As a huge fan of city building sims and the RTS genre, Frostpunk surely caught my eye. Frostpunk being the next game from the makers of the critically acclaimed This War of Mine was another reason to pique my interest. The game claims to offer a tight-gripping and engaging survival experience set in the backdrop of a frozen apocalypse. So let’s further discover what’s Frostpunk is all about.
Frostpunk is the survival, city builder RTS game developed and published by 11 bit studios. The game was released for Microsoft Windows via Steam on 24 Apr, 2018
Story & Narrative
Set in an alternative timeline during colonial times (the exact year referred to in the game is 1886), when the second devastating eruption of Mount Krakatoa generated enough smoke clouds to cover the entire of the Earth’s atmosphere, blockading the sun’s rays from illuminating the Earth’s surface. This led to snowstorms and frost all around the world, resulting in failing crops and the death of millions. Before the death of one of the greatest colonial empires the world has seen, Great Britain managed to put in enough research to conclude that the sun’s energy output was diminishing, besides finding the way to circumvent it by man-made heat in the form of “generators”. The player is the leader of a group of people who fled the cold,hunger and anarchy to find a heat generator, constructed by engineers around the world in the hope of survival. The player’s task is to manage a band of survivors so that they would fire up the generator and build a city, which should cover their basic needs and shelter them from the harsh climate outside.
In a game like this, story isn’t the top priority. But 11 Bit Studios has made sure that the setting of Frostpunk remains unique. There aren’t that many games that deals with the topic of a climatic cataclysm. The game also shows how a society can gradually fall into brutal authoritarian regimes in the name of survival. The choices you make in the game are morally ambiguous and hard-hitting, some of which are very dark and reminiscent of actual horrors experienced in the normal timeline of the world, like slavery and child labor.
Gameplay & Mechanics
This is where 11bit Studios scores. The world of Frostpunk is very cruel and harsh. Bitter cold weather is just the easy part. The decisions are what really make you question your own morals and obligations before you hit the button. Every decision you take will have good and bad effects. In the start of the game, you are is the leader of a small group of survivors comprising of workers and engineers, where the main task is to light up the heat generator. The main resources in Frostpunk are coal, wood, steel and food. If you want to survive longer, then keep tabs on the resource bar. You need resources for meeting the needs of the people and ensuring their survival, so it is necessary to maintain a healthy stock at all times. Then there are advanced resources, like steam cores, prosthetics and food rations, which are harder to acquire. Steam cores, perhaps one of the most necessary resources later in the game, cannot be produced, but need to be gathered from scavenging expeditions. The book of laws allows the player to pass laws to enact what he wants done in the city. Laws almost always have consequences, but that should not stop you from enacting it – who will disapprove of your actions if all of your people are dead? The hope meter measures the people’s confidence in you as a leader. The discontent meter accompanying it shows how open the people are to violent methods to get what they want. Make the discontent meter go sufficiently high,and riots will break down the city, leading to a New London-esque situation. Once the game progresses further, the book of laws gets updated and opens up more options such as options to rule society through order or through faith. Progress down the path makes society more unstable and prone to riots.
Expeditions are a way of exploring the harsh,outside world. Once you make a beacon in your base then you can create expedition groups who will go out to the outer world to search for survivors, raw material and food. With further progress in the game, automatons can be unlocked, which reduce the overall workload of the people. However, you do need rare resources like steam cores to produce automatons. The skill upgrade tree bar is highly detailed, unlocking more and more tech options to implement in the city. The real limitation of the game is that you cannot keep constructing buildings forever, as the crater where the generator is placed is limited in size. That does mean the player needs a lot of micro-management in order to survive. The challenging atmosphere that makes the player question his decision at every turn is what’s unique about this game.
At launch, beside the main campaign, there are two more modes – ARK mode & REFUGEES mode, both with different objectives.
In ARK, you are in charge of a group of engineers with limited population cap. You have to save the seedling vault from getting frozen while saving the other city. Mind it, you cannot have other specializations. The challenge is to design the perfect “Ark”, so that you can hold off the winter.
In Refugees, the survivors keep coming to the city at which point will you are forced to turn them away or keep them all. The choice is entirely in the hands of the player, and either choice has repercussions. While the refugees incoming might be infinite in number, the resources available to you are not, and a strain in society will be seen when the existing resources reach the point of depletion. It is one of the points where you are forced to take harsh decisions for the survival of your existing population, to prevent another Winterhome-like collapse. The realism of a disaster is what makes this mode an interesting addition to the game.
You can finish the game in about 10-12 hours. Campaigns can be replayed to yield better results, but the lack of a sandbox mode limits the replayablity severely.
Visuals, Peformance & Sound
The game uses Liquid Engine, home developed by 11 bit studios for this game. The game does have some extremely well designed building models – not to mention the accurate weather physics. When you zoom in on the characters as well building models, you can see that they are very detailed. This is one of the reasons player immerses itself into the game. The weather and post processing effects are also done well. On an i7 4790k and a GTX 980Ti, the game had no trouble running at a locked 60 fps at 1080p.
System specs :
CPU : Core i7 4790k
GPU : GTX 980Ti
RAM : 16 GB RAM DDR3
In sound department, they have done some noteworthy work. The music in Frostpunk is very dynamic and atmospheric. The music complements the decisions you make, whether they are good or bad. The pacing of soundtrack changes with the situation. If the situation is dire then a fast paced soundtrack will give you a morale boost, while a slow paced soundtrack makes you cry during scenarios where there is no hope at all.
I remember there was this decision i have to take during super storm -170c. Our coal mines were freezing and i was the given choice to either close mines or fix it . If i close the mine then i will have not have enough coal to run the steam generators at full power, or I could send some engineers to fix it. I knew people will die if I do that, but that’s what makes Frostpunk so good. To save many you have to sacrifice some, and the sound and the graphics helps immerse in these kind of tense moments.
Frostpunk is a solid entry in a survival city building genre. The decisions you make in Frostpunk will make you bite your nails, but due to lack of sandbox mode, Frostpunk can feel a little empty at the moment. However be prepared to revisit the game when you’re done reloading saves to correct the mistakes you made in each playthrough, for a load of DLCs, both free and paid, and content updates that overhaul existing mechanics besides increasing the base content for the player to explore. Also not recommended for players who are not into micro management, since the game is quite challenging by nature, unlike other city sims.