- Format: PS4 (version reviewed), PC
- Unleashed: Out Now
- Publisher: Klei Entertainment
- Developer: Klei Entertainment
- Players: 1
- Site: http://kleientertainment.com/
Don’t Starve comes as a digital download. That means there’s no lovely smelling booklet for you to sniff then read on your way home from buying it; it also means there’s no instructions or even pointers to give you a clue as to what to expect when you first switch it on. Even if it did come with an instruction manual it’d probably smell of rotten cabbage and be made of paper so thin you’d cut your eyeballs just reading it. Don’t Starve isn’t a particularly hard game, but it is a very punishing game. It’s a survival/creation game with some serious twists that sit on the opposite end of the difficulty spectrum from similar titles like Terraria or Minecraft. Indeed, Don’t Starve seems to run in the opposite direction of such games (probably from a freaky hallucination) with very dangerous creatures chasing it. Every time you die however, you will learn why and how to avoid it next time.
Most of your time will be spent hunting and gathering items and materials in a harsh wilderness that would rather you just go and die quietly in a corner some place. Right from the off Don’t Starve hammers you into the ground for making typical gamer assumptions, and will drum it into your head that the only way to learn here is by your own stupid mistakes. There are three gauges to balance while you play that consist of Hunger, Health and Sanity. Balancing these are key to survival; let your hunger drop and you’ll obviously starve to death, let your sanity drop and you’ll be chased by nightmares and hallucinations when darkness falls, and lastly your health which is usually only affected by being bitten, stung, speared with tusks, pecked, trampled, licked (yes, by frogs) or harmed by eating something nasty. To avoid all this you will use the simple crafting system to combine various “ingredients” to make essentials like wood for armour, fire for light and heat, traps for catching wildlife, tools for farming and shaping the land, or creating more fantastical tools like science machines and more.
The other mechanic is the day/night cycle; there’s daylight, dusk and night segments and depending how you set up the game (it’s fully adjustable to make it easier or harder) the default setting will give you a fair amount of day-time to gather reserves at the start but will slowly change as the year goes by. The duality here is the harshness of winter and its lack of daylight effectively reducing the time you have to do such things. Not only is there less light/time but a colder environment will mean you’ll need to get handy with a needle to create clothing that may just save your bones from freezing. There is a save function offered here but it will wipe itself from your files if (and when) you die in some form or fashion. This in itself makes Don’t Starve’s learning curve a particularly harsh one. Losing hours of preparation and even rare items for good isn’t so much a cheeky little poke at the gamer as it is a massive, swift kick in the gonads for not paying attention! Perhaps trying to steal the poo from mating Beefalos wasn’t such a clever idea after all?
Once you get the hang of it (assuming your TV still works after having a controller propelled at it every 10 mins) you’ll find a deep, engaging world to explore with a fun sense of humour that gives a big wink to the games of old that also used to punish you so harshly. Each time you’re thwarted by a gang of spiders or lack of food supplies you’ll hopefully take it on-board, suck it up and readjust your strategies accordingly for next time and every time you do, another day’s dawn is your reward. Knowing which supplies to gather in order of priority starts to come more naturally so once you begin to establish yourself, you might find time to go through your creation inventory and decide what the next day’s goals should be. By this point you’ll find the game enticing you along, daring you to go further, to seek out more rare and useful items or delve deeper into its strange, weird environment. Surviving becomes less of an immediate issue and gives way to the wonder of what’s out there or more importantly, why you’re even here at all!
The more recent generation of gamers may find this a bitter pill to swallow though, without regenerating health and endless continues to help them through the game we’d imagine a lot of people will be completely put off by the way you’re stripped of everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve after death – and we don’t blame you. However, depending on the character you pick, you might just manage to avoid this scenario a few times before it finally comes to pass *wink wink*. Given that all of the extra content for the PC version is included with the PS4’s offering from the start, and that it’s free for Plus subscribers (at time of writing) means you’ll be treated to a whole host of extra options and unlockables. If you’re a Plus member we’d urge you to just give this a go; sure, you’ll probably still end up being violently slaughtered in the darkness while you shriek like a little girl at a One Direction concert but trust us, if you can stick it out you might just find one of the most rewarding games in the indie range that’s found its way to the console market.