You have one goal in Don’t Starve; don’t die. Not starving is part of that, of course, but there are plenty of other ways to die. Many of these ways involve being attacked or, if you’re new to the game, attacking something to see what happens and quickly seeing your life snuffed out before you really know what’s going on.
So Don’t Starve is another survival game that drops you into a hostile environment and leaves you to fend for yourself. Minecraft may have stoked the survival fires but there aren’t too many games that manage to fend off the competition quite like Don’t Starve does. More than just another survival game, Don’t Starve is a unique take on the genre that has an aesthetic and atmosphere all to itself.[drop]The game looks gorgeous thanks to its hand-drawn art and gothic, almost Tim Burton-esque style. Teetering on the edge of nightmare and whimsy, its world features some genuinely creepy aspects that we will get further into later. Everything from the main character’s design (not unlike Johnny Depp in about 279 Tim Burton films) to the music resembles the Nightmare Before Christmas and it’s genuinely charming to see that kind of style in a game.
You’ll generally begin by picking up flint and twigs off the ground so you can make an axe to cut down trees. From trees you’ll get logs and pine cones, for crafting and replanting trees respectively. Also on the shopping list is some cut grass (gathered from tufts of grass on the ground) so you can make a campfire when the inevitable dread of night descends on the world.
This isn’t Minecraft though – when the moon is out everything that isn’t in the halo of light around your fire is in pitch darkness and in that darkness lurks the Grue. If you’re completely enveloped in the dead of night, the Grue will start tearing chunks out of your health until there are none left. You won’t see them, you’ll just hear the slashing.
As you can imagine, avoiding the dark is imperative, so you’d better make sure you’ve got the materials to build and fuel your campfire before the mercilessly short day gives way to the darkness.
Whilst you’re gathering materials you’ll need to be advancing your tech. To do this, you need to build a science machine which will let you prototype new items. For example, it will let you make rope from cut grass, which can then be used with logs to create log armour for more protection against enemies.
There is a wealth of things to research, some of which need further structures before you can get them. You’ll find the materials you need whilst exploring the randomly generated world, just keep an eye on where things are on your map which will fill itself in as you explore.
In the top right of your screen you’ll see a clock that will show you exactly how long you have until the day becomes dusk, and dusk becomes the dead of night. A full day-night cycle takes eight minutes, so daytime will quickly burn away whilst you’re gathering your supplies. Nights are even shorter than days but you’re limited to the lit area around your fires, whether it’s a campfire, a fire pit, a torch, or something more advanced.
Below the clock are your hunger, sanity and health meters. Hunger will steadily drop as time goes by and is replenished by eating food – cooked food is more effective and food from a crock-pot is even better. If your hunger drops to zero you’ll start to steadily lose health until you eat something.
As you might expect, you also lose health when something attacks you, whether it’s the bees whose home you just so foolishly hit with an axe or the hounds that have been hunting you. There are various types of enemies – some are passive until you attack them, some will actively hunt you down and others are pigs that turn into hostile werepigs during the full moon.
Another consideration if your sanity meter, which drops as you do things that you would expect to unhinge someone – eating monster meat, digging up graves (for loot, of course) and being in the dark. You can regain sanity by eating cooked foods, especially higher quality cooked food from a crock-pot.
When your sanity drops below certain thresholds, odd things begin to happen. You’ll begin to hallucinate, seeing eyes in the darkness and figures watching in the distance. Let it drop too far and your hallucinations will begin to take corporeal form and attack you or your base.[drop2]My personal favourite hallucinations are the Shadow Watcher and the Night Hand. The former is just a dark figure that watches, it’s harmless but definitely creepy. The latter is a long, clawed, shadowy hand that will reach along the ground and seek to smother your campfires. They’re both terrifically nightmarish apparitions that are brilliantly well designed to not only fit into the game but enhance the oppressively dark atmosphere in which DS revels.
As you continue surviving, things will get considerably more difficult. Even after you’ve got a steady food supply coming from your farm, you still need to be careful what you’re doing. Leave food too long and it will begin to spoil. If you cut down too many trees without replanting it’s possible a Treeguard will appear from a nearby tree and not be too happy with your logging activity. It will only stop attacking once you’ve planted enough pine cones to calm it down and it’s quite difficult to defeat, so you’d better start hugging trees.
Don’t Starve is a unique take on the survival genre and manages to stick its eerily pale head above the rest thanks to its quaint aesthetic and grim atmosphere. It isn’t often I fall in love with a game’s look quite so much – everything is immensely well designed, Klei Entertainment clearly took a style and perfected it. It’s a breath of decaying air in an otherwise overcrowded cemetery of failed or just mediocre survival games. And it’s refreshing to see an almost entirely mouse driven game for a change, too.
With eight characters with different abilities and an adventure mode folded into the regular sandbox mode, Don’t Starve is worth the relatively low asking price. You can get it from Steam for £11.99 or the Chrome Web Store (where you can also play a demo, Chrome recommended of course) for $14.99. However, the best place to but it is from the developers website, where will get you a DRM-free copy of the game, a Steam key and a Chrome key, for the remarkably similar price of $14.99.