Imagine getting yourself stuck in a large freezer without any means of getting out. It might be somewhat refreshing due to the current temperatures battering the tropics, but given time, it is for certain that you’d change your mind. Seeing yourself dying a slow but agonizing death due to the merciless cold is quite frankly, horrifying to imagine. But imagine a world like that. A world, enveloped by the cold, a large freezer dialed to the lowest possible temperature you can imagine. Then get haul it into a time machine and dial it back to the late 1800’s. If done correctly and with some twists here and there, welcome to the world of Frostpunk.

My review mainly deals with the main portion of the game: A New Home. There are several scenarios offered once the main storyline is finished.

Cold Death

So cold that you can traverse the sea by walking.

The world of Frostpunk is set in an alternate reality wherein steam is king. The progress and development of steam far outshines our own reality, with much of the world relying on it. So much so that four-legged steam-powered constructs act as mechanical servants to the whims of the people. All is well, you might think. But then again, the word ‘frost’ in ‘Frostpunk’ might just spell it out for you.

Accompanying this steampunk age is a disaster of biblical proportions. The world is getting colder and the snow is ceaseless in covering the globe. Much of the known world is either white or buried beneath heaps of snow. As the leader of a band of survivors, your task seems impossible during this trying times.

Automatons don’t complain, don’t get tired, and don’t need to eat. So why do we still use human labor? 

En route to an industrial revolution version of a ‘Promised Land’, you and your cohorts undertake a journey across the crippling cold to a place that can be the ‘Eden’ in this version of hell: one of the world’s last functioning steam turbines.   

But the danger doesn’t end there. As de facto mayor, the player is thrust into various dilemmas and situations that no average man could ever find himself. With the cold slowly getting worse, sparing neither the elderly nor the young, desperate times demand hard solutions. Should you beat people to increase the flow of coal during these hard times? Or should you turn into a society that looks on the salvation of the above? Teetering on the edge of cult-like fanaticism just to survive? It’s on your shoulders here in Frostpunk.

Mayor of Hope or the End

Might not look like much but this game demands a ton of planning for its city to work.

Underneath its very eye-catching style and take on steampunk culture, Frostpunk is first, a city simulator. Just this time, everything’s full on disaster mode and any wrong move is rewarded with the soft whisper of death. Life is centered around the generator. The middle tower reminiscent of the ‘Eye of Sauron’  that fumes gas and runs on coal. Around this tower is humanity’s last bastion against the cold.

Most of the game time is consumer in vigilantly guarding the progress of two bars located at the bottom-center of the screen. The first one is Discontent. It indicates how angry or dissatisfied the citizens are. The more discontent, the higher chances of having scenarios pop-up. In this game, you wouldn’t want those scenarios to nag you, trust me. Hope is the second bar, the bottom-most. It indicates how the people see themselves surviving the global ice age. The fuller it is, the better. However, the moment it depletes for the second time, it’s time for the mayor to pack-up and venture into the cold to die a lonely death.

Scouts can be sent out of the city to forage for goods. Who knows what you’ll find in this frigid wasteland.

Now to prevent that exile, as mayor, you’d have to set up tents for the homeless, feed them, and also provide for their health and sanity. But with limited resources and the temperature having a deadly grip on the air, everything seems to be lacking. In terms of micromanagement, manpower is very limited and with lots of needs, the player must determine which resource or problem should be prioritized. Should you hunt for food instead of mining coal for the generator? Or should you sacrifice the city’s health for additional wood and steel for housing? These kind of questions press the player everyday. And with the temperature getting worse day by day, it seems to be an uphill battle.

As soon as scouts are sent from the city, a number of locations can be visited. They offer much-needed resources accompanied with some world building.

Even with the odds stacked against you, the game offers a variety of solutions that would ease or at least even things up. Engineers can be assigned to Workshops and Factories to provide the necessary tech and brains in combating the frigid situation. Tents can then be upgraded into warmer and more cold-resistant Houses in the latter parts of the game. 

Drama/Trauma Simulator

It’s not a secret that this game was developed by those that gave ‘This War of Mine’ life, a management-sim set in a modern-era battlefield. I still remember how dreary that game was and I can see the effects and its influence here in Frostpunk. There, the struggle to survive is not only a gameplay mechanic, but it also somewhat creeps into your head, as the game acknowledges that you knowingly made decisions. In turn and in due time, it serves the consequences without restraint. Same here with Frostpunk.

There are numerous occasions in which you have to choose between putting a promise into effect, breaking it, or outright refusing it. Each choice has its results, be it good or bad, and that has a very direct effect on how the people perceive your authority.

There’s this one event in the game in which a father pleads to go out to find his daughter. The man can be restrained, be told that the girl is more likely dead. Or the player could give him a large portion of food for the travel, sending him out with well-wishes to find his daughter. The outcome? The game has way of randomizing things so some things won’t turn out well even if you give the same answer for the same question twice. In my case, miracles did happen during those strange days.

You Are The Law

Must the ill take up warm beds while recovering, or just cut them up and immediately equip them with prosthesis?

With everything going into ruins and the end of the world is at hand, the leader must tighten the belt. Or should he? In Frostpunk, the player can issue edicts and laws for the last functioning city of humanity. These laws are then immediately put into effect, making the lives of the denizens harder or more comfortable depending on who you ask.

Both paths can lead to efficiency. Both can also lead to madness.

Is a law allowing 24-hour shifts very helpful in these pressing times? Putting it into effect would definitely increase productivity. On the other hand, it would also increase the chances of your laborers to break a bone or two due to overexertion. Another example is having a law for the injured. Is it proper to give them care and resources even while they’re sick? Or would it be better to just do them away and give the food to those that work? Each has moral implications and would directly impact both Hope and Discontent. But in dangerous and life-threatening situations like this, is it too hard or impossible to remain human?

Verdict

Took a lot of tries to get here. Well worth it.

Frostpunk might just be another stylish city-sim game for anyone that doesn’t have an inkling on what it is about. Seeing a city built around a large towering spire is certainly an eye-candy. The way the snow moves and how the city breathes is definitely fun to watch. More so with seeing the city itself grow. But I feel that the design, style, and the city-building comes second place in what Frostpunk actually is: a survival game.

With each passing day, hope for survival continues to plummet. Even as a player, you’d be hard-pressed to save scum your way to victory. Not that it’s bad, but the contrast between seeing your situation as hopeless mirrors that of the little citizens in your city. If given a chance to make things right, you’d certainly fight for it. One mistake, one broken promise, one bad night, is doom in Frostpunk. And strangely enough, that’s why I really like it.

Humanity’s umbilical cord.

Decisions matter here and those decisions are founded on how well or bad you manage your town. Laws come into effect to streamline those decisions. Everything comes together and fits or crumbles and dies. Would the city be the last stand against the impending apocalypse? Or would it be, in itself the very image of the downfall of mankind?

Frostpunk is a city-sim with a heart and a story to tell. True, there are some better city-sims out there (Cities:Skylines), but that just misses the point. Frostpunk is about surviving, building a city despite the harshness of the environment. No matter the cost.

Scenarios, while not as grand as the main storyline, offer a different take.

Objectively, the game is somewhat light. If done correctly, the main story can be finished in 2~3 hours. Replay can be done by taking the other scenarios and going through the main campaign again with a different take. Some posts in Reddit also hint of hidden Laws which can be enacted given that some conditions are satisfied. Frostpunk doesn’t offer much in terms of variety, BUT what it does offer is quality and weight. In addition, due to the success of the game’s sales, the developers have promised to make an expansion for Frostpunk.

So if you’re still at the fence in buying this, here’s my take: go get it. It’s sometimes mindlessly fun and most of the time, frustratingly fun. I can say that it gives off an experience similar to Dark Souls as the game is punishingly hard to those that are ill-equipped for the trial. I do love me some city-simulator and difficult games. Having it rolled into one and peppered with drama, desolation, and sometimes the macabre, is a no-brainer. So with that said, provided that you also love challenging and sim-city games, you’ll be satisfied in seeing how your decisions and implementations turn out for the digital people that you promise to save. For its price in the Philippines (PhP 649.95 as of publishing date), you would without a doubt, get a solid classic.

Frostpunk is available only for the PC.

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