A combination city-builder and survival game, Frostpunk delivers the management of SimCity with the challenges of The Long Dark. The cold is your enemy in the game just as much as is a lack of resources, a happy populace, and other random pop-ups. Set during the backdrop of 1886, you find yourself as the leader of an expedition from the frozen city of London attempting to make your way to a new place to survive. After establishing your new home, you have to move quickly to beat the cold while also collecting resources and surviving against the harsh elements.
The central mechanic of the game is the cold and the heating aspect of the giant coal furnace at the center of your makeshift town. At the top of the screen (and always present) is the chilling temperature you're forced to survive in. Let it stay too cold or leave your residents out in the cold without shelter and expect them to die off quickly. Don't have enough people to keep the cogs and gears moving means you'll have an even tougher time trying to keep your town warm, fed, and ultimately alive. An added randomizer within the game is over time you'll experience temperature shifts, further dropping or raising the overall central temperature while forcing you to manage your city's heat and health.
Speaking of heat, that giant furnace in the center of town is run by good ol' black coal. How do you get it? Well, by collecting it of course! Resource gathering is almost like an RTS in terms of just assigning townspeople out to handle it. Preventing you from just simply stockpiling it without worry, each resource points has a capacity limit and a finite amount available. This forces you to get more and more creative later in the game with researching. Additionally, gathering is completed during shifts - you don't want your people out in the cold, black night attempting to collect coal, do you? There are additional resources available once you unlock new technologies and buildings, which do help you keep up with demand, but also require other resources to discover and build, keeping you in that cycle of growth and demand.
Aside from resources, the game features a hope/discontent element along with a set of laws you can enact for your township. While hope and discontent change depending on heat level, food, and more, they are directly impacted by your choices regarding city law. Frostpunk's "Book of Laws" is a great addition that slowly changes your gameplay approach as you continue to sign more edicts into effect. The various laws available to you subtly change the dynamics of the game, either by introducing new buildings or ways or progress, but also by how you manage your hope/discontent factors. If you find yourself always dealing with gravely ill people, it's possible to sign a law into place that either amputates them or keeps them on constant palliative care; both create a burden on your society from caring for the ill, but each introduces new options later that vary wildly from the other. The laws directly change your approach.
The "winter wonderland" is not as barren as it seems as well. Over time, you'll be able to unlock new technologies using engineers in your town. These technologies not only allow you to hopefully survive the harsh conditions, but stretch out into the tundra looking for other survivors, places of interest, and hidden caches of supplies. It's neat to zoom out into the world and see just how much has changed since the start of the long winter, but it's even better to see there's a chance to help grow your commune with fresh people, ultimately helping you grow your town and abilities even further.
Frostpunk is without a doubt an excellent new entry into the city-building genre. It contains enough familiar elements tinged with new, fantastical ones comprised of the steampunk aesthetic and feel. Admittedly though, the game's seemingly shorter length may make it feel like it's not complete, but that's not true in any way. It's great price point, challenging gameplay mechanics, and overall offerings with replayability make this a solid game to pick up. It takes some time to master as well, making it worth the challenge of surviving in the long winter.Note: Frostpunk was reviewed on PC. A digital copy of the game was provided by the publisher/developer.