Frostpunk, a steampunk city-builder from the guys who made This War of Mine about surviving a perpetual winter, recently went on sale to celebrate their one-year anniversary. I picked it up, and spent entirely too much time playing it the past few days (although that’s only partly why Five of Clubs was late – I also spent way too much time waffling on whether or not I wanted to shut the project down before seeking out voice actors). So, safe to say that it’s pretty good.
I’ll be digging into the mechanics in a bit, but what really sells this game is its phenomenal atmosphere. In raw graphics power, it looks good, but not great. It’s in how the smoke from your generators rises above a city clogged with snow. It’s from watching your town sprawl outwards in rings around the central generator, huddling against it for warmth. It’s in hearing the wind howling over the lip of the crater while an automaton nestles against a spoke heater to refuel, its spindly body briefly illuminated by the fires atop the steampunk pillar before it strides back into the darkness to work the coal mine and keep those generators running, while all the squishy humans have boarded themselves into their houses, desperately hoping they won’t freeze to death as the temperature drops to a Hellish triple digit negative.
It’s one of those games, like XCOM, that keeps the pressure up constantly with an expertly balanced series of static events. The first time through, I got about halfway through before my people became disillusioned with my leadership and banished me to the icy wastes. The second time through, I paid much more careful attention to the hope and discontent meters, but didn’t put much emphasis on research or economy, which led to my creating a fascist dystopia which still lost 80% of its population in the final storm. The third time through, I did what really should’ve been my default strategy, since it’s how you win like 90% of all strategy games, and focused primarily on my economy, which allowed me to swing large piles of resources at problems as they occurred.