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Frostpunk (PC) artwork

Frostpunk (PC) review

"Pleasantly surprised by a challenging city sim with survival elements."

I will admit that Cities: Skylines has set a standard for city builders. You can find my glowing review of that somewhere around here but it has painted a picture over every simulator I play. I want ease of use, easy to learn, smooth controls and most of all, I typically want a sandbox mode with unlimited resources so I can dictate how my city looks and feels right from the beginning.

Well, Frostpunk is no sandbox. At least not yet. Instead of scratching the usual city builder itch, it still calls to a different part of me with itís beautiful aesthetic of Victorian London with its steam pumps and smoke stacks.

Frostpunk (PC) image

It helped when I reordered my idea of what Frostpunk is supposed to be. Itís a survival/strategy game with some city building. To this effect, I started to treat it more like a roguelike. Iím sure many will find this game to be a lot easier than roguelikes but for me, itís not so much that Iíll fail but ďwhenĒ I will do so. So every playthrough I make, I try to eke out an extra day to get a little further than I did before, and I have a lot of fun doing that.

As far as the story goes, you lead a band of eighty people (it might have been more, you just have the survivors) who have fled London and are trying to find a better, more stable place. In transit you find a crater and decide to set up shop there for resource gathering so that your people can survive the trip onward.

A towering generator is your main hub that heats the immediate area of your city. If it overheats and explodes or otherwise ceases to function, you lose. That is the first of many mechanics you will learn as you play. Itís gentle with you at first, at least more than I expected of it. Youíll have to do a fair bit of reading as tutorials pop up on the left hand side of the screen to introduce you increasingly complex mechanics. Over time youíll learn that you have to manage not only a few types of resources (Coal, Wood, Steel, both Raw Food and its converted variant, Rations) but also an ever-changing Discontent and Hope meter. As you may expect, if Discontent maxes out, you lose. If Hope drops to zero, you lose. These will always fluctuate as the game tosses various decisions based around how well youíre building your city. I had too many sick people once and I was confronted by people that told me to take care of them all within five days, or else. Well, I couldnít and with a promise broken, my discontent rose sharply.

Frostpunk (PC) image

I noticed on a second playthrough I had a lot less confrontations and promises to keep considering that subsequent playthroughs, youíre armed with more knowledge of the game. Thereís a particular point on Day 15 in the first scenario (that I will not spoil) that completely destroyed any semblance of stability I thought I had acquired. I lasted for a few days after that but eventually faltered and my avatar was exiled for his failure. On a second run, I just simply had more knowledge as to what exactly my population needed and was faced with less problems. At least, until another one came up.

Alongside various decisions thereís multiple tech trees you must explore. Thereís the Law tree where you pick between a variety of choices, some a lot more useful than others and some are just designed for a very desperate playthrough. You can add sawdust to peopleís food as a quick solution to hunger, but theyíre more liable to get sick that way. You can activate a sort of on-building buff to force a full twenty-four hour shift but it spikes your discontent with each use. You can pick between child labor or child shelters. Everything has its pros and cons but I still find some choices objectively better than others. It turns into a numbers game over all and I donít really care about how mad a mother is that their kid is gathering wood because allowing child labor gives me an extra couple dozen potential workers that is vital to me.

Frostpunk (PC) image

Thatís really the point of the decision mechanic, though. Idealism doesnít have much of a place here and making harsher decisions may lead to a more stable future. I guess thereís a political stance to be made here, but some of it is softened by the fact that itís just a numbers game. Sacrifice these ten so that the forty over there would live. Build prosthetic so amputees can get back to work. Workers are needed for every building and everything to function so at a certain point I donít really care what my people ďthinkĒ while my discontent is low and hope is high, they seem to not care that my children and gathering coal since my city was so well built and functioning. Youíre welcome.

To mitigate some of those choices, you have a variety of technology that you can consistently upgrade your city. Even this, I found, is a mixed blessing as often upgrades to my heating systems usually leads to intense amounts of coal production that Iíve yet to really master and has led to another failed run at a city. Iíll figure it out over time. Still, you can upgrade gathering speeds and coal production but at an intense endgame I could never really tell how much those 10% upgrades when problems start happening so quickly.

Frostpunk (PC) image

The game gets less and less forgiving over time. Each day gives the chance for the temperature to drop severely, only for it to rise again a couple days later which may leave you with depleted resources and tough decisions. I noticed that the further I got, the more drops there were and less rises to compensate as you prepare for an oncoming storm that will eventually freeze most of your buildings and you must survive on stock alone. I did not.

The game has a handful of nitpicks that might grate on experienced builder players but theyíll certainly update in the future. Thereís no select-all of any sort that I know of, which makes micromanaging certain resources a pain. When steam hubs are sapping your coal to a severe degree and you can afford to turn a few off, you have to find them and individually turn them off.

It becomes a bit more difficult over time to find and select certain buildings. I almost forgot what my tent hospitals looked like and where they were after going for so long without really needing them, but I had a burst of sick people during a cold snap and I had an annoying time trying to find those two tiny buildings. Just a couple things I expect might be tweaked in time.

As of this writing this is an incredibly new game, not even forty-eight hours old. Still Iíve clocked several hours, played easier custom scenarios and I might have one or two more runs in me before I wait for the inevitable quality of life updates. The developers have already promised an endless/sandbox mode and I hope they edit in more qualifiers and customization. Ultimately, Iím holding out for some Workshop support as I have no doubt some modders feel the same way I do. If I could just disable the encroaching cold (eventually going from -4 to -90 on a single run) that would do a lot for my personal fun factor. Indeed, that would counter a lot of drive to advance and prepare but I... disagree. I just want a cool city.

Frostpunk (PC) image

Would I recommend this game? Certainly not everyone steps into this game thinking about other City Sims so if you go in expecting a full on, play-your-way builder then you might be disappointed. Or pleasant surprised as I was. The survival mechanics make this game a fair bit more unique than I thought it was going to be. City Sims usually just have to manage Money and Population and not much else, maybe some scattered choices to not build nasty industry next to residents as that would be a cause for concern. Not here, itís mostly just about surviving a winter apocalypse. Good luck.


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (April 28, 2018)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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