people will want a nice hot meal after working all day (at least, once in a while). And it’s all well and good heating the area, but if people are over worked, ill or otherwise incapacitated then you won’t get much out of them without healing them. Frostpunk does a wonderfully depressing job of getting across just how hard it would be to survive in the frozen wastelands. But it’s not just the physical elements you’ll need to contend with.

The citizens will judge you on your actions. No matter what you decide to do (or not), you can’t please everyone. Every action will adjust the Discontent and Hope meters; constantly displayed at the bottom of the screen, you’re never in any doubt as to how poorly you’re managing the situation. Some actions, such as healing people, keeping them fed and warm and keeping the supplies coming in will raise their hope, and as such you’ll get better results from them. Let the pendulum swing the other way though, and you’ll have riots, walkouts, death and eventual exilation – leading to a permadeath game over and a restart. You’re also able to pass laws to effect things, though as with every other action, this can often have both good and bad consequences. Pass a law that keeps the ill comfortable, and you’ll raise hope – but this will stretch your workers further, potentially causing more unrest down the line. Alternatively, allowing amputations will ease the burden on workers in the short run, but those affected will then be less useful going forward. This is but one of a plethora of options available to you to choose from, each more taxing than the last.

There’s hope though. One of the first tasks is to send out a search party, looking for other survivors. As the story lays out, you and your tribe set off from the frozen wastes of London after a cataclysmic event brings about a permafrost. Finding a small area to set up camp some several hundred miles away from the capital, you set up base and attempt to re-establish some semblance of normality. Some of your people got lost on the way though, and it’s initially these you set out to find. Every action is governed by an in game clock, with tasks taking a certain amount of in game time to complete. Sending out your search party can take days, but often bring hope to the people, as new tribes, technology and resources can be found and brought back. Of course, bad news can also come your way when you find a dead city, or the frozen corpses of other travellers.

As you’ll discover, it’s all about balance. You’ll never find that the wins keep on coming. And even though the losses hit harder, there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel – whether that’s a sudden influx of supplies discovered out on the wastelands, or even a handy Automaton that will make maintaining your homestead that much easier. There’s a strange sense of pride when things are running smoothly – however fleeting that may be – and seeing you city grow beyond the small starting area is satisfying, However, as mentioned above, things start off hard and get more so at a rapid pace. All it takes is for a couple of people to get injured, or die, and things go out of whack. Each job role requires people; each person only works for a few hours a day, and jobs will only operate at certain times. When someone is incapacitated, that not only takes them out of the role, but if they need burying, will also take others out to perform the burial. This has the knock on effect of delaying production, ergo delaying progress.

That not even to mention the need to keep everything heated sufficiently. Our generator is placed in the centre of the map and has a 360 degree radius of heat that will warm the front row of buildings. Structures placed in the second row and beyond will need heating too – an upgrade to the generator is required, but only once you have a workshop. Which requires people, heating and supplies to manufacture anything. Upgrades are available across the board, enabling better hunting, mining medical supplies etc. But with so many to choose from, it once again comes down to balance. Do you risk saving up for a a coal compactor, allowing smoother operation of the generator? Or spend early and upgrade the scouts, hoping they will bring in more supplies?

There an almost overwhelming amount to keep track of in Frostpunk, but it’s to 11 Bit Studio’s credit that things are always under your control. The use of the gamepad to select items and such is intuitive, the cursor is snappy and responsive and for the most part, all the information you could need is clearly presented to you on screen. I did take a little while to figure out how to move my scout party on (a press of the right stick will bring up their options), and occasionally I’d accidentality highlight a random person instead of the building in front of them, but overall it’s one of the better examples of control scheme for a strategy title on consoles.

It looks lovely too, with some impressively detailed models helping to give the world a sense of life – even when I seemed to be actively trying to wipe it out! The glow of the generator gives off a great sense of warmth, all the affected buildings being lit under it’s light. And when it goes off, the accompanying dullness – as well as the crashing sound effects – really do set panic is. There’s a top notch score too, really setting the tone in the cut scenes.

Conclusion

While I may not be fit to rule the new world, I sure had a depressingly great time with Frostpunk. The difficulty will no doubt put people off – especially those going in blind – but persevere and there’s a deep, rewarding strategy title here that will get it’s hooks in, and drag you down with it.

This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.
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Good
  • Brilliant atmosphere
  • Deep, rewarding systems
  • Great, detailed visuals
Bad
  • Supremely difficult
8.6
Great
Gameplay - 8.5
Graphics - 8.5
Audio - 8.5
Longevity - 9
Written by
I've been gaming since Spy vs Spy on the Master System, growing up as a Sega kid before realising the joy of multi-platform gaming. These days I can mostly be found on smaller indie titles, the occasional big RPG and doing poorly at Rainbow Six: Siege. Gamertag: Enaksan

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