When the cold comes, it will take all of us to survive.
A cataclysmic weather event has blocked out the sun and left the Earth buried under snow and ice. Leadership has selfishly abandoned us to save themselves. Society has plunged into chaos. Only a small convoy of survivors manage to leave London in search of shelter from the storm. Humanity’s only chance at survival rests entirely upon the steam generator designed to combat the unbearable cold. The city’s survival depends on that generator never shutting down…
Story and concept
Frostpunk is a single-player, society survival game developed by 11 Bit Studios where you are the newly-appointed captain in charge of keeping the last city on Earth alive. From your first minute, the pace will be fast, and every decision you make will come at a cost. And if erecting a city during the apocalypse wasn’t daunting enough, managing the sentiment of your people will assuredly throw a wrench into your careful city planning.
As the game progresses, the temperature will continue to drop, and your resource needs will increase. If you do not adequately optimize resource gathering, you won’t have enough to survive the devastating storm that looms ahead. Balance resource gathering with expanding and improving operations for the city by researching better technology for heating, insulation, medicine, food production, and resource acquisition.
Refugees and lost convoys will make their way to your city for shelter and salvation. It is up to you to decide their fate by allowing them entry to your city or turning them away. Letting them stay gives you more workers but more mouths to feed. If infrastructure can’t support it, you may put everyone’s lives at risk. If you turn therefugees away, you may lose the faith of your people. Oh, the burdens of leadership.
In addition to resource management, you will be faced with managing the hope and discontent of the city’s residents. Discontent leads to low productivity, theft, and violence if not handled properly. You, as the leader, must balance the need for resource production to survive the elements and the emotional needs of your people. If hope falls to nothing, you will be forced into exile, and your game comes to an end.
The art style of Frostpunk makes for a pleasing, graphic novel-style of storytelling. Fans of top-down city builders, like Surviving Mars, are in for a treat as Frostpunk takes the traditional table-top style and completely overhauls your expectations. The environments look life-like, and the snow sparkles. Buildings and structures have great detail and sound as you zoom in close. The UI is exceptionally polished and well thought out. We found the gameplay experience to be highly smooth during real-time play and cut scenes.
Sound and atmosphere
Frostpunk’s soundtrack is an actual work of art. Thanks to the profoundly moving musical score, you’ll feel the plight of the survivors from the get-go. The howling wind doesn’t let you forget the hell that is blowing outside the crater and as tensions grow, so does the music. It reminds you not to get comfortable-things can take a turn for the worse at any moment.
When the horn blows to announce the new workday, you can feel the stress and hope that the city folk feels. On the occasion that temperatures rise, a satisfying sizzle from the thaw brings with it the perceived warming of your crater. Likewise, when colder temperatures set in, a sharp crackle of locking ice grips the screen. You can almost feel yourself freezing up as your buildings are covered with more snow, and the city folk prays they don’t freeze on the job.
Much of your gameplay takes place inside the crafting system, in which you will toggle through several tabs of building options. The interface slides into view or shrinks away as you click with steam-powered hisses and clicks. Selecting a city building draws you in more by assaulting you with clanking dishes in the cookhouse or the sobs of fearful loved ones in the infirmary.
In the main story campaign, your city will begin with a working generator already in place. The temperature is never above -20C, so your people must work quickly to get enough coal to get the generator up and running. Everything revolves around the generator. Literally, the generator sits in the center of the building site and provides heat in a radius. You will build in a radius to the generator to keep your people and their work sites as warm as possible to prevent illness. As the generator is upgraded, it will produce more heat and expand the range that it can heat.
Once the generator is powered up, the game will reveal the next step in the story. As the city planner, you must aim to complete any tasks the game assigns you or face exile for failing to meet the city’s needs. If you take too long to build your city up, you may end up freezing in the coming storm.
At the same time, while working to meet the current objectives, your people will demand food or heat or fall terribly ill. You’ll have to decide what measures need to be taken to turn things around. You have the Book of Laws to introduce new mechanics into your campaign, many of which can have two options.
Either option will come with consequences in the form of hope dropping or discontent rising. You can make the call whether or not to place the city’s children into children’s homes for safety or put our city’s children to work. Some will complain that survival needs all the hands it can get, while others are grateful and hopeful that this new world can be a better place–all with the decisions you must make.
The tech tree system will introduce new buildings and optimize resource gathering skills. Take care not to fall behind in tech tree research. Otherwise, your city won’t evolve fast enough to survive the falling temperature or growing population. Send scouts out into the tundra to discover settlements with resources or rescue lost convoys of survivors. Build automatons to gather resources while the city sleeps. Research improvements to the generator to keep as many people warm as possible when the storm hits.
In many ways, Frostpunk campaigns have a high replay value for many players. The base game includes many game modes where players must achieve different objectives while suffering various hardships. There are over 100 achievements to complete, which will require a lot of additional effort for players to perfect their strategy. And thanks to the branching nature of the Book of Laws, players can redo campaigns to see what other adaptation choices provide.
The team at 11 Bit Studios has released several DLC packs since the initial release of Frostpunk. These DLC give you more challenges and more options for building once you complete the base game. You can unlock an endless mode in which you can see how far your survival-building skills can take you. Survive the cold while having to build a generator by hand. Build your city on tricky terrain with limited access to resources. Survive during frequent blizzards. Contemplate how far you are willing to go when food supplies run out.
Final verdict on Frostpunk
Frostpunk is not for those looking for a relaxing game. The pace is fast, and the odds aren’t in your favor. You will lose several times before things click. Expect to devote a couple of hours for your first play session to learn the mechanics and understand how to balance resources. We promise that if you stick with it, you’ll find yourself only wanting more.
Overall, we found Frostpunk to be a welcome challenge that sucked us in from the start. Regardless if you choose to rule with empathy and kindness or as a ruthless tyrant, you will not have an easy time battling the logistics of surviving this wasteland of ice. If you are looking to check out from reality for a bit, Frostpunk will gladly have you; just make sure you have a couple of hours to spare before you step in.