Over the course of this mildly inconvenient pandemic I have often sat and passed judgment on the decisions made by governments, safe and secure in the very certain knowledge that I’ll never actually have to make choices that can affect hundreds, thousands and millions of people. The pressure that must come from leading people and being put into situations with no truly correct answers must be immense. It begs the question: if I was put in that position, what choices would I make? Well, according to Frostpunk I’m the kind of person who will put kids into the mines and use human corpses as a source of nutrition. Vote for me, my friends, because you can’t have a Necromancer problem if there’s no dead bodies to bring back.
Frostpunk is a city-builder, a game where you plonk down buildings and pass laws and balance resources. You’ll setup mines to bring up resources, explore the surrounding lands, provide healthcare and heating. It all sounds so nice and chilled and OH MY GOD, IT ISN’T!
Here’s the deal; you’re the sucker in charge of leading a band of people seeking to begin a nice life in a freezing hellscape, and every moment will be a fight. The buildings you plonk down? Ramshackle huts. The laws? These include deciding to pad out soup with sawdust, whether children need to work, whether its worth trying to make prosthetics for those injured in work. The mines? They are mostly for the vital coal that is needed to keep the generator and heaters working, the only things holding back the constantly dropping temperature which threatens to turn your people into popsicles. The surrounding lands? Cold, desolate areas where maybe you can scavenge a few things. Healthcare? Basic hospitals.
Frostpunk is bleak, man, and the pressure is always there. Other city-builders are often relaxing and slow, but in Frostpunk it always feels like you’re about one minute away from failure. And just when you think you have enough food and coal stockpiled, a storm comes in, the temperature drops like a stone dropped from a plane. You’re left watching the coal supplies vanished, the food being eaten, and suddenly all those incredibly dark, harsh laws you can pass begin to look like the only way to survive. I love this slow and subtle way that Frostpunk pushes you toward more and more horrible acts in the name of survival. How far will you go?
That isn’t to say you can’t hold out as a moral bastion, mind you. It’s possible to beat the game making only a few harsh choices or even none. I’m sure those people probably view themselves as superior to the rest of us, but me? I’m pushing out the propaganda, telling everyone its fine and shoving the children into those mines. GET TO FREAKING WORK, TIMMY! That coal isn’t going to haul itself.
Underneath all that incredible atmosphere and grueling bleakness and morality is a very enjoyable, solidly designed city-builder, too. It looks beautiful, it plays great. It is, I think, a truly stupendous game and one of my favorites from the last few years. A sequel is now in the works and I can’t wait to see what new levels of depravity I can sink to in my bid to keep humanity alive so that we can all enjoy our warm bowls of sawdust stew.