I first acknowledged the existence of Don’t Starve, from Klei Entertainment Inc, a few months ago when I saw it in a Steam sale, however, as I predominantly game on console I just let it slip by. Fast forward to 2014 and Don’t Starve has finally made its console appearance on the newly-released Playstation 4. Being a free title to Playstation Plus subscribers I could not pass up the opportunity to play it and now that I’ve played Don’t Starve for a significant amount of time I’ve been inspired to write a review.
Patiently awaiting the (small 300MB+) download, I prepared myself for something new and alluring, I had heard Don’t Starve was quite an unforgiving game and sure enough the ones who said that were not lying. On my first run, everything was going well. I hurriedly gathered materials, crafted a torch among other gear, gathered some food and prepared to survive the night. My character made a remark about it getting dark, I carried on, next thing I know, the screen went black, I heard a monster sound, and a couple of seconds later I’d been mauled to death. Game over.
Don’t Starve is the very definition of a survival game, requiring you to gather enough food to survive, fend off nasty creatures and build a campfire to survive the night. The game pits you in a randomly-generated field upon each play and is viewed from a top-down isometric view. Each play has you start completely empty-handed, and upon death, you lose everything. The controls for the game are nothing too out-of-the-ordinary – the left analog stick manages movement, the right handling inventory navigation, X is confirm, Circle to cancel, Square to attack – standard fare. The crafting system is quick and simple to use – holding L2 opens it up and then you just select what you want to craft and voila, done. I found it all quite simple to control and play, despite initially not realising the game had a map, accessible by pressing the touchpad button. The real difficulty, however, comes from the nature of the game. Relentlessly unforgiving, something as simple as not having enough sticks to create a campfire or running out of food can mean an abrupt end to days’ worth of hard-fought-for survival.
Behind all this however, I findmy self compelled to keep trying to better my score by surviving longer each playthrough and learn more and more about the mysterious world through exploration.
Don’t Starve’s graphics are endearing; reminiscent of Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. The dark and bizarre art design help further the game’s sense of identity, featuring skittish spiders, pupil-lacking female characters and an overall gothic theme. Further adding to the atmosphere of the game is the moody and slightly creepy ambient music which changes to accommodate various events, along with the musical instrument assigned to accompany the pop-up text whenever your character says something.
After successfully surviving enough nights to level up, upon the game’s end you unlock additional characters to play as. This changes the way you play the game – whereas the main protagonist, Wilson, has no abilities or weaknesses, each of the other characters do. Willow, for example, begins with a lighter, allowing for an infinite source of light. Standing close to fire can restore her sanity level – however, on the downside, her sanity falls faster, and when it does, she will start to light fires automatically due to panic, which can mean the end of your oh-so-precious tree plantations.
It is possible to escape the strange world by assembling parts to build the irrelevantly-named “wooden thing” which will reward you XP upon use, a chance to change character, and the ability to carry some equipment with you into the next world it drops you into.
Due to the nature of the game, it is very unlikely two rounds will ever play the same which greatly improves the game’s replay value. I myself have yet to become bored with starting a new round upon death and usually have the “just one more try” attitude when I play it, leading me to push further and further each time and leaving near-limitless opportunities to experience something new each time you play.
My only real dislike of this game is the weak combat system, which essentially comes down to a battle of “hit-and-run” gameplay. Despite wearing armour, I still suffered considerable damage each time I was hit – so much damage, in fact, that I tended to avoid combat whenever it was possible, I know Don’t Starve is essentially a survival game, but I really feel the game would just be that much better from having a more fun and intuitive combat system.
The game does incorporate an adventure mode, however, as of writing this, I have not actually found the door to access it yet. Adventure mode has you collecting objects and exploring story chapters to find the true end of the game, however I feel that this won’t differ too much from the core gameplay and therefore will not affect the way this review, as it is more or less a survive as long as you can type game, rather than a story-driven narrative filled title.
Overall, Don’t Starve is a surprisingly deep survival game, pitting you against the many horrors of a strange world. The game gives you the ability to craft, battle and explore, while enduring the many dangers of the wilderness using whatever you have available to not only survive, but better your record by as many days as possible, while discovering all the secrets the game has to offer.
Don’t starve is available from Steam for PC, Mac and Linux and is also now on Playstation 4 (free to Playstation Plus subscribers).