Review

Frostpunk Review: Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't

  • First Released Apr 24, 2018
    released
  • PC

Candle in the wind.

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Huddled together in a crater, they gather around their last hope against the cold--an aging steam generator. Fueled by coal, it can kick out just enough heat to give the last bastion of humanity a faint glimmer of hope. A moment like this illustrates the essence of Frostpunk, a survival-style city-builder where you must lead a lonely band of survivors not against encroaching armies, but against a frigid storm that's wiped out most of the human race.

As temperatures plunge well below freezing, it's your job to guide the remaining populace towards establishing a successful, self-sufficient camp. You'll need hunters and hothouses, mines and saw mills. And you have to keep all of these machines running in temperatures that would make even the hardiest penguins shiver.

The essentials are pretty simple, though. People need houses and jobs. Because this is a survival situation, everyone works on a near-constant basis. The day starts at 5:00 AM, and people have a few hours to finish any construction projects before they head to their primary job for 12 hours. Then they head back home, finish a few small tasks, and go to bed.

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This cycle is hugely important because you'll need to always make sure you have enough fuel to keep the generator running through the night. A major part of this is planning out when and where people need to be to complete their tasks. If you survive, you'll build outwards in concentric rings, ensuring that, as you expand, your core can keep up with the heating demands and provide enough warmth for your citizens to combat the pervasive chill.

This all works seamlessly, too. There’s a natural pattern to it all, and you’ll be given little challenges throughout the day to help give you a bit more structure. Often, these are emergent consequences of past decisions. If you were able to keep people alive through the night, but not warm enough, then they could get sick--posing a new set of challenges to prioritize for the day after. If any one element of the city is neglected a bit too long, then you’ll start getting more strident demands from your people, which often become more intricate, two-to-three-day goals. The structure for it all is elegant and precise--you always have just enough work, and you’re never left without near and moderate-term goals to help give you direction.

Your mission is also strained by all manner of unavoidable disasters. Everything from sudden cold snaps and necessary amputations to mining disasters and refugee crises crop up, requiring your intervention. This forms what could be called the crux of the game--balancing hope and discontent. Compassionate actions give your people hope. They remind the huddled masses that we (in the general sense) haven’t lost touch with humanity. Dispassionate or draconian acts, however, drain the collective will. Unlike most moral choices in games, neither are unilaterally better.

Compassionate actions are typically better long-term goals for short-term hits. For instance, taking on gravely injured or terminally ill refugees will help hold your people together--reminding them that if they are ever left out or lost, they will be found and cared for. At the same time, medical care in the post-apocalypse is damned near impossible, and if you don't have the facilities to care for the people, you'll soon end up with a pile of bodies spreading disease throughout the colony. Manage to fix up the wounded, though, and you'll have an able-bodied workforce embued with the unbreakable spirit of hope.

These are the kinds of choices Frostpunk lives on, and what separates it from every other comparable game. Frostpunk gets a lot of mileage from it, too. It’s hard to cling to the moral high ground--even if you succeed--when you’re reminded of the sacrifices you’ve made along the way. That gives your decisions weight in a way that SimCity and many of its ilk simply can’t. Here, the effects of disasters are tangible, and the game rightly blames you for your personal failures.

One of your citizens approaches you: "Children should be put to work. We're all in this together, and we need help right now." Then, you're shuffled over to a rough-hewn book of laws for your band. There you can, with a click, start putting the kids to work. Or you could build child shelters to house the kids and keep them healthy and safe from the cold. The citizens didn't present you with that second option--and why would they, they can only see what's immediately in front of them?

Frostpunk itself, in the tutorial, notes that the people you serve are always looking for a solution, but not necessarily the best one. What's ultimately best depends on the emergent challenges you face. Do you have a mysterious illness spreading wildly through the camp? Are you struggling to find coal, forcing you to char firewood and construction materials to keep the generator going? These questions are constant and agonizing throughout. Frostpunk drips cynicism and bleakness. And yet it is that hopelessness, that fundamental need of human beings to persist in spite of everything that Frostpunk seeks to embody most. You become the bulwark against fear--even as you look across the land and internalize just how hard this fight will be.

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That's powerful precisely because it hurts. Every time you make a tough call, doubts linger. If you had been better, if you had chosen differently, maybe you'd have been able to save everyone. Adding to the distress, Frostpunk's Hope meter shows you the consequences of your decisions right as they happen. Send children into the mines and you can watch the camp's faith evaporate as a whole chunk of meter gets lopped off.

This system--balancing the will of the people against their own needs--works so well precisely because every mechanism in the game is built to support that core idea. Your job is to manage the emotional fortitude of the people as much as it is about anything else. In time, you'll be able to form scouting parties, outposts, and build a sprawling network of makeshift towns and settlements that stand together. But again, that arc intersects with countless brutal decisions. Should you send a scout to help survivors fight off bears? What about risk turning off an electrical super-weapon that fries everything it touches--but with the potential of a new safe haven from the world outside? The story of your civilization, of your masses hoping, is forged in the choices you make along the way. And they become a part of the narrative you build.

Frostpunk is among the best overall takes on the survival city builder to date. Its theming and consistency create a powerful narrative through line that binds your actions around the struggle to hold onto humanity in uncertain times. Hope is a qualified good, but you may not always be strong enough (or clever enough) to shelter that flame from the cold.

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The Good
Agonizing conditions force gut-wrenching decisions about how to run your camp
Phenomenal aesthetic choices reinforce core themes
Effectively pits short-term and long-term goals against one another to create challenging play
The Bad
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews
Other Platform Reviews for Frostpunk

About the Author

Dan Starkey’s a big fan of building cities. Starting with SimCity 3000 Unlimited, he’s been building up all kinds of municipalities, hoping that they will stand the test of time. He was provided with a copy by the publisher for the purposes of this review and managed to complete two of three main scenarios over 25 hours (in the last one, all his people froze to death. RIP.)
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yeknomdab

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I think that many games--especially those with "survival" elements/permadeath--tend to be better received by those who are willing to alter their approach in terms of playstyle or mindset. Mental flexibility and improvisation are rare among those of us who are accustomed to chasing carrots on a stick.

That said, many of the most well-received titles have quickly gathered digital dust on my drives after a few sessions. One should not implicitly trust or dismiss the opinions of critics or fans. Those are simply more carrots. You can live (for a while) by eating only carrots, but why would you want to? Make your own meals. Set your own standards. Own your choices.

That's why Frostpunk is on my list of games that are probably worth playing...but my backlog is too crowded at the moment.

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Barzenak42

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Game is pretty damn fantastic although hard. I have managed to get to where things get super cold and I guess I have not upgraded my generator enough to keep everyone warm. Fun and pretty deep....at least I ran out some Londoners before my city sent me walking !!

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jessie82

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my only gripe is the lack of replayability..

2 • 
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Pyrosa

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I am alllllll over this. It sounds like a perfect follow-up to my 120hrs with They Are Billions.

3 • 
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Stat84

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this is one of those games that once I start playing them, i'm not gonna communicate with anyone for weeks. What am I waiting for?!?!

4 • 
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gjozefi

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Edited By gjozefi

What kind of game is this? How dumb is Gamespot for not even putting what genre this game is in the review?

2 • 
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Vojtass

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@gjozefi: City-builder. Theme: steampunk, alternative history, post-apocalypse. Purpose: survival.

6 • 
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DARREN636

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Hunter's, for what?

those temperatures will see an almost 100%

die off of mega fauna in months.

4 • 
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rawkstar007

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Before we all go into a frenzy about why this game didn’t get a 10 because no bad points were cited at the end, I’d just like to point some things out:

A game doesn’t start at a 10 and then is deducted based on its flaws. In fact, one could argue that it’s quite the opposite. Most of us know that. However, even if a game doesn’t really do anything “bad,” it is equally important to really consider just how good the game’s good points really are.

It’s a simplistic way of looking at it but I think it might help some of you sleep at night!

6 • 
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deactivated-5c66a5fc40886

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I'll just go ahead and assume that this is just another This war of mine which was made by the same developer and basically was just a Random number generator with various shades of grey. If someone knows for a fact that my assumption is wrong then by all means go ahead and correct me but until then I'll just avoid this game. This war of mine was boring af.

3 • 
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SquatEye

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@mathi4s: IMO your assumption is wrong. The events in the game are set, the resources are set, no randomness here. Its a trial and error marathon though - every time you play, you'll reach a day or two further, which will bring a new challange that dismantles everything you did until that point, and basically you are better off starting all over again, planning ahead (or maybe its just me, I've seen others get through it on the first run). Then again, I didn't find TWoM boring at all, so...

6 • 
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aiat_gamer

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When it comes to this genre, I tend not to trust reviewers. They simply do not spend enough time with the game and put out the review fast. It keeps happening time and time again, with the latest one being Surviving Mars which in the long run, turned out not to be as good as reviews would lead you to believe. From what I have seen, this game is very short, clocking under 3 hours to finish and there is not much to do besides starting another game. 30 bucks seems to be way too much for this, as much as that 3 hours might be fun.

5 • 
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RicanV

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@aiat_gamer: "He was provided with a copy by the publisher for the purposes of this review and managed to complete two of three main scenarios over 25 hours (in the last one, all his people froze to death. RIP.)"

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aiat_gamer

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@RicanV: Well, I choose to listen to other player`s experiences as well. It seems that most are saying the game can be finished in under 3-4 hours. I am sure you can play it for 100+ hours if you start over and over again, but to me a 4 hour campaign is very short.

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Pyrosa

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@aiat_gamer: A vast majority of strategy games are intended to be played repeatedly, specifically because of the variability in decisions you can make.

4 • 
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Arzens

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I love this game. I buy it at best price of the web ?

2 • 
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deactivated-5b06d816c3f07

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Oh look, what a beautiful looking game. Is it gonna be enough to keep PC players secure in themselves for at least a month before they come back preaching console players about framerate and the way they should play their games.

3 • 
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off3nc3

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Edited By off3nc3

@blood-souls: That's all the pc community has left , complaining about framerates while ps4 and the switch spit out the best game of the decade.

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UltimateBastard

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@blood-souls: you ok mate? you sound a bit insecure about your frame-rate and the way you play games

9 • 
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aiat_gamer

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Edited By aiat_gamer

@blood-souls: Are you ok? Do you need a hug?

6 • 
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Pongman75

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Edited By Pongman75

@aiat_gamer: he needs a question mark tho.

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deactivated-5b06d816c3f07

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@aiat_gamer: That depends. I only take hugs from demisexuals. Sometimes i can go for autosexuals if i'm in a mood......and i'm never ok. I'm always superb and at the peak of my existence.

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aiat_gamer

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@blood-souls: Ok, looks like you do need a hug, or a pill, or something. Seek immediate help and do not listen to the voices.

8 • 
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deactivated-5b06d816c3f07

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@aiat_gamer: You know me so well just from a couple of sentences, don't you? You're brilliant. I think you're projecting so hard i can use you to watch movies in my living room.

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aiat_gamer

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@blood-souls: Well, dropping in to throw some weird comment about PC gamers without any context seems pretty random and weird, don`t you think?

8 • 
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deactivated-5b06d816c3f07

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@aiat_gamer: No i don't. I call it as i see it. On the other hand, asking people if they need...... hugs (WTF dude) is what i find extremely random and weird.

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ChrisAnetkaC

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@blood-souls: I agree. Everyone needs hugs. There's no need to ask.

3 • 
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Gomtor

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This could get boring, quickly.

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adventurer360

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I love the style and the gameplay from what I have seen through videos. The only thing I am worried about is replayability. The beginning, which is often what's shown, has the same or similar steps each time. Available resources seem to vary and that helps differentiate throughout each time playing. In many games, the early-game is often similar, so can't fault it if so. How does the mid- and late-game differentiate itself through each play through, so that it doesn't become repetitive and stale in gameplay?

2 • 
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proceeder

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I'm lazy. Where's the video review?

8 • 
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gamefreak215jd

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@lonesamurai1:The minus point isn't for any specific negative criticism. The reasoning behind cannot clearly be expressed in words. It probably didn't feel as fun or special enough to be granted a full 10.

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Renunciation

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@lonesamurai1: 9 = superb, 10 = essential

A lack of flaws does not constitute an "essential" game.

Ever said, "Wow, everyone must play this game because there's nothing bad about it!" ...?

Me either.

6 • 
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Iemander

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@Renunciation: if you say that then it's frankly impossible to ever give a 10 score. Everything that's been rated 10 so far has not been for everyone, and nothing ever will.

You can only be a 10 compared to the competition of similar games. A score is how a game compared.

Imo if this game has no flaws and is the best of the best in it's genre, it should have a 10

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ChrisAnetkaC

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@Iemander: You're confusing "essential" with "perfect" looks like. Essential means you've got to give it a try, it doesn't suggest everyone must love it blindly afterwards. They decided this one is very nice but not something you'll regret not touching 40 years from now. And that is exactly what 10 indicates.

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Pyrosa

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@ChrisAnetkaC: But these go to 11.

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Pongman75

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@Iemander: I honestly believe that the "perfect 10" should be awarded to games that truly make a lasting impact on the industry. Been gaming for 33 years, and I've yet to play the "perfect" game.

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Pyrosa

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@pongman75: I'll take that bait!

Bioshock?

Super Mario World?

Civilization 2?

Super Metroid?

Baldur's Gate 2?

Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (or 4, depending on which side of the coin you prefer there)?

Dark Souls? (oooh, contentious!)

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Pongman75

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Edited By Pongman75

@Pyrosa: I've played ALL of those except BG2 (dont know why lol), and none signify as being the "perfect 10" They're essential, GREAT games, but not 10s

You gave me an idea tho. I need to play BG2

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Renunciation

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@Iemander: I'm not really into the whole "lets exchange rhetoric lol" thing, so: Alright, thanks for sharing your rating philosophies.

Not that I shared my own; I was just attempting to explain Gamespot's system.

But hey, I'll share my own philosophies with you:

The whole of humanity will never fully agree on any single rating when subjective experiences are reduced to mere integers and single words.

It's a popular system, however; to describe it as "ubiquitous" hardly constitutes hyperbole.

This is what number ratings are: a widely-used media tool for the purpose of conveying a general opinion to anyone with a two-second attention span.

And that's all it is... to me, anyway. I tend to reserve my opinions for games, not for media tools.

But yeah, this is what the internet is now. We rate rating systems. smdh

6 • 
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Gelugon_baat

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Edited By Gelugon_baat

I used to like these survival-oriented city-builders, until I realize that they have a tendency to resort to a lot of luck rolls to generate events that can screw even the most prudent player over.

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Vojtass

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I've played Frostpunk just for an hour and it looks great so far. Aesthetics, sound effects and animations are brilliant. They are so convincing that you almost feel eternal winter.

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IvanGrozny

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Interesting setting and gorgeous artstyle

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Ragnarocking

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Edited By Ragnarocking

INB4 "No BAD and still only a 9"

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Iemander

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@ragnarocking: it's less about this getting a 9. Then it is about why the 10 games get a 10.

3 • 

Frostpunk More Info

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  • First Released Apr 24, 2018
    released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    In a completely frozen world, people develop steam-powered technology to oppose the overwhelming cold. Society in its current form becomes ineffective and it has to change in order to survive.
    8.3
    Average Rating82 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate Frostpunk
    Developed by:
    11 bit studios
    Published by:
    11 bit studios, Merge Games, DMM GAMES
    Genre(s):
    Action, Adventure, Survival, 3D
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    Blood, Mild Sexual Themes, Mild Violence, Strong Language