Upon seeing Don’t Starve for the first time, it’s hard not to be charmed by the “Burtonesque” art style. With games like Minecraft and other sandbox survival games gaining popularity over the past few years, Don’t Starve has a lot to live up to.
Besides a brief introductory cutscene when you start the game, you are told little to nothing about the first playable character, Wilson. You are dropped into a randomly generated map with no instructions on how to proceed. Within 10 to 15 minutes I felt like I was on my way to survival. Collecting seemingly random objects like grass and sticks lead to the opportunity to craft items such as axes and fire pits. Fire is imperative to your survival in this game. There is a day and night cycle that is constantly ticking. If by the time it reaches the night portion of the cycle and you haven’t crafted a source of light, you will most certainly die.
Don’t Starve (Linux, Mac, PC, PlayStation 4 [Reviewed])
Developer: Klei Entertainment
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Released: April 23, 2013 (Linux, Mac, PC) / January 7, 2014 (PS4)
MSRP: $14.99 (Free with PlayStation Plus)
Dying is an inevitable aspect of Don’t Starve, especially during your first few tries. There is a roguelike quality to Don’t Starve. When you die, that’s it, you don’t get another chance, unless you have found a resurrection point, which during my many play throughs I’ve only managed to find one. If you choose to retry, you will be dropped into a different map, with all previous progress lost. Upon each retry, you will find yourself becoming more adept at progressing faster, allowing you to craft more items to prevent what caused your downfall in the previous life. It is this progression that gives Don’t Starve its addictive nature. Although dying after making substantial progress is one of the most infuriating things that could happen, it is the need to do better that drove me onwards. With every time I wanted to throw my controller at the TV, there would be another where I celebrated my victory over a seemingly insurmountable obstacle like the games incredibly powerful monsters. Even now as I write this, I am thinking of the most effective way to improve the lifespan of my character.
Restarting the game after death severely slows the experience. Getting back to where you were before you died can be incredibly tedious. Having to collect the items required to craft the simplest of items is mundane and time consuming, especially if you have been spawned in an area that seems devoid of useful items. These segments are when the game is at it’s worst, and being as often as they are, make considering a replay hard to do, especially if you had survived a long time on your previous play through. Plucking up the mental drive after dying having survived more than 7 days in the wilderness can be incredibly difficult.
As harsh as dying is, it is not without its rewards. Depending on how long you survive, you are awarded with experience points that progress you through levels. Upon reaching a new level, you are rewarded with a new character, each with their own unique ability or attributes. There are 9 characters to unlock ranging from a a pyromaniac that always carries a lighter, to a strongman that gains strength when at full hunger, but is also afraid of the dark.
The game doesn’t seem to provide much on the story side of things, but what it does provide is very intriguing. From burly pig-men that live in wooden houses, to mysterious caves that you can explore, the world the game provides you with seems like there is something going on. Whether these elements are random, or pieces of a larger puzzle remains to be seen, but I know I will have fun finding out.
Although I never managed to survive a significant amount of days, I am eager to sink more hours into this game to improve my survival time. Games as cruel and addictive as Don’t Starve seem far and few nowadays, and having this game as a free download for Playstation Plus subscribers only sweetens the deal. If you are a fan of survival or roguelike games, then Don’t Starve is perfect for you. Just be prepared to die. A lot.