11 Bit Studios is a development team known for developing the ever-depressing and hard-hitting game This War of Mine. For those who aren’t in the know, This War of Mine was a survival game based in an active war zone, where your only objective is to survive. The twist, however, is that you’re not some highly-trained soldier but rather a band of civilians. I remember the first time I played This War of Mine and a particularly charismatic member of my group had been killed by soldiers which created a moral crisis, which eventually caused members of my group to start committing suicide in a chain-reaction event.
It’s safe to say I didn’t go back to This War of Mine after all of my characters hung themselves.
However this is not This War of Mine and I’ve been feeling pretty good about myself lately, so I think it’s only fair to completely demolish this positive energy with their latest city-building survival game: Frostpunk.
When you start a new game (or a ‘new home’ as the menu calls it) you will be taking into what is best described as a gorgeously animated sequence that tells the story of the world and how its collapse came to be, the introduction cinematic begins to pick up in both tone and presentation, with the music getting more and more intense as the survivors who left their cities behind fled to the north.
From what I have seen so far, the British Empire was the first to begin building these giant engines in the northern landscape and other nations started to follow through with this once ‘the frost’ began to fall. After this depressing but undeniably wonderful introduction, you are taken to your ‘city’, which is located in a hole somewhere in the ‘frostlands’.
You will be given a task to stockpile coal while dealing with events that pop up as black splodges on your generator. These events seem to vary from an occurring housing crisis to signing new laws into place, such as how to treat the corpses of your fallen survivors (Will you bury them or leave them in a pit of snow for preservation purposes?). Eventually, you will establish a scouting party to search your surrounding area, which can help provide information about the world of Frostpunk and why it has turned out the way it did as well as serve as a way to find more survivors, food and resources. You will also need to research new technology in order to meet the demand of your city upkeep.
After a certain event with the scouting party occurs, you will be asked to select a purpose for your city: Order or Faith. I personally chose Order to satisfy my ‘big brother is watching you’ craze. Unfortunately, a faction was born into the city called the Londoners and this group of cockney rapscallions are interested in one thing and one thing only: Leaving the city behind and returning to London. This means that on top of managing your food, resources, heat and hope/discontent you will have to combat the actions of the Londoners faction, who will draw graffiti on the buildings of your city, beat up your Guards/Faithkeepers or hold speeches to denounce your leadership and spread their beliefs.
I managed to keep my city going for around two weeks in-game time, however, ultimately my people saw fit to banish me for my terrible, terrible management skills. I believe you get banished if Hope falls too low or Discontent grows too high, I imagine you get a separate ending if the Londoners get support from the rest of your city.
I didn’t get very far with the Londoners faction causing all kinds of havoc in my city, however, I imagine they will play a bigger part in the story than what I have seen so far. There are also additional Scenarios, two additional scenarios upon release to be exact. The first one is “The Ark” which appears to be about scholars and scientists from Oxford and Cambridge trying to “save priceless seed and plant specimens from the eternal winter”. I’m not sure what the second Scenario requires, as I haven’t managed to survive twenty days in The Ark scenario.
So What’s My Take On Frostpunk?
11 Bit Studios have a reputation for putting you in uncomfortable positions and making you decide what to do with uncomfortable situations, do you perform dangerous, almost radical surgery on the injured and sickly? Do you enforce child labour? Will you bury the dead or keep them frozen? It’s worth bearing in mind, that every single one of these choices has consequences. A child got hurt working? Well, now that child has to go through the agony of having a limb amputated. You aren’t burying the dead? Well, there’s a grieving widow holding the hand of her deceased husband crying on the streets. Everything has both a narrative and moral consequence. Frostpunk isn’t a game for the light-hearted and I don’t mean that in the “It’s a very gore-filled game” sense, I mean it in the sense of “This game will force you to endure uncomfortable and depressing circumstances” and it’s all the better for it. The music in Frostpunk is superb, with a dark and brooding vibe to it with a few uplifting segments before dropping into an intense beat, it perfectly portrays how the game (and your survivors) have good days and bad days.