December 3, 2023


From the SteamOS page — “Frostpunk is the first society survival game. As the ruler of the last city on Earth, it is your duty to manage both its citizens and infrastructure. What decisions will you make to ensure your society’s survival? What will you do when pushed to the breaking point? Who will you become in the process?”

This game came out in 2018. I purchased it during the cold snap/pandemic in 2021. But the game made me viscerally angry. It was just too depressing. It was so promising, too! Great graphics, beautiful wintry landscapes, and steampunk-styled technology. In retrospect, this was the wrong kind of game to be playing during a cold snap/pandemic. So the other day I decided to reinstall it and give it another try.

The premise of the game is that you’re in a world that is getting increasingly colder, and you have to keep your citizens alive by any means possible. Everything you know and vaguely tolerate in a society simulation is here. With simulation games, it’s always a careful balance between keeping your people fed and safe, and exploring new technologies that will make their lives better. In this case, you’re doing what they actually need to survive, which doesn’t always allow for their comfort and happiness.

There are two scenarios with the base game — A New Home, which is the origin story, and Endless, which is just keeping your citizens alive while the temperature drops.

The structure of this game resembles Civilization. Instead of enemies to fight, there’re the ever-present cold and limited resources. Every few days the temperature drops from -22 degrees Fahrenheit to -44 degrees Fahrenheit. Resource gathering is limited to four things: coal, wood, steel and raw food. It looks like there are some elements you’ll mine later, but that’s not available at the beginning of the game. You can build around the inner ring within the radius of the Generator, and eventually get the technology to heat individual buildings. You’ll be researching many of your builds, so, like Civilization, it’s a careful choice of which technologies to research first. There’s also exploration, which will bring more citizens, technology and supplies to your city.

Your goal is to make sure your citizens survive the coming cold. It’s not easy to do that without resorting to inhumane tactics. The game is chock full of moral dilemmas. Do you have your citizens work double shifts? Do you force the children to work? Do you add sawdust to the food? I’ve been trying to play this game in easy mode without giving the citizens double shifts and without child labor, and I keep running out of food/coal/wood at day 16. This is what made me mad at the game in the first place.

The game charts your progress and vulnerabilities based upon the mix of Despair and Hope at the bottom of the screen. As long as your Hope levels are above your Despair levels, the citizens will do what you want. If you have 0% Hope, you lose the game.

One absolutely useless but beautiful feature of the game is that you can customize your view, so there are more ice crystals and soot on the lens you’re seeing the game through. All the menus and splash screens are well-done visualizations, and the graphics are superb. This game looks wonderfully grunged and lived-in.

Do I recommend this game? If you like harsh environmental sims where you have to keep your citizens alive against overwhelming odds, this is the game for you. I found it very difficult to play, partly because I have empathy for fictional video-game characters. And I really hate being cold. I started over several times, trying to find the right balance between keeping the citizens happy and researching new technology.

Available on SteamOS (2019) for Macintosh and PC from 11 bit studios.


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