Frostpunk is a compelling survival strategy game which combines elements of city building, choice based narrative, and just plain challenging resource management. For one week I became obsessed with micro-managing my little ice town and making sure the generator stayed on, playing into the early hours of the morning until I failed and failed again to save humanity from extinction.
Oh, and I might have started a dictatorship while I was at it.
What’s Frostpunk about?
When a catastrophic ice age event hits England, a small group of workers and engineers bands together around a coal generator to survive. Your role is to research the technology you’ll need to survive the worsening weather while maintaining community hope and happiness. Which is damn hard. You’ll need to collect resources, build mines and factories, while keeping your workers alive to keep the literal home fires burning. You’ll also need to make tough decisions; sometimes being compassionate is more demanding on your resources.
Frostpunk is an unforgiving game. Mistakes you make early in planning have significant consequences for your long-term survival. Run out of wood? You can’t build or research. Run out of coal when the weather changes? Your citizens might freeze to death overnight and you’ll be left with no one to work. These are only exacerbated over time. Every day counts.
A key part of survival is knowing how to heat your little city well, whether that’s with the steam heaters or stockpiling enough coal in the coffers to keep the lights on. One of the biggest mistakes I made is keeping the generator on all the time. Turns out, you only have to switch it on when it’s freezing.
You can choose to enact laws, but sometimes these laws can have negative consequences or require you to construct more buildings, using up precious resources. Other times, they can give you the much-needed boost to hope (or the occasional propaganda leaflet drop). Enacting a 24-hour work cycle can only make your workers unhappy, and sometimes, they even die from exhaustion. But sometimes, it’s necessary to build up the supplies you need to survive. It’s this cause and consequence that Frostpunk does very well.
These challenging game mechanics will appeal to the micro-managers out there. For those of us who are a bit more lax in our city construction games and prefer to put it on fast forward so we can watch all those little buildings grow, you might struggle with the demanding nature of Frostpunk’s resource management. But it is a satisfying game if you master these mechanics.
After several failed playthroughs, I survived with only six children alive. Of course, they went all Lord of the Flies on me and banished me to the wilderness. I deserved that, really.
I ended up having to read a build guide in order to understand how the game worked better. And this might be one of my small critiques of the game – there’s not enough information to understand how quickly you need to build, how the heating system works, or how interlinked things like medical tents and technology are to the survival of your city. Either that, or I’m just bad at this game.
Probably the latter.
In my failed attempts, my people lost hope and became discontent. I broke my promises to them as a governor (Tip for life and Frostpunk: don’t make promises you can’t keep). That I had to start a dictatorship in order to survive, welp… As the game’s judgemental end screens came up telling me that humanity survived, BUT AT WHAT COST? I smugly looked at them, shouting “I DID WHAT I HAD TO SURVIVE!” In fact, I wondered if it was possible to get through the scenario without taking your colony to the extreme ends of the political spectrums.
Despite these frustrations, I couldn’t stop playing Frostpunk. The circular design of the city is unique, and I appreciated the British steampunk aesthetic. The game’s world building is excellent. You can send scouts out to explore the world, and it’s fascinating how the story unfurls through opening up the map. There’s a commentary here on climate change and our capacity to survive, but it’s not designed to hit you over the head with environmental messaging.
The biggest plot hole for me is why they’re going to the north of England to survive? I mean, if an ice age event overtakes the world, I’m going to Queensland to ride it out.
This loose end is explained in a brief mention on the load screen. They built generators to access the large coal seams in the north. Okay… fine. Queensland (or Ibiza) seems like a better option.
Frostpunk is a challenging, but rewarding, strategy game that would appeal to detail oriented gamers, and those with an appetite for power at the end of the world. For the rest of us, we’ll probably just freeze to death.