The hunger games.
There are certain things that we take for granted in the developed world. Simple things. Things like shelter from the elements and food in our bellies. It’s safe to say that sometimes we forget how good we have it working jobs for good enough pay, sleeping in comfy beds and getting to play video games on a regular basis. When we do complain – often in the public forum of social media – the hashtag #firstworldproblems offers a little acknowledgement of our inconsequential woes, but it’s far from letting us see how we would fair in the world without all of our creature comforts.
Take Wilson for example. This slick haired gentleman scientist had it pretty sweet in his lab until a demon dressed in a tuxedo showed up. Wilson has been trapped by the demon, pulled out of his blissfully productive world of test tubes and experiments and plonked into another realm. In this new environment there are some familiar flora and fauna; evergreen conifers that grow and die rather quickly, berries on bushes, easily startled bunny rabbits. But there are some weird and evil creatures out there too – towering tall birds that want to impale you when you approach their eggs, bipedal pigs that can morph into werepigs (possibly inspired by Southpark’s episode ManBearPig) and at night, well, just remember to keep your fire going. You don’t want to know what’s out there in the darkness.
Winter is Coming
Don’t Starve is a wilderness survival game from Klei Entertainment, creators of Mark of the Ninja and Shanked. This is a title that has clearly stepped out of the studio’s comfort zone of animated 2D action and stealth and to their credit, Klei have gone in a completely different direction from a lot of games in the marketplace, indie or otherwise.
Your health remains full unless you are damaged by creatures or the elements, but your hunger and sanity need constant attention.
Once Wilson comes to, he is told by the tuxedoed figure “Hey pal, you’d better find some food before it gets dark.” The figure vanishes and out into the world you go. No tutorial, no direction, just good ol’ fashion discovery.
There is a tool bar on the left side of your screen where you can craft some basic items. Tools like axes and picks. By equipping the axe you can cut down trees for firewood, by gathering some tallgrass you can combine those ingredients to start a fire. It all seems quite routine until you notice two of the three bars on your screen are slowly depleting. Your health remains full unless you are damaged by creatures or the elements, but your hunger and sanity need constant attention. By experimenting with different items you soon realise that you can cook almost any food you gather to help fill your empty stomach. You can fashion traps, set bait, go fishing, catch bugs and construct all manners of equipment to help you survive. With any luck you’ll make it to the change of season when the plants stop producing, at which point your resourcefulness is really tested. That’s if you don’t freeze to death first.
Life in Don’t Starve wasn’t made to be easy and just as in the Rogue-like genre, death is permanent. It can only take a brief lapse in concentration from your micromanagement to get you killed, be it from predators, the elements and most frustrating of all, starvation.
The never-ending resource gathering might be too much of grind for some players, but RPG players who dabble in crafting know this grind quite well and are usually willing to accept it. There are no peasants to command or machines to do the work for you, so a lot of your days are spent roaming the countryside looking for particular resources, trapping and hunting for food and trying to avoid the territorial monsters. Grinding for XP or currency has never been my thing, but neither of those two things exist in Don’t Starve. The grind here is to survive, and I found myself pouring hours into this game just to see if I could better the number of days that I stayed alive. The winter is a tough hurdle and requires a lot of preparation, I have not managed to gather enough food before succumbing to a snowy death.
Exercising sustainable practices is key to lasting long term in Don’t Starve. If you cut down all the nearby trees you may not have a quick source of firewood if things go south. Planting pine cones will assure you have a steady supply of Evergreens, and the same principle applies to all other crafting and food resources. Though it may not have necessarily been intentional by the creators, there is a message conveyed that for everything you take from the soil you should put something back in. Don’t hunt all the beefalo on the field, you may need their manure to fertilise your garden.
The Tim Burton-style graphics make for entertaining character animations and all speech is subtitled and voiced as the sound of various brass instruments. The longer you last in this strange wilderness, the more quirks are revealed that build your affinity for Wilson. The bushy beard that soon sprouts may reduce his sanity slightly, but the added warmth could mean the difference between life and death come winter. Even the way he runs, eats and expresses fear has a certain believability, albeit cartoonish.
One of the coolest features is that Klei have promised to keep updating the game for a minimum of six months after their April release. Recently caves were added, though players were warned that the addition is not yet completed with lots more creatures and mechanics to polish.
For $15 there is quite a lot of game here, though don’t be expecting the usual RPG experience. There are repetitious tasks every step of the way, so if you tire quickly of repeated mouse clicks then Don’t Starve probably isn’t for you The map doesn’t take long to explore, but surviving it is a whole other matter. Only the stout-of-heart need apply.
A review code of Don’t Starve was provided courtesy of Klei Entertainment. The game was reviewed on PC.
Not Quite Full
For the patient gamers who want to test their micromanaging skills, there is enough content and challenge to pour countless hours into this game. If you feel the clickety-click of repetitive tasks is the bane of video games, move along to greener pastures.