11 bit studios has a tendency of turning genres on their heads by taking the familiar and twisting it into unique, unexpected ways. Their 2014 game, This War of Mine, is a war game but instead of being the soldier liberating a city, you are a civilian who is just trying to survive. The same can be seen in Frostpunk: A post-apocalyptic game where the world isn’t overrun by zombies, or some type of monster that has kicked humanity off the food chain, but by unrelenting snowstorms and frost that is slowing killing anyone in its way.
Frostpunk is set in an alternate 19th-century timeline where a small group of people have fled the comfort of their homes due to the snowstorm, and have arrived at a heat generator in the middle of nowhere. You play as the leader of the group who oversees everything. From gathering coal to constructing buildings to enacting laws you decide the course of survival over a certain amount of days.
When you first start Frostpunk you are immediately met with a heat generator surrounded by natural resources and building area possibilities. The first goal of Frostpunk is to keep the heat generator running because without heat, the survivors will die from the cold. To do this you need resources like coal and you need to send your survivors into the surrounding area to mine them. Initially, I found it difficult to start this process, since the Frostpunk’s way of telling you about new mechanics are typed tutorials accompanied with images. This immediately gave me a handicap because days went by and I hadn’t mined any coal for the heat generator making my survivors get frostbite and die. I had to restart a few times before understanding that I had to open the coal site with a click and assign workers manually before they start mining and bringing the coal back to the generator. As I watched the Hope level decrease and the Discontent level rise, I kept wishing 11 bit studios had added a dedicated tutorial level or a more in-depth tutorial pop-up that was accompanied with videos.
HOPE AND DISCONTENT
Hope and Discontent aren’t necessarily the ways to win or lose a game of Frostpunk but they inform the player on how the city around the generator is doing and why they the bars are at that level. These bars are located at the bottom- middle of the screen and are colored Blue for Hope and Red for Discontent. The Hope bar goes up when positive things happen in the game. If your group is well fed, sheltered or healthy they will remain hopeful in their dire situation, which will increase productivity. On the other hand, if you break promises, or enact laws that crude Discontent will rise and can affect other important areas of the site around the generator.
11 bit studios does a good job of detailing why the Hope or Discontent levels are at a certain point by telling you what exactly happened and for before you make any major decisions like enacting a child labor law or making sure the city builds graveyards for loved ones, the game will tell you how much those actions will affect Hope or Discontent.
BEAUTY IN DESPAIR
Ironically, Frostpunk is a beautiful game. Yes, it is a post-apocalyptic world where people are dying, starving or losing limbs but it all looks really good. The camera view of Frostpunk is isometric and can be manipulated with a click and drag of the mouse to move around the city or the scroll of the mouse wheel to zoom in and out. When zoomed you can see the attention to detail that 11 bit put into the game. People can be observed working or drudging through the snow. Children can be seen playing (or working if you’re that kind of leader) Buildings, when constructed are bustling as survivors try to get as much work done during working hours and the heat generator is sight to behold when you raise the heat level making the sound and heat reverberate through the city melting the snow.
Frostpunk is an enjoyable game that has a mixture of strategy and city building in set in an interesting world. Once you get past the insufficient tutorials and understand how the game plays, you get a lot of replayability due to the open structure of the game and scenarios that add an extra challenge to experienced players.