Like ‘They Are Billions’ Frostpunk has been a popular strategy game on PC for a while. It has finally made it to consoles so old strategy gamers like me can have a go. Luckily Frostpunk plays a cracking if somewhat depressing game which shouldn’t be played if your heating is on the blink.
Set in a time where a perpetual winter has arrived you gather around a generator and try to build humanity’s last city. That’s the premise but in practice, the game is careful management of cause and effect. Unlike other games, every action seems to have a detrimental consequence that is immediately apparent. In other games like Cities Skylines or even the aforementioned They are Billions, early mistakes only manifest themselves much later on. In Cities, traffic congestion can kill you and in Billions, you can never build in such a way as to protect every building from the horde. Frostpunk is different, you are presented with very binary choices by your population. We need aid, we need food, we need heat and all the time this is balanced against the objectives of actually getting things in order so they can be self-sufficient and sending scouts out to advance the story.
It makes for a bleak and difficult decision-making process each time. You have to manage the population meters of hope and discontent. Build them adequate housing but delay the necessary upgrades to the heating generator needed to keep everyone alive and possibly jeopardize the game? This is the eternal struggle at the heart of Frostpunk and it keeps you coming back despite the gloom.
People die, people need amputations, food runs out, people freeze to death on the streets and yet you keep going, hardening yourself to these decisions as you go. Your first playthrough will run into trouble as you show too much empathy to every request. You really have to harden up if you want to go far. That central conceit more effectively than others is communicated well and elevates Frostpunk on consoles.
Graphically the game is superior to its peers in the console strategy genre. The environment really gives you the chills as you see impending cold snaps coming in the weather forecast. At night the lights of your hunting parties make their way out across the newly snow-covered land and you appreciate every small graphical touch. The menu screens and story elements are also very nicely animated and make you want to keep going and expanding when your natural instincts are just to huddle round the fire and only expand when necessary.
The nature of the heat-based survival and the central generator means your cities are always built-in a circular model. Keeping the important buildings near the heat is always a sensible way to proceed, other buildings can be built if they are adjacent to a wooden street that is forgiving when you build it so there aren’t the intricacies of Cities Skylines, If you have the resources you could easily build a fantastic and detailed city, the kicker is you never have the resources.
This is a brutal game that rewards harsh playstyles and is addictive as a result. It is one of a number of excellent strategy games that are available now on the consoles and one not to be missed if you like difficult and challenging city builders with purpose. If this is too much Cities Skylines may be more of your thing.