About two months ago I took a look at This War of Mine. This War of Mine was a really interesting survival game that forced players to make tough decisions in order to keep their people alive during an armed conflict. I bring this up because the game I am looking at in this review, Frostpunk, has a similar premise of forcing you to make tough decisions. That is not all that surprising as it just so happens to be made by the same studio that created This War of Mine. While Frostpunk released on PC around a year and a half ago, the game’s console release is tomorrow (October 11th, 2019). As I never played the game on PC I took the opportunity to check out the game on PlayStation 4. Being a fan of city builders and the theme of Frostpunk I was really interested in checking out the game. Frostpunk is a really interesting and engaging city builder experience that forces you to make some tough decisions in the fight for the survival of your people.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank 11 bit studios for the review copy of Frostpunk used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
In Frostpunk you play as the leader of a group of survivors. After an Ice Age type event the entire globe goes cold. Snow and ice cover the world as humanity fights just to survive the dangerously cold weather. With no hope in sight your group of survivors decide to build the last refuge on Earth. The task is not easy though as the cold temperatures and environment are not hospitable to your survivors. Each day is a grind as you need to do enough just to try and keep everyone alive. This ultimately leads to hard decisions as you need to do what is necessary to keep your people alive in the harsh conditions. As the leader can you successfully keep your people alive and maintain order while the world around you collapses?
At its core I would say that Frostpunk is a combination of a couple different mechanics. The main mechanic is very similar to a typical city builder game. As the leader of the group you are in charge of how the city is built. Your city is built around a large generator/heater that is the lifeblood of the city. From this central heater you will build out your base in a circular fashion. This includes building houses, hospitals, entertainment, research facilities, heaters, buildings to explore the world, and factories/resource gathering buildings. As your resources are always limited you need to prioritize which buildings should be built first and which can wait.
Before you build anything you need to gather resources. To gather resources you must use your citizens to work at various resource gathering buildings. At first you will just pick up resources left behind on the ground. As your technology improves you can starting developing buildings that can extract resources from the ground. In total Frostpunk has five different resources. Wood is mostly used for buildings and research while metal and steam cores are used for more advanced buildings. Food is pretty self explanatory as you need it to keep your citizens alive. You need to gather food and cook it in order to provide rations for your people. If you can’t provide enough food your people will start to revolt and die.
The most interesting resource in the game is coal. Coal is so important because heat is crucial to your survival. The heater in the middle of your city must always stay on as it is responsible for helping heat the rest of your buildings. If it ever turns off your people will suffer due to the low temperatures until it is turned back on. Temperatures are important in the game for a couple reasons. First if a worksite is too cold no work can be performed at it which will reduce the resources you can gather for your city. You also need to keep your people warm as exposure to really low temperatures can lead to unhappiness, illness, and even death. You will occasionally hit cold and warm spells, but as you progress through the game the temperature will continue dropping. This forces you to research new heating technology and place more heaters throughout your city.
In some ways Frostpunk is similar to most other city builders and in other ways it is different. The core mechanics of the city building aspect of the game should be pretty familiar to people who play a lot of games from this genre. You build buildings and use your people to acquire resources. These resources are then used to build buildings and research technology to help you gather more resources and expand your city. Frostpunk handles a lot of these mechanics similar to most games from the genre. Where the game differs is that every day you are fighting for the survival of your people. You need to keep growing your city and gathering resources or all of your people will die. This is exemplified by the temperature mechanic where you need to keep the heaters running even if it puts the people gathering coal in danger.
The element of constant danger leads to one of the other major mechanics in the game. As the leader of the survivors you are in charge of keeping them happy and safe. As your people face issues you must choose what is the best course for the city. Citizens will ask for certain buildings to be built or to address the issues that they are facing. You can choose to do what they want or choose another option that you think is best for the city. In addition to keeping your citizens safe you need to make sure they stay happy or they might overthrow you as leader. As things become dire you will be presented with laws that you can pass that will address issues. When you start running short of resources you can choose to extend work hours, or force children into the workforce. Other decisions you have to make include how to deal with critically sick patients, citizens who have died, and other issues about how the city is run. Each decision provides its own positives and negatives which will determine the path of the city.
This is the area of Frostpunk that reminds me a lot of This War of Mine. Just like This War of Mine the game forces you to make hard decisions. Most people will want to make the virtuous decision, but that is not always an option. For example you probably don’t want to enact child labor, but what if enacting that policy is the difference between the city surviving or everyone freezing to death. Another example is sending out people into the freezing cold on a particularly cold day because you need coal in order to keep the heaters running knowing there is a pretty good choice that they will get sick and possibly die. You will have to make hard decisions in the game including some that you wouldn’t normally make except that you have to so all of your people don’t die. Every person in your city is an individual and while I didn’t grow attached to any particular person, it was still kind of hard to hear when some of my people had died as it felt like I had failed them.
All of this combines into a really compelling game. I have played a lot of city builders. While Frostpunk shares quite a few mechanics with other games in the genre, it still feels like a truly original experience. Unlike other games where you are facing off against an enemy force or just trying to build the most successful city, in Frostpunk you are literally just trying to survive. You make a mistake and your entire city can be wiped out. This makes every decision in the game important as you try to expand your city enough to keep your people happy and maybe over time make their lives better. Frostpunk’s gameplay may not be for everyone but I really enjoyed my time with the game.
The fact that your city is always in danger really adds to the game’s atmosphere, but at the same time it can make the game a little unforgiving at times. For the most part I would say that Frostpunk does a good job teaching you how to play the game. The first scenario basically acts as a tutorial as it teaches you about the different buildings and gives you an idea of what you should build in the early game. While it does a good job explaining the mechanics, Frostpunk is one of those games that you have to learn through trial and error. You will likely fail as you learn how to play the game. You will make a mistake and it can snowball quickly. For example you may run out of coal which shuts off your heaters. Your city then starts to spiral as your people get sick and start dying making it even harder to get your heaters up and running again. This will lead to you having to restart from the beginning as you learn from your mistakes from the previous failure. This could make the game kind of stressful for some players as one mistake could ruin all of the work that you put into a city.
As for the length like a lot of city builders it is going to somewhat depend on the player. Frostpunk has two main modes. First there are four different scenarios. These scenarios provide you with different stories and challenges as you try to build up your city. The game also includes two endless modes where you try to create a city that will last as long as possible. One of the endless modes is a more relaxed experience where the game is more forgiving. The other is a hardcore mode where you will face a lot of challenges. The length of the game is going to really depend on how much you want to play the endless modes. I have only begun to scratch the surface, but the scenarios seem like they will take quite a while to complete. You could potentially get a lot more playtime out of the endless modes. You probably won’t get as much playtime out of Frostpunk as some city builders, but you should be able to get your money’s worth if you like the city builder genre.
Frostpunk is a really good game, but it feels like one of those type of games where once you have a good strategy the game may become a little repetitive. It will take quite a while to come up with a good strategy, but once you have one that is successful I don’t know if there is any reason to really deviate from it. This could lead to the game becoming a little repetitive after a while. In some city builders there is a lot of flexibility in what you ultimately design. There are plenty of different ways to successfully build a city and your creativity can give you endless possibilities. While there is some flexibility in how you build your city in Frostpunk, you mostly have to follow a kind of pattern in order to keep your city from failing. You should still be able to get plenty of time out of Frostpunk, but I don’t see it as one of those type of games that you can get hundreds of hours out of.
As the console versions of Frostpunk are releasing tomorrow and I played the PlayStation 4 version for this review, before wrapping up I wanted to quickly talk about how the game plays on consoles. For the most part I think the developers did a good job porting the games to consoles. I encountered a couple instances where it was a little hard to place a building exactly where I wanted, but otherwise I had no issue using a controller to play the game. The reason Frostpunk works well on consoles is because it does a good job streamlining all of the mechanics to make them easy to access. Most of the buttons are given a specific task which mostly involves bringing up specific menus that you then select from. It takes a little while to know how to use the different menus and what buttons to press, but once you get a hang of it you don’t really have any issues. The game uses a radial menu to select from different options and all of the buildings are sorted by their types so it is easy to find what you are looking for. I am guessing the game probably plays a littler better on PC, but console players haven’t been left behind. I honestly don’t think the developers could have done a better job porting the game to consoles.
While Frostpunk might share a lot in common with your typical city builder, it is a truly original game. Frostpunk is a game of survival as your city is always in danger. You must build up your city to gather enough resources to survive the blizzards and harsh environment while also growing it enough to develop new technologies to improve your citizens lives. In addition to keeping your citizens safe you need to keep them happy enough that they don’t replace you as their leader. As your city will face a lot of dangers you need to make some tough decisions and pass some laws that may not be popular to keep your city from collapsing entirely. This creates a fun and unique experience as you need to always be ready to adapt and make tough decisions. Frostpunk can be a little unforgiving at times though. You will likely fail as you learn how to play the game as one mistake can cascade quickly. Frostpunk has quite a bit of gameplay, but once you figure out the best strategy the game can also become a little repetitive.
My recommendation for Frostpunk comes down to your opinion of the game’s theme and city builders in general. If you have never liked city builders Frostpunk won’t be for you. If you are looking for a more traditional city builder or the theme doesn’t appeal to you, Frostpunk might also not be for you. If the premise sounds interesting though Frostpunk is a really interesting experience that you should really enjoy. I would recommend you look into picking up Frostpunk.