Don’t Starve. Two simple little words that don’t really get across the seriousness of the predicament I found myself in. If only it was as simple as not going hungry.
Don’t Stave is a new crafting/survival game from Klei Entertainment, the guys that brought us Shank and Mark of the Ninja, and while their previous games were all about the fight, this one definitely focuses on flight. I say new, but this game has been out quite some time for PC and while there is the odd difference (so I am told, as I never played the original version), the console edition remains mostly intact.
Players control Wilson the Scientist (at first), who wakes up in a strange land, with a strange man towering over him. The advice the man gives Wilson is that night is coming and he would be best off getting prepared for it. This is the game’s only advice to the player. From here on in, players are on their own in terms of tutorials. Although the lack of any direction is a little daunting at first, I found it strangely liberating not having the game tell me where to go, or what to do. This is part of its strength; letting the player discover things on their own. The feeling of triumph I got when I combined my first items, or discovered a new area truly felt like this was all of my own doing, because it was.
The world in which players wake up is unique to that play-through, with a new map being generated each restart. It is a dark and evil place, even in the daytime. This is expressed so well in the design, both art style and sound. The world feels alive, as if the very ground under my feet was breathing. It’s all very eerie and gave me an unsettled feeling at first. I soon got used to it, which is more than can be said for the sound. A lot of what filled me with dread in this game was what you couldn’t see, and the sounds of the world really go to work on me. The squeals of a frightened rabbit still freak me out after hours of playing, but it is when night falls that I really felt alone and scared. I learned very quickly that I had to build a campfire before night falls, but even with that, I couldn’t stray outside of the small amount of light it brings. That would be certain doom. All I could do was huddle around the fire and wait for dawn to break, wondering if there is something nasty just beyond the darkness.
The title of the game is a little misleading, as it isn’t just my belly I had to worry about. There are three meters to maintain; hunger, heath and sanity. Let any of those meters get too low and its game over. As I made it through each day, it became a balancing act. There is a limited amount of daytime in which players can go in search of things. Do I hunt for food, do I try and restore my sanity or do I want to explore more of the world in the hope of finding an area rich in goodies? Running low on sanity does produce some interesting effects, but ultimately will end the game more quickly than the other two meters.
Things generally start off in an area that will give enough resources to get players through the first day or two, but it won’t last long if they don’t explore the land. Trees and grass are often readily available, but if I wanted to craft the more advanced things, I needed more advanced minerals and items. This meant leaving my comfort zone and going out in to the wild. It’s where the adventure truly lies. The system is as in-depth as the other crafting games out there, with some of the items seeming almost unachievable. But as I explored the world more and more, it was clear to me that with a bit of luck, time and courage those hard to reach items could be just within my grasp. Unlike other crafting/survival experiences, there is a story, of sorts to be told here and only through exploring the whole world will players uncover what is going on.
The world of Don’t Starve is also full of life from the rabbits in the fields to the Beefalos in the desserts. There are birds, bees, butterflies and spiders; even frogs and mosquitoes fill the marshlands. Everything in Don’t Starve, including the animals, can provide the things needed to get through another day. But be warned, killing and capturing animals has a cost that isn’t apparent at the start, and attacking the wrong animal can lead to a shortened life span. The game is ruthless when it comes to health. It’s easily worn down, but very difficult to restore. It’s all a game of risk versus reward. Players need to be brave in order to expand their inventory, but by doing so, put themself in harm’s way, repeatedly. Not all of the inhabitants of this otherworldly place were immediately out to get me. There are a few alliances to be made, but only by experimenting did I discover how to open up all options.
So what happens when players die, and I guarantee, everyone will die. With each death comes XP. The longer a character is alive, the more XP is issued at the end of the game. Get enough to level up and the game unlocks a new character to play with. There are nine characters in total, each with their own unique ability. Wilson’s is to grow a beard (which does actually come in handy), while the second character, Willow, has her own lighter. This adds a sense of progression to the game and means that although annoying, death has its benefits.
The final thing that I should mention is the price; which at the moment is really one of the best things about it. It is currently free for PS+ subscribers. So why bother reading what I have written; just go and download it and try it out for yourself. If you are not a PS+ member, then the game is still worth the $14.99 asking price, providing you don’t already own it on the PC or MAC.
Don’t Starve is all about trial and error. The first few play throughs often ended quickly; but with each passing game I learned something new and this, in turn, fueled my interest in the game and my desire to get it right the next time. With an amazing amount of possibilities open to you, most of which I have not mentioned here, no two play throughs are the same. Yes you will get frustrated and yes, your road will be a long and bizarre one, but ultimately it will be a journey of exploration, wonder and the more than occasional scare.