Frostpunk takes city management and blends in survival elements and truly tough choices to give an experience unlike any other game I’ve played. Set in Britain during the Industrial Revolution after an ice age has struck, people struggle to survive, getting by off the steampunk technology left behind. As captain of your group of survivors it is up to you to manage the city and it’s people, helping them to survive the harsh, snowy wasteland.
Unlike most city management sims where you won’t really shy away from expanding across large distances, Frostpunk makes everything much more personal. You have small, enclosed spaces to work with, expanding radially around the city’s heat generator in the centre. Population is limited, meaning you also have a very limited work force and have to prioritise what you need in the moment while also stocking up for the blizzards that roll in later on. Due to the extreme temperatures, limited range of your generator, and supplies to expand that range and efficiency, people will die and even simply assigning someone to a building can be a tough decision between unneeded supplies or a necessary sacrifice.
Between the main story, scenarios, and endless modes which are available to choose from the objective is still the same: have your city survive as long as possible (or to the end of the scenario). Each scenario has some different effects on gameplay though to provide its own challenge that tests your abilities at the game. One has you using limited workers to produce automatons and keep a group of Arks running by preventing their temperature dropping to freezing. Another has you dealing with large influxes of refugees and tests your abilities to deal with massive populations. These other scenarios are unlocked after surviving 20 days in the main story, so they offer some extra ways to play the game if you want a challenge. The endless mode has two settings: one which is closer to the main story’s starting point, with limited resources and a slow progression whereas the other is more of a simplified mode with plenty of resources and is much more forgiving.
Decisions about laws and tech trees are the defining part of how your city will evolve over time. Frostpunk doesn’t hide the harsh realities of life-or-death survival, giving you the opportunity to enforce child labour, force 24 hour shifts, turn the dead into compost or harvest their organs, or even just turn yourself into a dictator who’s word is equal to God’s. There are also opportunities to be a benevolent leader and offer shelter to children, give extra rations to the ill, and provide entertainment to the residents. Each law has its own unique effect on the people and gives you different options for managing your city. The tech trees become the main part of your game plan for evolving. You can go into factories and build automatons; giant machines that can single handedly run buildings for you. Which can then be upgraded to perform more tasks. Or you can build into resource collection, housing, heating, building efficiency, or scouting. Only so much can be done before temperature drops so ensuring you research the right thing and apply that benefit accordingly becomes the difference between survival and an icy grave. You never get a moment where you truly feel safe thanks to the threat of the temperature dropping which perfectly captures the mood of what it would be like living in such a city.
Of course, your citizens aren’t going to just sit by and follow every order you give them if it’s leading to large losses. Hope and Discontent are two separate bars that act as your gauge for how well you are doing. Hope has to be kept as high as possible while Discontent has to be kept as low as possible. While they’re very similar and effected mostly by the same things I found it best to look at Hope as a gauge of living conditions while Discontent was more about working conditions. Lots of people dying rapidly or getting ill quickly drops Hope while long shifts and cold buildings cause Discontent to rise. Once either of them gets too bad your job becomes even harder, with people threatening to overthrow you. The Faith and Order trees of the Law Book allow you to combat this, giving you authoritative choices that can delay any revolutions. Scouts are the most daring of your workers and the only ones willing to put up with extreme temperatures. By using the Beacon you can see the world surrounding the city and send scouts out to areas of interest to explore them. Each place can offer different opportunities such as recruiting people, gathering supplies, or setting up outposts.
The biggest problem these sorts of games face when being ported from PC to console is good controls and menu navigation. Thankfully Frostpunk doesn’t suffer from this problem, using fairly intuitive controls. My only real problem came from trying to track down specific buildings when the city got bigger. This was more of a problem though with large clusters of smaller buildings and was mostly a problem brought on by myself since I had to assign more workers to them since a lot of my population was getting ill. Although personally I didn’t have much of a problem thanks to playing similar games in the past I can also see Frostpunk being hard for people to really get into and truly appreciate if they don’t have experience with city management games, thanks to the unforgiving survival mechanics mixed in. So while Frostpunk is accessible in terms of controls I can see it being harder than other games in the genre for a first timer.
A copy of the game was provided for this review by the developer/publisher