Don’t Starve neatly bridges the gap between the seemingly unending slew of Steam Greenlight survival titles and the crafting simulators that Mojang has inspired. A clear focus on streamlined gameplay delivery, simple graphics and uncluttered UI make this one of the best indie horror survival titles to date.
It is one of the only games of this genre that doesn’t require a lengthy tutorial or a second screen sporting the wiki’s quickstart guide. Yes, it is brutal and yes, you will die over and over; but each failure, fatal or not, will bring with it a small eureka moment. A new way to prolong your fraught existence. Another weapon in your arsenal against starvation, and snakes and darkness. We gamers don’t mind death… so long as it’s fair.
In fairness this description makes playing it sound like an unpleasant experience but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the themes explored are very dark and the hounds are real bastards but playing it is a delight. A totally absorbing, nail biting, trying delight.
The art style is a charming blend of pop-up book, clip art and A Series of Unfortunate Events. Not being as dark as Limbo or Inside, perhaps this heralds a shift in indie game design away from the “small child in scary world” (Yahtzee Croshaw) archetype. But who knows, maybe that well goes even deeper.
The music turned out to be the only part of Don’t Starve that I couldn’t abide for prolonged periods. The musical cues are spread relatively thinly and when triggered the resulting pieces are either identical to the previous twenty, too repetitive or simply not to my taste. This will only occur to those with a slight game audio fixation so for most of you, this will not impact your experience in the slightest. I found my choice of podcast was a preferable accompaniment, in particular to the early game grind.
The majority of the game is spent in a kind of resolute panic, preparing for the next season and hoping your crops won’t be immediately burnt to a crisp by lightning or volcanoes, yes volcanoes. When you’re not harvesting beefalo manure for your GM farm, you’re surely deforesting vast swathes of countryside or extinguishing the dwindling prime ape population. “Don’t starve” is a useful piece of advice at the outset but quickly becomes routine once the Science Machine doubles, and the Alchemy Engine practically doubles again the amount of projects and distractions available to you.
But you know all this, Shipwrecked builds on the formula of the original and Reign of Giants without losing any of the magic, frustration and a justified, unadulterated fear of forests. The most obvious change is the island setting. Your starting islet dictates how your first few days will fair, some are barely big enough to feed you and provide you with the materials for a raft, while others are huge sprawling things with food and forests galore.
Though you will want to get off the starting island as quickly as possible, I found the latter more helpful of course as I liked to be relatively well stocked before braving the high seas (also I really like catching crabbits). So as the loading screen displays the obligatory hilarious game building quips (“embiggening snakes”, “iterating upon pines” etc) give a quick prayer to RNGesus.
I don’t want to go into detail about mechanics and mid-to-late game content because I think half the fun of this game is the exploration of the mechanics and their potentially very complex interactions; so suffice it to say that this gets my recommendation.
Eight pieces of 8 out of ten. Would shipwreck again. WILL shipwreck again!
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