Frostpunk Is a Chilling Take on a Dickensian Frozen Earth [Preview]
11 Bit Studios caught the attention of the gaming masses a few years ago with the release of This War of Mine. The survival sim tasked players with setting up shop in a war-torn Sarajevo, trying to stay alive as long as possible and managing whatever it took to do so. The complexities and moral quandaries raised by This War of Mine are what helped set the game apart from a deluge of survival sims, and its those same societal challenges that 11 Bit hopes will aid its upcoming city-management sim Frostpunk stand out from the competition.
Taking place in an alternate 19th century where the world has frozen over for unknown reasons, Frostpunk puts players in charge of an expeditionary group trying to make its way in the dangerously cold world. Somewhere in the history of this world, civilization set up a few generators to keep pockets of society alive. Your group is fortunate to happen across one at the start of the game, and it's from there that you'll be in charge of keeping that last vestiges of hope alive.
At the start, you have a small collection of survivors, a smattering of resources like wood and coal to gather, and the generator. Once you gather enough coal, you can fire it up, thus providing heat and power for the city you'll be building. The steampunk aesthetic isn't just a choice for looks and style, it's also practical. Of course, mining for coal isn't exactly what one would call a safe job, but that's not something you need to deal with on a personal basis. You've got plenty of bodies to handle all the dirty work for you... at least until the weather starts to turn even more hostile.
You'll notice in the screenshots there's a temperature gauge front and center. With that you can keep tabs on the current livability of the city, and it partners well with Frostpunk's thermal camera to see where in the crater surrounding the generator you've got the most heat. Temperatures won't stay constant, but the handy calendar ticking through the days on the top menu will keep you up to date with any upcoming shifts. It wouldn't be out of the question for the mercury to drop another 20 or 40 degrees on a given day and week, making it hard to sustain life in this makeshift shelter.
Before long, you'll be able to craft simple living quarters and a field hospital, while making sure that people are comfortable enough to continue working for you in this harshest of environments. Though, this requires citizens to pull double and triple shifts in order to ensure the safety of the group. Food and supplies are also at a premium early on, and with Frostpunk taking place in the age of industrialization, it's all about how willing you are to take advantage of the people working under you. Frostpunk has a mechanic called the Book of Laws, which lets you instill order and make decrees on how this city will survive. Do you invoke child labor, giving the adults the ability to take some shifts off, but then also putting the future of the city in potential jeopardy? Will you allow victims of the cold to be treated with theoretical advances, or will you let the hospital fill up with critical patients until you've upgraded to a more competent hospital?
Every aspect of the Book of Laws has its advantages and disadvantages, so it's truly up to you to shape how this city not only thrives, but how you want the citizens to view you. Are you going to be a benevolent lord, keeping hope and your people alive, or will you do what it takes, sowing discontent as the price of survival rises? Whatever you do, know that the people of you growing shanty town would much rather be told something cannot be done than have a single promise broken. These survivors may be freezing and forgiving to a point, but they will not stand idly by while you promise a future that will not come to fruition.
With a game like Frostpunk, there's only so much you can learn from the first 30 minutes. Fortunately, what we saw definitely has us intrigued. 11 Bit Studios' pedigree certainly helps, but independent of that, Frostpunk has a lot of interesting mechanics to make it more than just another city-builder. We don't know how long we'll have to wait to play the final game, but we definitely know we want to whenever it arrives.
Frostpunk will be out on PC, but there is currently no set release date.