PCReview

Frostpunk Review – Moral compass simulator

May 30, 2018 — by Abhijit "BabuMoshaaye" Dey0

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PCReview

Frostpunk Review – Moral compass simulator

May 30, 2018 — by Abhijit "BabuMoshaaye" Dey0

Video games are an escape from the real world into a virtual one with endless possibilities. Possibilities that enable you to do things you wouldn’t have imagined in your wildest dreams. You can fly beyond the solar system, rip apart demons with your bare hands, and even ride rockets while grappling onto them. Most of the games bring in the fun element by allowing you to do crazy things that physics won’t allow in the real world. However, there are several games out there that are grounded in reality and some of them will try to test your morality. They involve gameplay mechanics that will force you to take difficult decisions which will ultimately decide the final outcome towards the end. Throughout the game, you will be thrown scenarios where you can’t skip on making a choice. Take a wrong decision and you might lose or sometimes win the game with massive losses. Joining the league of such games is Frostpunk where taking such painful and troublesome decisions is the central theme of the strategy and city simulator game. Running low on the number of workers? Employ children into factories. Furnaces running low on fuel? Dig out corpses and burn them instead. These are some examples of the mildly inconvenient decisions you will have to take in the game.

Plot

The world has experienced a terrible ice age where everything is frozen, pushing the human race towards extinction. Survivors are travelling long distances to come across small cities trying to make do with the resources to keep themselves warm and well fed. You are the ruler of one such city and your objective is to ensure your people don’t freeze to death. At the centre of your city lies a heat generator that keeps everyone warm, and your people will have to gather resources to keep it running. Your city will have survivors coming in from all the corners and it’s completely up to you whether you want to let them in. Being a city and survival simulator, you will have to manage the society’s management of resources along with being empathetic to people’s choices. While doing so, you will have to make tough moral choices that will rustle the very fabric that’s keeping the people hopeful. However, you shouldn’t ignore your primary objective in Frostpunk which is to ensure your city survives.

frostpunk

Gameplay

The gameplay mechanics of city simulators are complicated forming a complex entanglement of actions and outcomes. What would appear as an irrelevant action now will go on to come back at you later with damaging consequences. To an extent, Frostpunk does include micro-management which seems enough to not feel underwhelming. It still doesn’t match the level of Cities: Skylines but we think it might just complicate the primary theme of the game. In the game, you have to keep a close eye on the two main parameters – “Hope” and “Discontent”. You have to keep the hope meter high and the discontent meter low. The level will be determined by those harsh choices you’ll be making in the game. More on that later. The heat generator will keep the city warm inside the radius and to keep it running, you need to gather coal. Other resources that your people need to collect are wood and steel. Gatherers are divided into workers, engineers and children (if child labour is allowed). There are special buildings or jobs where only engineers can work whereas workers can get employed in the rest with limited buildings for children. You will find resources scattered in your pit, initially appearing in piles. Later in the game, you would have to build factories in order to extract and gather those resources. Coal will be used in the generators and heaters while wood and steel will be used in the construction of buildings. Resources are limited in your pit and if you run out of them, you can still continue progressing through the technology tree to build advanced factories to gather them. You also have the option of sending out scouts outside your city to search for resources. However, you can’t solely rely on them to keep the generator running.

In summary, you have to gather resources in order to run things in your city. As you gather more resources, you will be able to unlock more buildings and technologies to further help you boost your economy. There are four tiers of a technology tree that will require you to spend gathered and salvaged resources from scout expeditions. This tree will offer upgrades so that your city can scale the production of heat to the ever-increasing population. While you’re busy looking after the needs of your citizens, you will also have to acknowledge their empathy. Frostpunk implements it through laws.

frostpunk

Book of Laws

There will be moments of desperation where you’ll be asked to take a decision (sometimes time-sensitive). Few of them will matter a lot where if you don’t take a decision, there will be an imbalance in hope and discontent. Frostpunk incorporates one such desperate measures through child labour. When you’re low on workers and engineers, you have the choice of passing a law to make child labour legal. This will ensure that children can work in safe environments of collecting coal, wood and steel. However, they won’t be allowed to work in mines or factories where there’s a risk of them getting injured. It doesn’t mean that they won’t get injured in safe environments. If you still fall short on workers for those unsafe areas, you can further pass the law to allow children to work everywhere. If you’re already despising the thought of children working in factories, you do have the option to open child shelters. Kids will be protected here and they can further go on to become apprentices to medics and engineers.

So let’s say that you don’t want children working in factories but how do you plan on gathering resources to keep the generator running? By passing the law for emergency and extended shifts. This will cause discontent to rise but do note that working long hours can lead to the death of the workers. Speaking of death, Frostpunk employs the mechanic of injuries and illness. You have to provide medical posts for people falling ill. The weather is incredibly cold, sometimes reaching even 50 degrees Celsius below zero. Naturally, people will keep on falling ill every now and then. If they become gravely ill, there are chances of them getting frostbite. This means they will have to face amputation that will render them useless as a gatherer. However, if the gravely ill aren’t treated, they will die. To overcome this, the radical treatment law can be passed. Later, you can pass the Care Home law so that they can be looked after and then be given Prosthetics after the required technology has been upgraded in the future. Throughout the game, you’ll need to remember that every person in the game is a resource. Your primary objective is to ensure your city keeps a high output so that your city survives the biting cold. These were some of the conflicting choices that will be constantly thrown at your face in Frostpunk and you will need to act upon them.

frostpunk

Choose our path

If you’ve been governing your city poorly, hope will continue dropping and discontent will rise. This will ultimately lead to a point where you will have to pick one of the two paths to unite the people who have started doubting your leadership. It’s time to finally build purpose for your people by picking either faith or order. You can take the approach of order and discipline to enforce everything through vigilance. Or you can take the faith and spiritual path of building places of worship to calm people down. If you continue failing then you will have to progress to the extremes of one of the paths that finally lead to New Order or New Faith. The progression has been wonderfully implemented in both the sides. So, if you take the faith and spirituality approach, you will start on an optimistic note where it will seem like the best way. However, as disharmony keeps rising, you eventually start enforcing it. When you arrive at passing the Faith Keepers law, you begin to realise how serious things are becoming. The same happens after you pass the law for Guard stations when taking the order approach. On one side you have the potential of forming a theocracy if you reach the final stage and the other, you could form an autocracy. Although not essential, it’s completely up to you whether you want to take the shorter route or a long-term solution.

The purpose laws become essential based on the scenario you’re playing. For example, in the Refugees game mode, there’s a looming threat of Lords (upper-class survivors who hate you and your people) making their way to your city. Your people are naturally afraid of them, so discontent starts rising. What will you choose? Calming people down with faith or enforcing an order. It’s all up to your choice. The beautiful thing about the purpose laws is that they test you on how you wish to unite people when they are misguided. Do you give them false hope under the garb of faith or do you condition them into accepting obedience as a way of life? Your choice.

frostpunk

Graphics performance

We played the game on a powerful gaming rig running on the AMD Ryzen 7 1800X and the NVIDIA GTX 1070 Ti, installed inside a Corsair Spec-04 TG with two extra fans for exhaust. Having experienced performance issues with simulator games because of the thousands of little actions going on, we expected few hiccups in the game. We didn’t notice any stuttering while panning and opening up the details of all the buildings. There are times where the screen froze (see what we did there?) for a second when there were major announcements popping on the top left. This happens during events which are usually followed by a fullscreen menu asking you to take action. Rarely, when a certain technology was upgraded at the workshop, the screen would lag. Apart from these, we didn’t face any problems in rendering even when we kept zooming in and out to the smoke coming out from the generator. If you’re interested in how hot the components were running, the 1800X reached a maximum temperature of 64 degrees Celsius while the 1070 Ti touched a maximum of 83 degrees. When the game was launched it had a lot of optimisation issues with terrible frame rate performance. It has been definitely addressed after the latest update. We tested the game on a 1920×1080 monitor with a refresh rate of 60Hz and were able to achieve a stable frame rate of 60fps on “Very High” settings. The maximum frame rate is locked to your monitor’s refresh rate by the game. So, we tried the game on another gaming rig with an Intel Core i7-6700K and 980 Ti, on a monitor with a maximum refresh rate of 240Hz. Frostpunk ran smoothly between 100fps and 125fps.

frostpunk

Verdict – Frostpunk

Frostpunk brings in several interesting gameplay mechanics ensuring that you keep going back to it. If you’re a city simulator fan, you should definitely get this one. A post-apocalyptic frozen world where your hope begins with a barely functioning generator in the middle of nowhere, clinging to the mercy of scarce resources and survivors taking refuge in your city, is certainly an enticing portrayal of a dystopia. Your job as a ruler is to ensure that the generator keeps running hot so that the same survivors don’t freeze to death. There’s no right way to complete your objectives. You might go through a severe moral dilemma several times, having to pick between what is generally considered “good” and “evil” and whatever you actually perceive. It is during these times when the lines are blurred. Difficult decisions will have to be made at some point, and if it goes wrong, you lose. We tried various approaches to avoid being too hard on the citizens. However, there was always some element which would be compromised and a difficult decision had to be taken. Of course, it’s possible that there could be a way(s) where discontent stays low and hope stays high all the time. The Adaptation Laws revolve around ensuring the amenities and resources are provided to the people. Whereas Purpose Laws give people a certain motivation to continue working towards surviving. You may have fulfilled all the requirements of people but to keep up hope and prevent discontent, the only two ways available ultimately lead to two radical extremes. Just like real life.

MOAR
Platform: Microsoft Windows
Price: Rs. 699
Developer: 11 Bit Studios
Publisher: 11 Bit Studios

All the different approaches will either result in your city surviving the severe cold wave or you being overthrown and banished from the city (also meaning the possible death of the citizens later). There aren’t any consequences because of the choices you made, whether good or bad, in order to survive. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you lose, but there’s no sense of reward or penalty after you win. This takes away the gravity from the difficult choices you made throughout the course, meaning nothing at the end. So, whether you chose to allow children to work in factories or chose to send them to shelters instead, and still won, it won’t be acknowledged. You won’t be held accountable for the number of people who died because you chose to extend the working hours instead of employing children. An additional game mechanic of giving the players a morality score after a victory would have been great. A score, based on the qualities that make us human, to reflect how human we were at the end of the objective. Maybe the developers had the same discussion but chose to indirectly address through Frostpunk that when it comes to a situation of life or death, morality doesn’t matter.

frostpunk

Frostpunk
9 / 10  
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Abhijit "BabuMoshaaye" Dey

This ape-descended life form believed that coming down from the trees was a bad idea until he was introduced to video games. Has spent endless hours playing Prince of Persia, Hitman, Assassin's Creed, Unreal Tournament, Half-Life and Left 4 Dead. This makes it three sentences, Half-Life 3 confirmed.

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