Apple MacAlso available on PC
One of PC gaming’s sleeper hits of 2018 makes the jump to MacOS in 2019, a platform where games have all but frozen over. If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem, is Frostpunk worth a look?
Frostpunk is a city-building title with an equal focus on survival. Whereas SimCity is all bright colours, sunshine, and strangely comical natural disasters, Frostpunk exists on a knife edge. The Earth has succumbed to a new ice age, resources are dwindling, and your city is the only one that remains. Perhaps this is to be expected from 11 bit Studios, especially given their previous title “This War of Mine”.
As the saying goes, these desperate times call for proportionately desperate measures, and Frostpunk allows for the complete erosion of morals in the face of an ever-shifting society and dozens of variables. While the early game is focused on keeping your citizens warm by constructing coal fires and ensuring they have food, as your city grows things get more complex. Every person is a mouth to feed, but they’re also a potential worker.
This leads to some chilling (no pun intended) chains of events. While you put your city’s young orphans to work, and many perish (especially with their food being supplemented by sawdust). There are different ways to get rid of bodies, but burning them uses fuel that the living require. You pile the bodies in a pit, and hope that once frozen over they are forgotten about. Unfortunately, as food dwindles, it’s time to dig them up for consumption – just for your city to limp on for a few more days, maybe weeks if you’re lucky.
Scouting beyond the city walls can reveal new prospective citizens to work, or a chance to murder them in cold blood and harvest their equipment for your own means. Very little of what you do in Frostpunk feels “evil” – more simply “necessary”. These people venturing beyond the confines of your broken civilization have a chance to investigate points of interest, and waiting to see what they report back is riveting. It’s a kind of environmental storytelling that calls to mind the wasteland exploration of Fallout – what happened to everyone else in this world? What did they leave behind?
It’s truly macabre, and unlike anything else in the genre in that regard. Managing the see-saw mechanism of Hope and Discontent feels like constantly picking the lesser of two evils until each blurs into the other.
Balancing is important, because civilians aren’t blind zealots. A lack of warmth will lead to riots in the streets and the shutting down of industry. Mismanage the situation, and your fate is exile from your project. These moments hammer home your inadequacies, the exact opposite of games that reward players with positive reinforcement.
All of this may sound like a lot to keep track of, but Frostpunk’s UI makes each anguish-laden decision feel like a doddle – at least in execution. The interface clearly shows where problems are likely to occur – a heat map will show which parts of your city are hit by the cold, while each area coughs, splutters, and screeches with disheartening regularity.
Once you’re done trying (and failing) to survive the cold, Frostpunk offers four scenarios (including one added as free DLC). Each focuses on a new challenge on top of the game’s already nightmarish themes – an influx of refugees, a socialist-inspired society, or simply rebuilding a previously mismanaged city. Each one is worth a single playthrough, but the sheer harshness of Frostpunk’s world and systems makes it feel tough to return to for any longer than a few hours.
Those looking for a cheerful time constructing roads and positioning landmarks are in for no small amount of disappointment – Frostpunk is bleak. Really bleak. Each decision serves not to ensure progress, but to ensure survival against overwhelming odds. It’s essentially a “Crisis Management Simulator”, and I love it for that. Just remember to play something more cheerful immediately afterwards.