Klei's new Survival game Don't Starve really lives up to it's name for pushing you to find food. I love it!
The game is about a "Gentleman Scientist" named Wilson, who wakes up in a strange new world, deducing that there is no kind of civilization, Wilson takes it upon himself to survive the world. The game has a massive emphasis on exploration and atmosphere, with survival forcing the player to explore which forces the player to survive, it's a bit of a merry-go-round in that respect. The learning curve on the game is pretty steep and there are pretty much little to no instructions when you first press start, in fact the first night I was playing it I had to quit around 1-2 am thinking it was just hard because I was tired...I was most definitely wrong on that one. After every death, the game gives you some XP depending on how long you lasted for, past certain milestones you can unlock new characters, each with their own uses and abilities.
The game in itself has few mechanics to think of; you have your standard Health bar, 100% to 0%, then you're dead; next is your Food or Hunger bar, again this is pretty straight-forward, 100% to 0%, the bar slowly degrades over time and once it gets to 0% you start taking Health damage. Finally we have sanity, now this one had me for a while but eventually I grasped it, the basics of it is essentially at 100% it's all happy joy-joy, the lower it goes the more things start being twisted, shadows dart in and out of focus, voices being heard, etc. Eventually you'll get to the point where there are hallucinations which can actually attack and kill you.
Now these are the basic 3 needs, the meters are plain to see in the top right hand corner of the screen, just under a beautifully informative clock, displaying the time and the time in regard to the three states of the day (Day, Dusk and Night). However this is where the true beauty lies, Don't Starve forces you to adhere to a strict rule-set, darkness is probably more of an enemy than hunger at some points, if you are far from your camp, with no supplies, and it starts to get dark, a real fear kicks in, a fear that makes you tense up, thinking to yourself, "Oh my god, I'm not going to make it back in time, I'm dead this time for sure". As the last bit of light escapes and the screen turns to black, you probably have about 5 seconds before you're being taken back to the main screen and hitting start, to do it all again. Things like the darkness, the placement of your camp, the temperature and stocking up for winter, really adds much more depth to the game as just the little things like that, have such a gravity behind them. The game is dangerously deceiving and much harder than what it seems when you first hit Start Game.
Again the Research system is pretty much a staple now in terms of survival games, you make a tool to make the crafting machine which in turn allows you to make better tools to make the better crafting machines, etc. One thing that I would like to touch on is the Prototyping system. This is the current system in which you have to make the first item "the Prototype" at the actual working station, once it has been made you can make it anywhere in the world as long as you have the right ingredients. As much as this is a good idea, and a slightly different one to many of the other survival games, I feel that there could have been a slightly more robust and innovative system. To my understanding, prior to the Progress! Update (January 29th, 2013) there was a slightly different approach where you would essentially "Salvage" items in order to gain "Science Points" which would then be spent to unlock a new item to be created, although it had more of a completionist feel to it, I think it gives more weight to the satisfaction of creating a new product.
The whole feel to the game is rather melancholy, after all, stranded on an alien world with nobody but yourself, would probably leave you with a rather taste in your mouth. The art to the game mirrors the game's own disposition, the pen inking and the heavy shadowing all play along perfectly. The game also has a tendency to whack on, what looks like a filter, every now and again, I've had moments when I've been playing to find myself, looking at a much more drearier game than I already started, and believe me that's saying something.
The music is perfect, in my opinion, when you don't actually notice that a soundtrack isn't playing, but that you appreciate it when it does decide to turn up, is such a rare occurrence and a really nice treat. Again it has a hint of that creepiness that so well accompanies this game, I do seriously feel that it almost has a certain lightheartedness behind it, also which really does tie in well with the cartoony art.
The game has no true voices, as in there are no spoken words, instead, characters are substituted with different music instruments, with Wilson's "voice" as a Trumpet, accompanied with subtitles. It feels slightly humorous, when you find yourself examining a corpse and hearing a drone from the character you're playing, like a gentlemanly Marvin the Depressed Robot, who incidentally is a character in the game, under the name of WX-78.
Don't Starve is a ridiculously hard game, don't get me wrong, but it's so rewarding to fail. When you mess up and die at a really stupid mistake, there's hardly any time in between the feelings of anger, rage, sadness... and straight back to "Okay, lets go again!". So yeah, the learning curve is quite high but also you learn something new with every death. Just try not to think of all the sleepless nights you've put into the world you're playing, all for it to disappear without a trace because you forgot to take your torch with you. Don't Starve is a lot of things. Time sink, yes. A brain teaser, yes. A fantastic game, hell yes.