Frostpunk laughs in the face of other survival games. Keeping one person alive in the wilderness is a cakewalk compared to trying to keep a city running in a never ending winter, which is the cold hard reality this game takes place in. Set in the nineteenth century in the midst of a cataclysmic ice age, nothing remains but arctic wastelands and a small group of survivors gathered around a steam generator for heat. You sit on high as the ruler of this hellish landscape and your one role is to try and keep your people safe, happy and ultimately hopeful. This is not an easy task when constantly gathering resources just to survive the day is a necessity, not to mention occasionally having to work a twenty-four hour day just to have enough coal to last the night.
You have a finite number of workers and engineers to assign to different roles in your city, forcing you to make tricky decisions at every turn. Sure you need coal to survive at all, but what about trying to expand? For that you need to get steel and wood, both of which take more workers to acquire, and on top of that you need to keep everyone fed and that requires people too. In order to survive as the temperature continues to drop you need to research and build new technologies which will better equip you to survive the harsh wasteland in which you reside.
Everything takes time and resources, both of which you are constantly running low on. Frostpunk challenges you by always forcing sacrifices and always asking you to do better. It is a challenge that can be seen as all of your resources tick down and your people fall ill or worse.
When people start to fall ill because of frostbite, will you amputate their limbs or let them die? Should the children be taught how to help or just be sent to labour on in the factories you build? These are just some of the horrible choices you have to make as a ruler, and these are the early choices as well; as you progress and things get more desperate you will have to make even harder ones.
There may be rebellions to quash and you will have to choose between saving yourself and helping others scrape by. The world is unrelenting and so are the choices, but that is not to say the game is stressful to play. The pacing is nigh on perfect and the ability to speed up or pause time helps to no end when waiting for a building to finish or making a tough decision. Every single second counts though and with each run through you will learn how to be more efficient and get the most of the limited options you have.
There are currently three scenarios for you to play out, each one bringing new advantages and new challenges. While each one has a slightly different goal, they all boil down to being a struggle for survival. The gameplay is incredibly well tuned and the tutorials are perfect for getting across just how to make the most of each option you have, as well as what each one means for your settlement. The fact that such a depressing situation can be so immensely playable is as a testament to the skill of 11bit Studios and you will always find yourself wanting to jump in for another attempt. The different scenarios help to add variety and the promise of more to come means the game is going to keep snowballing into something bigger, and no doubt darker, as it goes.
Frostpunk is a horrifyingly playable post-apocalyptic survival game that demands more out of you than most games ever could. Each decision and each sacrifice you make is hard on your city and on you. There are so many impossible choices and no win situations that the game is almost hard to play, but it’s so compelling that you will be unable to step away from it. The only real negative is the sheer overwhelming nature of the world the game is set in, and really that is more of a compliment to the designers than anything else. Frostpunk is a truly harrowing game in the best possible way and one that will have you steeped in the harsh reality of eternal winter for dozens of hours to come.