Developer – Klei Entertainment
Publisher – Klei Entertainment
Don’t starve was first released on PC last April, and has since garnished a lot of critical and commercial success. The game is a very compelling blend of action-adventure, real-time strategy and survival horror, which was interesting from my perspective, as I’ve never been the biggest fan of the survival horror genre. My gripe with these kinds of games is that developers seem to deviate away too much from gameplay, which is the most important aspect of any video game, and concentrate more on making the game as scary as possible, creating an uneven blend of both aspects. It doesn’t matter how scary a survival horror game may be from my point of view; I believe it’s inherently more important that the quality of the gameplay is should be what makes up the majority of any game’s appeal. Don’t Starve, for me, has the balance right, and is quite honestly the best game with survival horror elements I’ve played since BioShock.
Graphics – 7/10
One thing to remember about indie video games whilst critiquing them is the fact that many of their developers operate on a budget. Indeed, co-founder of Klei Entertainment, Jamie Cheng, had to sell his shares from THQ and borrow a further $10,000 from his brother in order to establish the company. Consequently, the visuals were never going to be overly stunning. But what this game lacks in cutting edge graphics flawlessly makes up for in excellent scenery and style. Areas where berry bushes and carrots grow look vibrant and colourful, the forests look moody and imposing and the areas where the most dangerous enemies in the game reside look dead and lifeless. Overall, the game’s visual approach gives it a very atmospheric feel, which will be felt by players. Jokingly, even one of the supposed loading processes described in the game’s loading sequence is “reticulating a keen sense of despair”, which theoretically could be felt if the player is lost and doesn’t know exactly what needs to be done.
Gameplay – 8/10
The game’s basic premise is essentially in the title. The concept of this game is to survive for as long as possible in a randomly generated open world, which the player’s character is thrown into. The key to survival is to maintain the character’s hunger, health and sanity, which are all displayed as meters on the screen. These meters are kept full by eating food so as not to starve (hence the name), establishing campfires in the night, as spending too much time in darkness will result in an instant kill, effectively fending off against hostile livestock across the land, and collecting flowers to prevent the character from going insane. Eventually, a permanent settlement can be established and players can build research machines in order to create more equipment and thrive rather than survive. Of course, the longer the player survives in the world given to them, more challenges are presented as enemies increase in numbers, and testing winter periods also come along.
To sum this game’s play up, I would describe it as challenging, yet extremely addictive. It can be frustrating when players are starting out and troubles are unexpectedly sprung on them, with themselves having little knowledge of what should be done, but at the same time, an overwhelming sense of satisfaction can be had the longer a player can keep his/her character alive. The game functions very similarly to Minecraft, another very popular indie game, but I happen to think that this game is better than Minecraft. When I played Minecraft, even with a tutorial, I felt as if events were moving far too slowly, and I very quickly lost interest. But with Don’t Starve, whilst it will inevitably take some time to get into (especially as there is no tutorial), events move a lot faster than Minecraft once players get the hang of it, and there’s much more urgency about it in the beginning, as it’s considerably harder to survive; especially in the early portion of a single player game. The fact that terrain is randomly generated also offers a very decent amount of variety. Experience points are earned in the game by making characters survive for as long as possible, and additional character types are unlocked the more the experience points are earned by players, which adds even more variety, giving the game an almost RPG feel to it. It’s the first PlayStation 4 title I feel as if I’ve been able to thoroughly immerse myself in. I would highly recommend people play it.
Although people may argue that it might be better to play this game on a PC, as was originally intended, that to me is splitting hairs. This game’s control scheme has been very well attuned to work on the PlayStation 4, and does make decent use of some the new controller’s features. For example, the touchpad is used to bring up the map, which thankfully isn’t overly complicated, like some game maps have been in the past. Games like Blasto and Dark Storm spring to mind.
Lifespan – 10/10
Another marvellous thing about this game is that it lasts as long as either player’s interest in the game or player’s level of skill. There is no average time in which the game can be completed in; it’s just one of those games that can be picked up and played for however long the player wishes, be that twenty minutes or twenty hours. Although it essentially falls in the same genre as Dead Island, open world survival horror, it’s far superior to Dead Island in terms of gameplay, and it’s even scarier and more atmospheric in my opinion, too.
Storyline – 7/10
The game’s narrative mainly follows a gentleman scientist called Wilson (possibly a reference to the film Castaway, which largely focuses on the subject of outdoor survival), who after failing an experiment is offered knowledge to build something that works by a voice in his radio, which he hastily accepts. With this knowledge, Wilson builds a strange wooden contraption. The voice commands him to throw the switch to activate it, and it transpires than the voice is actually that of a demon of sorts called Maxwell, who has tricked Wilson into building this machine, which transports him into the randomly generated world in the game against his will. It is then up to the gentleman scientist (or whatever character the player selects at the start) to pit his wits and will against this land in order to survive.
Although the game’s story is pretty unique, and a very decent way to set the wheels of the game in motion, I find a few aspects of it a little disappointing. For example, I wish they could’ve incorporated the other characters into the narrative in some capacity, as there are a lot of seemingly interesting personalities among the character roster. There also seems to be a lot in the story left unelaborated on, such as why Maxwell has done what he’s done, and what he gets out of it. But maybe it’s left like that to leave it open to interpretation. As I said, it is a decent way to set up the game, and it shouldn’t really lose too many marks because of it; it’s still very much worth playing, after all.
Originality – 8/10
Taking into account that this game has some very obvious influences in terms of gameplay (Warcraft III, Empire Earth and Minecraft off the top of my head), it combines elements of all these games, but at the same time, adds something very different to the mix. It’s also original for the fact that the combination between intense horror and brilliant gameplay is very well executed, which is not done often enough in survival horror games, in my opinion.
To summarise, although it can take some time for players to immerse themselves in, it’s definitely worth taking the time to do so. Players will feel satisfied learning how to effectively play this title, and it will make for hours of fun and challenging gameplay. I can’t recommend this game enough.