Frostpunk is a new survival city-builder game by 11 bit studios, the company behind the indie hit This War of Mine. Leading the last survivors on Earth, as global cooling seeks to kill all of civilisation, you will have to keep everyone warm, fed and content in a bleak world. You are given 40 or so days to keep your city afloat with mounting concerns, issues and the ever dropping degrees.
Frostpunk sets you up as the leader of a city, which is built around a central heater that is crucial to your survival. This heater will keep all those within 1 radius of it heated, only if it is turned on of course. You will need to mine coal to fuel the heater, wood to build houses, iron to build facilities and more, improving the city, its heating and general survivability. You will have around 35 days until the final storm will hit over 7 days, bringing the temperature down to as low as -140 centigrade. Normally the temperature will fluctuate between -20 and -70 depending on the difficulty selected.
With 3 scenarios currently available, A New Home has you survive 35 days until the coming storm ending on day 42 without any real threat besides a portion of citizens wanting to leave, set up as the base story to get you accustomed to the game. After surviving 20 days out of 40 in the first campaign you will unlock The Arks, a mode where you have very little in the way of survivors, utilizing more Automatons than normal, with the main aim to keep 4 Arks at chilly or higher temperature to save seeds from before the cold. Finally, after 20 days in that campaign, you will unlock The Refugees, which sees you taking in increasing amounts of civilians and deciding the fates of the upper-class who you had escaped previously.
The first scenario will last you around 4-6 hours, changing mostly on your use of the speed-up option. Following on from the first campaign, the 2 new ones will last around 2-4 hours each, with replays of all the campaigns leading to much faster completion times. The game lacks any other mode beside these 3 campaigns, though it does feel like an endless or survival mode would be extremely at home with this genre.
Starting off a city is slow, with almost no technology unlocked, forcing you to pick up the finite supply caches found within your crater. Once those are all picked up you will need to research tech via the workshop, allowing you to saw the frozen trees, mine for coal or iron in deposits, cut into the ice walls themselves to find hidden trees and more. A lot of work is put into resource management, as you will constantly be using coal to fuel the big generator, heaters you install in workplaces and steam hubs you set up around the base, as the heater will only cover 3 radiuses in the centre after research you will need plenty of heaters and steam hubs.
Besides material goods, you will need to manage your people. They will become cold due to their homes and workplace, fall ill, require amputations or care and occasionally give you demands. These demands come in the form of asking for extra food, a day off or merely stealing your supplies, leaving you with the final decision. It is up to you if you are willing to kill or banish someone to get rid of the nuisance, or allow your supplies to satiate their needs.
If you want to save your citizens for safer work or find you lack enough people, you can eventually build automatons that remind me of the walkers in Dishonored. These hulking machines can work a building all by themselves with no harm to your workforce unless they are crushed randomly about the city. Automatons can be very expensive to create, requiring 100 steel, wood and 1 steam core which is a finite resource that cannot be created, only found.
With even more moral choices, you can lay down new laws for the whole city to follow and unlock new tech for you as a leader to use. Put the children to work, or allow them to apprentice and learn at schools? Will you force people to eat soup or sawdust to help the rations last longer, build prisons or churches, add corporal punishment or leave it to the people? A first playthrough will riddle you with moral dilemmas as you have to make harsh choices for survival, but they will lose their effect after 3 or so runs.
Choices and the general situation will affect your citizens’ hope and discontent, if you are set to 0 hope or 100 discontent the people will revolt. These bars can be altered by choosing options in demands, heating homes or using the special abilities given to you by using the 2nd tier of laws, from faith or order. It is a neat mechanic that adds into the management, but towards the end-game, it becomes a portion of the game that can be easily ignored as you can just use the abilities to offset most of what you do with no real drawback.
If you’re finding the crater a bit too small, you can also create scout parties to explore the frostland. Finding abandoned camps, scavenging broken machines or even finding locations with working factories. After exploring you may also uncover new survivors who you can escort home, tell them the directions or leave them to die. If you find working locations you can set up 1 or 2 outpost depots where they will send your main city resources every day.
Music and sound effects are used to great effect in Frostpunk, from the incredible realistic sounds of the blizzard to the cries of your citizens. The raising drums and sorrowful sounds as the storm approaches, to the easing of the harsh tones as it passes. You will feel very emotional as the music blends perfectly with the situation, bringing you even further into this immersive experience.
At max settings, Frostpunk looks beautiful while not aiming for ultra-realism. The snow and dust effects look gorgeous while the machinery and workplaces bustle with activity. Sadly, it will take a high-end computer to render this all smoothly as the game does lack some optimisation here and there, especially since a lot of the game is white, leading to confusion as to why it requires so much power, aside from the constant snow effects.
Alongside the requirement of a powerful computer, their minimum requirements also being way underestimated as it will not run with what it recommends, Frostpunk is riddled with bugs and game breaking glitches. One of the main forms of bug in Frostpunk is the fact that it will constantly crash on you, with plenty of people citing that saving the game is the issue. I tested this myself, with both auto and manual saves, and it is a good 20-40% of the time where a save will just make the game crash, leaving you with lost progress up till the previous save was made. Besides the saving crash, the intro cutscene will also lead to crashing, the game turning both monitors black or resetting settings without your knowledge.
“The game would not run with 2 GTX 780s, their minimum is 660. Using a 1070 still produced crashes”
Another issue is that the game advertises choices and consequences, but I saw little difference between order and faith. They gained the same buildings and abilities, with only a change in look and ending text. Your choices, after the first playthrough, are just a matter of gaining hope and losing discontent rather than the moral dilemma, as it hardly ever comes back at you. Your first playthrough will be amazing in these aspects, but after seeing both sides you may feel disappointed.
Personally, the difficulty of Frostpunk is straight on the fence for me. It is incredibly hard even on Normal, making it truly feel like a survival game. You will need to make sure you have coal for the night as the workers go to sleep, while also expanding and preparing for the storm. Though on the flipside, it can be aggravating to lose 4 hours of progress because of how you built your city or research. I both love and hate the difficulty, and it’s a very personal opinion if you will enjoy it, I found myself becoming heavily invested in it, with the difficulty adding into that investment even more.
Thankfully, Frostpunk can come out with some funny situations you wouldn’t normally think of, similarly to games like Rimworld. If cooks are stealing food you can execute them for doing so, even when you only have children as the cooks. You can effectively make concentration camps without meaning to, have citizens worry about Automatons in failing workplaces as if they were human and have your entire city be made up of amputees with mechanical body parts.
Overall Frostpunk gets a 7/10, it is an amazingly immersive survival city-builder with the first playthrough being full of dilemma, moral choices and anguish. Sadly this feeling will simmer down on later playthroughs as the same choices are given to you with no real change, becoming more a matter of numbers than emotions. The campaigns are uniquely different, providing new challenges and scenarios. However, so many people will never experience this due to the lack of optimisation, crashes and general annoyance over the glitches. If you can get Frostpunk working, I will guarantee it will provide a good few hours of entertainment.