Developer: Klei Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, PC
Price: PS Plus Free (January 2014), Steam = £11.99
Don’t starve is one of the titles released for the PlayStation 4 as part of the ongoing PlayStation Plus subscription in 2014. As one of the launch window title for the latest Sony console it had a lot to live up to. Did it? lets find out.
Well where can I start, this game is bonkers. Absolutely bat crap crazy. Bare with me as I try to explain and comprehend myself what this game is and how this game works.
In its basic form its a rogue like dungeon crawler with randomly generated maps. What this means is that each and every game is different and in each game there is the real emphasis on being careful and thinking about what you are doing and what you are about to do. A death in this game is exactly that, a death, everything lost, no going back and no checkpoint saves. You can save your progress for when you need to leave to re-enter the real world but when coming back to the game you can access that save data. If however you are to die in the game (and you will) that save data is gone, wiped for eternity. There is no cheeky save before a tricky bit as a backup. When you die…….you die!
The maps are randomly generated as stated above but they will always feel fairly familiar with familiar assets used. There for instance will always be forested areas and rocky plains and dark dingy swampy areas but never in the same place twice. This can also affect where resources are and recourses are the key to this game. Certain recourses are found more frequently in certain areas. If you want wood for instance then you will obviously want to find a wooded area where you will be able to collect the most but in swampy areas etc you will still be able to find the odd tree here and there but not in the same abundance. The same goes for resources such as twigs, grass, rocks, gold nuggets and many other resources needed to even contemplate surviving beyond your first night. On top of these recourses you need to be constantly on the look out for food. Berries, carrots, even seeds can be eaten. On top of this you could go hunting for rabbits, frogs, spiders, pigs and heaven knows what else in this magical, mysterious and frankly mad world. With most food items you can also have the option to cook the food on a fire to affect what it is. Mushrooms may be poisonous uncooked but may be fine cooked, meat may also be the same, This is all well and good if you have a fire to hand and believe me, you will want to keep the ability to make fires close at hand! You can choose to not cook item and eat them raw. This may or may not have an effect on your physical health and your mental health. Hunting for food can be done by chasing and attacking what ever pray you want or by setting a number of different traps which can be constructed from resources as you go through the game. As you go through you can even get to the point where you can manage your own mini farms that will produce food for you saving the need to go scavenging or hunting for it.
Using resources you can create all manner of items from axes and spears to stone walls, wooden suits and many other items. With the help of some crazy machines you can create even more items to help you along your way. Resource management is key here as you can only carry a certain amount of items and you will constantly find yourself needing more space to carry more so look to create the rucksack for more mobile storage space. If you are lucky enough along your travels you might even come across a strange little creature that is basically a mobile sentient chest that will follow you around and store some of your precious items for you to use when you want.
Talking of creatures, my god there are some strange goings on in this game! I have played for a good few hours and like to think that I have played enough to have a strong opinion on Don’t Starve but I doubt I have seen all this game has to offer. Every time I think that I have seen all of the creature types in this title I come across something new and weird that makes me believe there is a very large array of creatures and oddities hiding somewhere in the maps. Some creatures are nice and cute including rabbits, birds (both of which make great food items), frogs, humanised pigs, beefalo (yes that’s spelt right, beefalo!) and angry spiders. Then there are the weird and wacky ones including strange long-legged eyeballs with beaks, clockwork horses that resemble some odd chess piece, classic comic book ghosts that would make pacman feel hungry and many many more besides. These creatures can be anywhere so explore and no doubt you will come across the ones I have mentioned as well as some that I probably haven’t even seen yet. Beware though as some of these creatures can be fairly easy to avoid or kill if needed but some of them can be hard as nails and should in all but the rarest occasions be avoided. One other tip I can give is that most of these creatures are also in groups or packs so if you decide you want to go all Rambo and take one out, beware the rest. Those long-legged eye balls are vicious. The biggest potential killer in the game is the dark. Never go in to the dark! The night cycles come round and you need to be prepared for them. Building a fire and keeping it stocked up with firewood is essential as in the dark there is all manner of beasties ready to pounce on your lack of light and make you their midnight snack.
One thing that plays very well in this game is that you aren’t just fighting to survive, you are also fighting for your sanity. As you go through, certain things will make your mental health drop and after a certain point you will start to see some rather weird things. Creatures can change before your very eyes and the world around you changes depending on how low your mind becomes. I have seen rabbits change into strange monstrous hounds and chase me around. I have seen hard-fought food supplies change in my inventory to something unsavoury only to change back when my mental health raises. You can do this in a number of ways but If I told you I feel I would be robbing you of some of the fun so I will leave you to explore your own mental state in whatever way this crazy game decides.
This is another thing that at first felt lacking but is in fact a genius idea. There is no tutorial or set of instructions, You are pretty much just dumped off in the middle of a map with no knowledge as to whats going on and you are left to figure it out. At first the idea of no tutorial for such a weird game made me feel as though this might have been hard to get in to but in fact it lets you learn at your own pace and get really involved with the game. I actually felt myself getting more and more engrossed in the little things as the game took over my mind. I feel that this is exactly what the wanted and has worked out brilliantly. There is a storyline of sorts with this game although it is itself vague and confusing deliberately to let you wander around with no clue till you explore more and find tiny pieces to its overall puzzle. There is a reason why you are there after all, now all you have to do is remember.
As you play through, you earn xp and level up in a sence. Leveling up unlocks different characters for you to use in the game. Each one has certain potential advantages and along with those comes some disadvantages. One such character carries a lighter so can create fire easily but the downside is that when she becomes nervous or scared she randomly sets light to anything around her! Other characters include a automaton that will eat most things but gets damaged when it rains and a strong man who needs to eat constantly or he gets weak but has a powerful hit. Each character plays well and it becomes basically a case of pick a character that you feel suits you rather than taking one for any particular advantage. You have as much chance of surviving with one as you do with another.
The only thing I would like to see added to this game is some form of multiplayer aspect added to it. Now a true couch co-op or traditional online multiplayer would not really work very well with this but I feel that with the games exploratory nature some form of Journey style interaction with other players would work well. The fact you wouldn’t be able to talk to each other and only your actions would show what your intentions are would work great for a game like this. That said, with the games randomly generated maps being unique to each play through I would imagine this would be extremely hard to implement if not impossible.
In conclusion I would have to say this game is the epitome of crazy. When I first heard of Don’t Starve I didn’t feel that it was going to be a game that I would be interested in or one that I would give much time to but after one quick play I had to eat my words as it hooked me pretty much instantly. The simple pleasure of collecting resources and trying to stay alive long enough to see new and more crazy things is just what you want out of a game. Its deep enough to have you playing for hours at a time but its simple enough for you to pick up and play and pause for later. The art style isn’t my personal taste but works well for this game as it has a sense of weirdness to it that suits the game perfectly. I have to recommend this game, to do otherwise would be a great disservice to something that has so much to give players. The fact that its launch on the PlayStation 4 was with PlayStation Plus and therefore free to subscribers just adds to the value although I would recommend anyone that misses out on this title being free should still pick this up. It is a game that has hours and hours of fun, enjoyable, gameplay that will keep you coming back for more and more.
Don’t starve………………………………and keep out of the dark!