Dont Starve Review
Dont Starve Review
It seems like every game they release these days calls itself a ‘survival’ game. How many of them actually are? To me, if you are calling a game a survival game, that implies consequence. If you are playing a game and the only consequence of failing to survive is that you have to go back to the last checkpoint, then what you are playing is not a true survival game, in my opinion.
I can say one thing with absolute certainty: Don’t Starve is a survival game.
Don’t Starve kicks off with your character waking up in the middle of a field. A mysterious man appears and tells you that you’d better find something to eat before you starve to death, and then disappears again. This is essentially all the direction that is given to you, the rest is up to you to figure out for yourself!
This game is all about gathering materials and crafting what you need to survive. You’ll gather twigs and clumps of grass at first, which will be enough to get a torch started and get you through your first night. You NEVER want to be left in complete darkness, or a monster called the Grue will begin to attack you and murder you in just a few hits.
After making it through your first night, you might begin finding pieces of flint, which can be combined with your twigs to make some rudimentary tools. An axe will allow you to chop down trees, which will give you some logs to work with. Make a pickaxe to break boulders down, collecting rocks and hoping for a gold nugget, which will allow you to build the all important Science Engine and unlock higher tiers of craftable items.
As the game goes on, the challenge increases and you’ll need to be ever more prepared to meet it. You start with nothing, but before long you’ll be decked out in armor, carrying a spear to fight hostile creatures, raising crops and hunting animals in order to build your stores of food before winter comes. Then you’ll have a whole other set of problems, like avoiding freezing to death.
In addition to keeping your hunger meter full, you’ll have to keep on an eye on your HP when the highly hostile inhabitants of the world attack you, and your sanity meter, which drains whenever something bothers your character, like being left in complete darkness or seeing a tree come to life and try to kill you for cutting down its brothers. Let your sanity meter drain a bit and you’ll start hallucinating. Let it drain even further and the hallucinations can attack and kill you. Fighting back against the nightmares and wearing some fancy clothes will restore some of your sanity (for some reason.)
But we were talking about consequence there, and how you need real consequences for dying to qualify as a true survival game. In Don’t Starve, unless you have found an altar or created a Meat Effigy (a fairly difficult to craft item) when you die, you are dead forever and the randomly generated world that you were playing in is promptly deleted. The game doesn’t have a real end point (apart from in the Adventure mode, which you have to find a portal to as you play the regular sandbox mode) and you are largely just trying to see how long you can survive, dying and learning and experimenting each time.
When you die, you are rewarded experience based on how long you survived. This experience is used to unlock other characters that have their own character models, voices (which are expertly done by various instruments rather than having real voice actors) and traits. Your main character grows a beard that helps keep him warm in winter and can also be shaved to add beard hair (a rare crafting ingredient) to your inventory. Another character sets things on fire randomly just by being near them, and still another has a larger stomach and does more damage when he attacks. After unlocking them all, you’ll likely find one that you enjoy and stick with them.
The strength and severity of the consequence for dying is also the biggest downfall of the game. Each in game day lasts 8 real world minutes, and as a beginner you will have a great time trying to survive as many days as possible while you learn the mechanics. However, when you become very good at the game and get to the point where you know what to do up to day 20+ without any trouble, you will be staring down the barrel of 1-2 or more hours of easy and potentially uninteresting play until you get back to the point that the game is a proper challenge for you. It does a good job of REALLY making you want to survive, but death is inevitable in the world of Don’t Starve, and you run the risk of being turned off by starting the whole game over if you have survived for a very long time.
Don’t Starve looks like a Tim Burton pop-up book come to life. Every reviewer in the world has used that exact phrase to describe this game, but it IS incredibly apt. It’s great looking, with a darkly cartoonish paper-doll style that really makes it stand out in a world of games that look all too similar. The game shares some similarities with Shank and Mark of the Ninja but has its own distinct style that I find to be the best of all the games that Klei has released to date. The graphical style perfectly matches the atmosphere of the game in almost every respect. Different biomes are visually distinct and the monsters are suitably terrifying. Even the regular creatures have a strange, almost alien look to them that makes me want to keep exploring the world and see what else I can find.
Don’t Starve hits all the right notes (see what I did there?) with the audio design. You’ll hear bird calls and other wildlife during the day, and strange creatures that go bump in the night once the sun goes down. Each character is ‘voiced’ by a different musical instrument that gives them a totally different feel and matches their personalities perfectly. There’s something satisfying about the sound of chopping down a tree with your axe and listening to it fall before grabbing your new set of logs and heading back to base. Using tools of any kind sounds great, with each swing producing a weighty noise that gives the simple act of turning stuff into piles of other stuff you can use into a very tactile experience. You’ll be missing out on a good part of the experience if you play with the sound turned off.
If you have been looking for a game that is truly about survival in its purest form, then you’ll want to give Don’t Starve a look. Come for the great art and sound design, stay to try surviving for as long as you can in an unforgiving wilderness that has nothing but your imminent death on its mind. Brave harsh winters, nightmare creatures, hunger pangs and more just to see if you can make it to sunrise for one more day. When death inevitably comes, you may find it hard to want to go back to square one and continue, but in time you’ll likely hear the call of this strange place and long to try surviving there once again.
I’m headed back right now.