At the end of the nineteenth century, the world has been devastated by a dreadful ice age, forcing the few survivors of the cold into exile. Crossing the seas of the north of England, a group of 80 individuals manages to approach a crater whose center is home to a huge generator. Some resources are scattered throughout the crater. Residues of coal, steel debris or scraps of wood will be the resources that you will have to harvest for your most urgent needs, namely the construction of shelters and, above all, supplying power to the generator. In FrostPunk, your ultimate goal will be to survive the growing cold that will bite the population in a radical way.
Obviously, resources, initially limited, will not be harvested by you. You will simply be managing your population of 80, composed of unskilled workers, engineers and children. You can basically only assign the first two categories of individuals to manual work. Once enough coal is gathered, the generator can be lit and circulate heat in a restricted perimeter to accommodate the first dwellings. Even at this early stage, you’ll soon find that things will not be easy in Frostpunk. Indeed, two bars at the bottom of the interface gauge the general dissatisfaction and hope of your people. Needless to say, if the dissatisfaction bar ends up full, or hope bar empty, a game over won’t be too far away. Of course, even should that happen, you would still have a chance to prove to your population that things could change for the better.
For that, you are certainly not deprived of means, since there are different settings that can be toggled in order to juggle between hope and contentment. From the beginning of the game, you have access to a book of laws devoted to adapting your society to the extreme conditions in which it evolves. Every law promulgated can never be repealed and of course, it will be necessary to wait some time before decreeing a new one, the time of the game being, by the way, counted in days and not in years. The first accessible laws concern the most urgent measures to take and bring up the first moral torments that will enamel your life as governor. Choosing to have children work will decrease the overall expectation, but will guarantee additional manpower. The choice is clearly not trivial, because most buildings require workers, who will only work between 8am and 6pm. An alternative could be raising the working hours, but that would also come with its consequences.
Note that your population must be manually assigned to the various tasks. It will not be rare to have to juggle between workers, engineers and children to try to make the best of all your production. Since the positions are sometimes specialized, you will not be able to assign children to hazardous work (unless otherwise stated), while engineers will not be able to occupy hunters’ posts to produce food. The population tends to succumb rather than procreate, which means that a global mismanagement can quickly cause a shortage of manpower. Let’s just say that you do not want to see that happen for various reasons.
Past these considerations, the other laws will be basic. You can dilute food rations to feed more people with less food, or choose to amputate the most seriously ill at the risk of finding you with many invalids to feed. Each choice will affect the movements of the two gauges as much as the number of buildings to build or the parameters you can assign to them. Eventually, you will unlock laws that directly increase hope or decrease discontent.
On the other hand, at mid-term, you will benefit from a particular choice allowing to unlock a new book of laws. The choice between an authoritarian or spiritual doctrine. It is essentially in these trees that the most morally questionable choices are found. While the first laws in these new books can be called trivial, the last ones are so drastic that they will clearly change the morphology of your settlement, while putting your ethics in the closet. Equivalent to the end of the campaign, the latest laws of these books are simply excessive and also come with small cutscenes so you measure the scope of the decision you just made. However, know that the title does not oblige you to anything. It will be all up to you you to see if you wish to have an easy victory by taking authoritarian measures or not.
But let’s go back to the main goal of the game itself, which is to support the survival of your people. You have a technological tree, unlocked through the work of engineers. This tree, divided into several categories, encompasses almost every facet of the game. You will unlock buildings designed to optimize production, the heat generated by the generator or even accelerate the exploration of resources. Each branch is divided into 5 steps, knowing that unlocking one of them consumes resources and that the elements they contain are not detailed. Thus, you will sail blindly on your first parts (because yes, there will be several), spending the precious resources necessary.
In addition to resources like wood, coal, or steel (that are gathered automatically once you’ve assigned workers), there is one resource that you will not be able to obtain easily: the steam cores. They make it possible to unlock the different nodes on the technological tree and build the most advanced buildings. The latter are absolutely essential to ensure a sufficient supply of resources. To retrieve this valuable material, you will need to send one or more scout groups to explore different points of a general map. Once they arrive there, a brief description of the places is established and you will sometimes have the choice to help survivors in distress or to collect all or part of the resources found. Among them are from time to time the too rare nuclei of vapor. At this moment, two choices are available to you. Either you choose to repatriate your explorers immediately, or you risk taking a look at the other points of the map, which unfold as you approach. The lure of gain can sometimes be a danger and trigger unexpected story elements, upsetting your way of thinking. Some “surprises” will sometimes leave you in a beautiful crisis that will turn into a terribly rewarding feeling if you manage to overcome them.
Finally, beyond the undeniable qualities of the gameplay of Frostpunk, we can definitely praise it on its soundtrack, atmosphere, aesthetics and interface. The steampunk direction is simply sumptuous, whether it is the animations of the buildings, the different lighting or the overall design of the infrastructures. The details are precise and seeing the snow melt at the passage of the workers, then to see it covering the roofs in the event of a storm is a real feast for the eyes. Add to that a truly exemplary sound design, which gives a soundscape to the glaring city of truth and climatic conditions and you will understand that immersion in the game is immediate.
Frostpunk is an indisputable proof of the talent of the 11 Bit Studio teams. The title is exemplary precise in its management mechanics, intelligent in its purpose and almost unsettling in its aesthetic beauty. It is an indisputable pleasure to see a whole community trying to survive in extreme conditions, through failures and trial and error that help the player to understand the mistakes made in a rigorous, but never unfair, title.