Frostpunk is a city builder with a twist. On top of building a thriving colony, you also have to manage survival elements, such as the ever creeping cold, and take tough decisions. Do you want to be morally upright and suffer from a lack of a proper workforce, inevitably leading to failure, or will you employ child labor?
Developed by 11bit studios, the people behind the equally depressing This War of Mine, Frostpunk asks the tough questions and expects you to stand by your decisions because one wrong move can lead to a rebellion or a disaster.
It’s a cold world out there
Frostpunk is set in an alternative 19th century, where an ice age has lead to the collapse of civilization. You lead a band of people from London on an expedition to find hope and survive the cold.
Temperature is a vital element in Frostpunk. As temperature drops, you are expected to supply a constant source of heat. Working in extremely low temperatures can lead to frostbites and amputations, the latter of which will result in a drop in working hands. Which will lead to a drop in resources, and the inevitable end.
The centrally located generator is your primary source of heat, but even the generator requires balance. You can use it on overdrive to increase the amount of heat, but keep it on overdrive for too long and it can explode resulting in an instant game end. Its range and capability is also limited, forcing you to build the colony more efficiently and make sure you are not making your colonists have a roof over there head.
But you’ve also got to complete the coal mine, or you will run out of fuel overnight. So what do you do? Do you micromanage the generator and hope that the snow doesn’t take your colony? do you sign off on a 24 work hour shift and risk the anger of your colonists?
Every second is Frostpunk is hectic, this isn’t like the other colony builders out there, where you get to sit back and watch your glorious creation in peace. Oh no, there’s always some demand that you can barely meet, resources that need to be managed and heat that needs to be spread.
Morality is a big part of this game, you are constantly making decisions that involve taking the moral high ground that can result in an even more harsh experience or the completely morally bankrupt decisions. Like I already mentioned, child labor is just the beginning in a list that grows with every passing second in-game.
And these choices will affect your gameplay in the long run, you could start cannibalism to fight hunger but this can result in a huge chain of events that can lead to revolts. You can mix sawdust with food to increase quantity but risk your entire colony falling sick. Child labor can lead to accidents and very angry parents demanding justice.
At its heart, however, FrostPunk is still a city builder game. You will be building various structures and researching upgrades to grow your colony. Various buildings serve purposes and it’s again up to you to decide where your priorities lie. Will you build more houses and hospitals to keep your people content only to risk their wrath when you can’t supply enough coal to the generator because you didn’t build enough coal mines.
Resources serve a very important role. They get more scarce with, and so is labor. Time is also a factor, as workers need downtime to unwind. If you rob them of their free time, they will start getting angry. You could build automatons to work without fuss. But then they will need coal, and they will be a drain on your resources.
Frostpunk quickly becomes a balancing act, where you find yourself on a tightrope. Lean too hard on one side, and it’s a game over. Sometimes it’s as easy as choosing between good and bad but mostly it’s choosing between the two lesser evils.
Every 18 hours you can pass a law to help you manage things better or unlock more options. And you better be ready to hold your end of the bargain, as laws require you to execute them properly or discontentment will rise. Passed a law that will allow pubs? build one within 24 hours or you will be facing the mob. Passed a law that will allow critically ill to have more rations? You better have more food, because sharing doesn’t really sit well with all your colonists.
Scouts also play a large role in gameplay, you can train teams of scouts and send them on expeditions. Theses expeditions reveal bits of lore, provide additional resources, lost citizens or painful death.
Porting done right
The graphics look absolutely stunning, and it has the best atmosphere I have seen in a city builder.
As the temperature falls, snow builds up on the roof of buildings. People go about their daily routine, moving through the snow to work and back when their shifts end. The winds blow mercilessly and your screen becomes frosted with every drop in temperature. Huge automatons move about with their cargo.
11bit has done an excellent job with the console edition, controls feel intuitive and well thought out. Most functions are one trigger away, and moving around is mostly a hassle-free job. I say mostly because once your colony gets huge, it can be hectic to find out where a particular building is. This is wont be an issue once you memorize your colony’s layout and it’s the only gripe I have with the game.
Performance-wise, the game does well on the base PS4 and manages a mostly stable framerate even when your screen is filled with buildings and little men moving about.
Frostpunk is a beautifully presented and brutally challenging experience that challenges you to push the limits of your management skills. With a varied amount of content, flawless gameplay mechanics and smooth experience, Frostpunk is a must-have game for lovers of city builders on PS4.