Starvation. Insanity. Exposure. Mauling. Immolation. Electrocution. Anaphylactic shock. Human Sacrifice. Simply vanishing into the night. Collectively, these are not just some of humanity’s worse nightmares, they are also the short list of things you have to avoid while play Klei Entertainment’s newest title Don’t Starve, and it has been a while since nightmares have been so much fun.
GAME NAME: Don’t Starve
DEVELOPER(S): Klei Entertainment
PUBLISHER(S): Klei Entertainment
PLATFORM(S): Windows, Mac, Linux, Chrome
GENRE(S): Survival, Sandbox
RELEASE DATE(S): April 23, 2013
Don’t Starve is the story of Wilson, a gentlemanly scientist, who has been whisked to a parallel dimension by a demon. It happens. The parallel dimension is a wilderness, vacant of any signs of civilization, so Wilson is left with only his wits and whatever he can remember from the Junior Woodchuck handbook to keep himself fed and sheltered from the elements. Don’t Starve’s developer, Klei Entertainment, has a pedigree that includes such great indie titles as N+, Shank, and Mark of the Ninja, so already, going in, you can expect great things.
The game is super simple, point-and-click: click on a spot to walk there, click on an item to interact with it, and occasionally, right-click to use an item’s secondary function. The simplicity of design sometimes causes issues, such as causing Wilson to eat food you intended to use as bait, but it rarely detracts from the overall experience. Start by collecting twigs and grass, and soon you will be climbing your way up the ladders of technology and resources to either build yourself a veritable fortress of defense against the demon dimension, or, more likely, die unceremoniously trying. Build fires to keep screaming horrors away in the night, build axes and pickaxes to harvest useful materials from the landscape, and build simple snares to capture all too scarce food.
And death is not just lurking around every corner, it is renting the space, has filed the proper permits, and is displaying a letter of intent in the front window. Many of the creatures in Don’t Starve are more than happy to feast on soft pale meat from another dimension, and upsetting the wrong one can quickly result in having to abandon your entire camp and start over again from scrap somewhere else. You know, assuming you survive. As though having to survive against angry teeth and claws was not enough, you have to keep a constant watch on your stomach, which will grow empty all too quickly. Even Wilson’s sanity is in danger as he tries to cope with the situation, and letting your mental facilities diminish will start to alter your ability to recognize the landscape and deal with the things around you.
If you live long enough, you can eventually learn how to create weapons, armor, fortifying defenses, and even farming space for producing your own food. Wilson being a clever scientist, is able to create a few machines to help himself, such as meters to warn him when when rain or winter is approaching, or lightning rods to prevent lightning from causing sudden and life-endangering forest fires. Wilson will eventually even be able to figure out a few magical charms and spells, bending reality enough for helpful tricks like resurrecting himself should things inevitably go south.
Frankly, I love this kind of game. It has less world customization than something like Minecraft, though the item creation is deeper, or at the very least, is more relevant and useful to the common player. In fact, it reminds me of one of my all-time favorite obscure titles, Stranded 2, a slightly more grounded (well, in the early stages) use-the-environment-to-survive game. And while Minecraft’s art style may have become hugely iconic, neither it nor Stranded 2 has the heart or character behind Don’t Starve’s artistic direction.
The simple black-ink and dull-palette art work is largely reminiscent of some of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton’s more memorable sketches and drawings, and is the driving force behind Don’t Starve’s dark, Victorian-esque atmosphere. The audio work, while not as stand out as the artwork, is very serviceable, and fails to miss any marks–it just will not blow you away as much as the graphical presentation does.
This is a sandbox game, and offers the genre’s trademark replayability. The world is randomized every time you start a new game, and if you are looking for a greater challenge you can tweak the environment settings to make resources scarcer or put yourself right on winter’s doorstep. Surviving particularly well will also unlock extra characters you can use instead of Wilson, each with their own set of bonuses and hindrances, further varying gameplay.
All-in-all, Don’t Starve is everything you want from a game: easy to learn, complicated to master, and near limitless replay. The fact that it has such a wallet friendly price point does not hurt at all, either. I highly recommend you pick it up an give it a try, either on Steam for from Klei Entertainment’s own website.