I’m a huge fan of post-apocalyptic scenarios. Be it Mad Max, Demolition Man, The Stand; I’m absolutely invested. When I first heard about Frostpunk coming to PCs a while back, and the fact that not only was that type of aftermath title, and being that I’m not a PC guy, I never expected to get the chance to play it. But now that it’s hit consoles, I jumped at the chance to see if I could save as many as I could from a rather chilly alternate future.
When someone asks me to describe Frostpunk, I say it’s Tropico and Snowpiercer put together with a big helping of The Road in there for good measure. And don’t get too invested in the fun, tongue-in-cheek humor that is Tropico because that’s definitely nowhere to be found in the Frostpunk world. It’s a cold, dark setting where a lot of bad thing happen and often. To almost a fault, Frostpunk is a bleak world-builder, accompanied with a soundtrack that strikes grief into the heart of the player, especially when your world begins to turn on you, the “captain”, as the bitter colds take hold with temperature drops randomly throughout the scenario.
Not to say that Frostpunk isn’t an addictive game to play. All sadness and darkness aside, Frostpunk can be a lot of fun to dive into, especially as you get the hang of constructing your civilization around the center-point generator, a towering monolith powered by the coal your workers mine and harvest from points scattered around the radius of your surroundings. I use the word radius because Frostpunk’s building schemes are all curved in a circular fashion, in order to be as close as possible to the warmth of the generator. The closer you are to the generator, the warmer your structures will be, especially with housing, medical buildings, and operations which involve the crating of raw food into edible sustenance, something which you will also need to keep up with as, just like the player, all your workers and villagers have to eat and sleep on the regular.
Keeping a balance between your workers, engineers (which are needed specifically to run a lot of the more technical structures like hospitals, workshops, etc), as well as the children in your civilization is always a constant juggling act, keeping everyone fed, along with harvesting crafting materials like the before mention coal, as well as wood, and steel, with more crafting options being opened up as you progress through the days and nights. These workers are also the ones who build structures as well as various researchable options like steam generators which can be use to keep structures farther away from your generator warm, like preventing frostbite from your workers in the coal mines, and such. If you don’t keep your workers warm, you’ll have to deal with their injuries, which could lead to amputations, quite literally cutting your work staff down. Like I said, Frostpunk can be rather dark at times.
Always being on your toes is essential to keeping order within your civilization. While you can control the speed of time that goes by, you need to keep an eye on the time, your materials, food, your ill citizens, as well as ones who are in need of proper shelter, the ‘Hope’ and ‘Discontent’ meters at the bottom of the screen are always moving based on the decisions you make, the laws you put forth to keep order, health and safety, work habits, along with spiritual or police-state options to keep your civilization and its people in order. Decisions might drop discontent but it also might cause hope to go along with it. Do you put the children to work in order to harvest and store enough coal to keep the generator warm? Do you start cutting off frostbitten limbs or care for the gravely ill until the right sort of treatment can be researched to keep them both alive and in working order? It’s completely up to the player to climb the various progression trees based on how they specifically want their citizens to follow their daily lives to survive in the cold. With these come the possibility that some of your population may band together to defy you, creating their own group with the intent to leave your civilization on their own, gaining followers with each passing day if you fail to keep up with the ever-changing needs of both your generator and the lives and structures that surround it. Along with that threat, not keeping your end of promises you have the option of making to your people could eventually lead to your own banishment from the safety and warmth of the generator by the very people you tried to keep safe. It does help that you can send groups of scouts out to search for other points of interest which come with their own various rewards but it does come at the risk of pulling workers from your various structures in order to make these scouting missions possible and they do of course take time the farther away they are from your settlement.
Frostpunk has a bit of a learning curve. While the world-building mechanics and controls for what seems like a game much easier to play with mouse and keyboard, is very inspired and easy to use. However, not all of the buildings, research options, and their specific uses are very well explained which can easily lead to researching or building something you really don’t need at the moment, hence wasting valuable mats, which at times can be hard to come by, especially when dealing with extremely cold days which can sometimes last for half a week or more. It took a lot of trial and error for me really knowing what to build when and where. I do recommend saving often and to also make sure that auto-save is turned on because it’s set to off when you first start the game. Be sure to check your settings and enable that to your specific setting as it gives you the options of once an in-game day, every 3 days, and so on. If not, you risk making what can be critical mistakes in-game leading to a mass exodus of your population, or even worse, game crashes which happened a couple times to me and when that first crash hit, my auto-save wasn’t on and you all know how that went.
There’s also not too much replay value here, unfortunately. Until there’s a DLC option or patches that vary the various temperature drops, citizen needs, incoming outsiders, and other in-game actions, everything seems to always happen in the same order at the same time. While there are progression trees, the options are limited and aside from differently structured starting maps, there isn’t much variety to keep a player invested in more than a couple play-throughs which can easily be knocked out in a matter of days if one were so dedicated.
While Frostpunk can be not only depressing but also frustrating when figuring out what everything does while trying to keep your citizens alive and well – Once you get that angle down on how to really juggle the various needs and wants of your civilization, Frostpunk can be very rewarding and can keep you locked in trying to keep your people alive as the world grows darker around you. I wish there was more substance to keep me invested past two play-throughs but I did have fun with initial world-building and survival experience and keeping my citizens alive, though difficult at times, kept me trying multiple options building my world until I could get that near-perfect balance of life and living in the bitter cold world of Frostpunk.