November 23rd, 2012 | By Alex Wilkinson
Waking up with your face in the dirty, you pick yourself up and dust yourself off. Looking around you see a seemingly endless forest filled with thick foliage. You are uncertain how you got here but now you are here there really is only one thing left to do… survive. Don’t Starve is the latest game from Klie Entertainment a veteran indie studio who have produced many great titles prior such as N+, Shank, and Mark Of The Ninja and now they bring us the darkly designed Don’t Starve.
Don’t Starve is an adventure simulation game in which you play the intrepid Wilson – at least initially but a whole host of other characters can be unlocked. Wilson wakes up alone in the middle of the woods with no memory of how he got there – so as I see it a result of an extremely good Friday night. With no guidance or tutorial you are thrown into this land and often via trial and error have to figure out what everything in this environment does. This is achieved in a very much what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger kind of fashion.
So after stuffing your face with a handful of petals you must explore this environment and basically survive. I can tell you that surviving the night can be a hassle if you do not make an effort to collect firewood prior but this is all part of the fun. As once night hits properly if you don’t have the capacity to make a fire you might as well kiss your ass goodbye.
Don’t Starve is a relentlessly difficult game and this is part of its charm in a masochistic style. You have no explanation on how things will react to you and after setting beehives on fire, only to discover this does not kill the – now angry- bees but instead throws them into a fit of rage you slowly begin to learn the core of the game.
The game world itself is a randomly generate one which you can change every time you play or just run with one made map at a time. This is a nice feature as it allows you to learn the map and then devise strategies around this. You also you gain experience and research points that are tied to your current map generation which is interesting and it allows for progression especially if you mess up . However if you are the more adventurous type you may prefer to keep generating new maps for total uncontrolled cruelty.
The maps do also appear to be huge and although surrounded by water there really is no lack of area to explore. Don’t worry about variety of the scenery either. The game environment changes greatly in a fluid manner from forest to swamp to grassland and so on, with each area having different attributes and items to acquire. More often than not they do result in extra things trying to kill you and after wandering around in the swamp area for a few minutes it became painfully clear that evil tentacles really did have it out for me – but the frogs legs where fantastique.
The gameplay is great fun as you are always learning and trying new things out. You start off with nothing, but with a small amount of exploration you can acquire enough materials and food to survive – at least for one day. Although the games title and mantra is “don’t starve” it would be a dull game if all you did was wander around eating from different bushes – but rather serene. And because of this there are numerous things to craft from torches to funny hats – now seeming a prerequisite in video games. You start with the basics open for you to craft such as torches, bonfires and traps.
After you develop your first research machine you can gain access to research points to unlock extras. This really is where a lot of the fun comes in and you will spend hours grinding up everything you can find in this machine unlocking new equipment for Wilson to brandish. A great design choice implemented was the idea for Don’t Starve to have very short nights relative to the overall gameplay. Night play is a very important element in Don’t Starve; however there is always the problem of nights becoming very boring as you are extremely limited to what you can do. The limitations come in from the forest turning against you at night, harbouring all manner of monsters and ghouls.
Having a short night still incurred the issues of the forest turning against you along with allowing you to witness the fantastic visual changes and atmospheric feel whilst not feeling bored – often I found night did drag a bit in games like Minecraft. We all know the only way to stay safe in nature is fire so by night you must huddle up by the side of the fire, grimly chanting to yourself hoping the fire will last out till morning and burn bright enough to keep the monsters at bay.
The art direction is also very commendable and I do love this Tim Burton-esque take on the art. It’s great and does feel very much like a sinister fairytale with supernatural forces ever present just waiting in the shadows for you. The art direction does give the game striking visuals and really brings the unforgiving nature of the forest to light.
The art does continue to entrance me and I do think this is one of the biggest strengths of Don’t Starve as it really helps engross you. Klie Entertainment has also managed to enthuse a great deal of comedy into the game. It’s not an overly serious game and I really do like this. Humour comes in all forms from the quirky model design to some of the phrases Wilson and the other characters put across to the player. It all works together fantastically to really bring this sinister fairytale to life.
The audio is also worth a note as it is consistently great. From the quirky noises that come out over the course of the game to it setting the scene, it really adds a great deal to the games immersion The audio plays a big role in ambience.
The forest by day is vibrant with life due to much subtle ambience from birds chirping to animals rustling it all adds to the feeling of this living forest. In stark contrast at night the forest begins to feel hollow and empty. You really get a wonderful sense of isolation in this unnatural place. From the hollow sounds as you chop to the eerie silence the night really does feel very scary and you are all alone. Although still in beta Don’t Starve feels like a very well polish and a fantastically well put together title.
It really will keep you on your toes throughout the game and has a ton of replayability so will have you coming back way into the New Year. The icing on the cake is that Klie Entertainment is continually asking the community what they want in the game and are responding in kind. Of course not every issue can be implemented but they are continuing to work with the player base to really create a fantastic game and I do commend them greatly for this.
Don’t Starve is still very much a work in progress but all the foundations and a great deal of the structure are already in place to create a really wonderful game. You can get involved with Don’t Starve via Steam for $11.99 which includes two copies of the game and immediate access to the closed beta. It’s your time to see how long you can last in the wilderness.