Frostpunk Is A City-Builder Where You Can Eat The Dead

As a fan of any game with a temperature gauge, I've been excited about Frostpunk since the first snowy videos appeared. After playing a recent demo of the game's opening hours, Frostpunk seems like it's shaping up to be an interesting mix of city-building and survival.

Frostpunk is currently in development by 11 Bit Studios, developers of This War of Mine. Similar to that game, Frostpunk asks players to try to maintain their moral compass in the face of necessity.

It takes place in an alternate 1886, when ice storms have rendered most of the world uninhabitable. You oversee a small group of people trying to build a city around a heat-giving generator in the middle of a frozen crater.

Resource-gathering is your first task: assigning workers to bring in coal to run the generator, gathering wood and steel to build homes and other structures, and sending hunting parties out in search of food.

You build the city out in rings, upgrading buildings and researching technology that can let you mine below ground, cut down trees, and build a beacon to scout for more resources and survivors.

Things never quite go well. In the demo, I found myself flush with coal but short on food, only to get a handle on the food situation just in time to run out of the wood I needed to build more medical posts for all the people who got sick from starving.

By the time I'd gathered enough wood to build the necessary number of medical posts, I didn't have enough specialised workers to staff them, because they'd died from being sick. At times I found jumping from task to task overwhelming, but the ability to pause or speed up the game kept me from falling behind.

The interface is pretty clean, helping you keep track of information.

In addition to building your city, you also have to maintain Frostpunk's "hope" and "discontent" meters. The population's mood rises and falls in response to the conditions you provide for them.

If things get too bad, they gather in the center of town to make demands, insisting you build enough housing in two days or feed them by any means necessary. Their mood is also affected by rules you pass from The Book of Laws, which lets you set policies that have benefits and drawbacks. These rules branch out from a gorgeously-illustrated menu, and they represent some of Frostpunk's hardest choices.

A tree in the Book of Laws.

At one point, my population was clamoring for better food. I could have passed a law allowing us to eat our dead, but instead I decided to pass a law allowing children to work in "safe" jobs. I assigned the city's children to the cookhouse, where rations are turned into meals.

When my hunting parties finally returned with rations, I passed an emergency 24-hour work shift to get meals cooked up. The populace was understandably upset about the all-night child labour, and even more so when a child got hurt, but I stayed the course to get food in their bellies.

Frostpunk doesn't rub your nose in the morality of your decisions, and the city-building aspect of the game makes it easy to see your people as just numbers. It's not as immediate as watching one of your This War of Mine survivors starve before your eyes, but when I found myself cursing aloud about the injured child because it meant they couldn't work anymore but would still need to be fed, I was chilled by the gravity of what I'd done.

The balloon is the beacon that sends out scouts.

Even when your laws have positive effects, they still reinforce the harsh reality of Frostpunk's world. In an effort to bolster hope after the child labour fiasco, I passed laws allowing the settlement to have a fighting arena and a public house.

I built a little neighbourhood around a steam hub, a miniature generator, for people to get drunk and punch each other. Hope rose greatly, and I liked the idea of my city having a grim little nightlife district. Of course, both of these required staff to maintain, but it least it made people happy.

Frostpunk conveys a lot of character in its wooden streets, flapping tents, and rumbling generator. Characters have names and biographies you can call up, and they will comment on conditions or their tasks.

Though there were only two character portraits in the demo and I regularly saw repeated lines, the city still felt like a collection of individual people trying to make a life for themselves.

My favourite character is the town crier, who announces the beginning and end of the work day, and new laws, while ringing a bell. It's very Victorian, and combined with the rest of the rich sound design makes the city feel solid. The animations are subtle but excellent; characters trudge through the snow, warm their hands around the generator, and group up in an angry mob when they have problems they want you to solve.

Footage via SplatterCatGaming

Frostpunk's demo only consisted of the first 10 days of the game, so I didn't get to go too far into the tech tree or explore the wasteland as much as I would have liked. But the tiny taste definitely made me excited for the full release.

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Comments

    Hope this comes to ps4, This War of Mine was really really good

      I've been hoping 4 a ps4 release ever since i saw this months ago, Why do big publishers think Rts's wont sell on console? I played Starcraft Broodwars & Westward games Dune on Nintendo 64 as a kid, Yup my first strategic games were on Nintendo lol

        Well This War of Mine was on console and then games like Stardew end up on console so I would think it will :)

    This sounds great. Like a game made up of one of my best experiences in Rimworld ...

    when I just kept hitting the random button at the start and ended up crashing into a frozen tundra. The first winter saw half my survivors freeze and/or starve to death with the others forced to butcher them and turn them into nutrient paste. I even went as far as digging up the frozen corpses of raiders I killed earlier in the year for a similar purpose.

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