Reviewed on: PS4
Also available on: PC
Reviewed by: Sam Fourie
Don’t Starve is the latest creation of Klei Entertainment (the folks who brought us Shank and Mark of the Ninja) and is a survival game in the truest sense of the word. You wake up, alone in a savage and strange land and tasked with the single objective of staying alive. While this goal can lead to some compelling experiences, Don’t Starve goes out of its way to make you dislike it due to several key aspects.
Don’t Starve steals quite a few elements from the rougelike genre, featuring randomised worlds upon the start of each game and very harsh permadeath mechanic. Death is constant in this world and occurs in a large variety of ways. An excursion to gather some food can end up with you being beaten to death by an evil tree. Eating some monster meat in attempt to keep your hunger at bay can see you dying nastily from poison. Setting a bush ablaze in attempt to keep the lethal darkness at bay can end up with the entire world ablaze and you weeping in the corner as the flames approach.
Don’t starve offers some really surprising ways to eliminate you, and that is its biggest problem. For a game that is intent on making sure getting through the night is a real challenge, the death penalty is overly harsh. Once you die you lose everything you’ve acquired during the playthrough and the current world is consigned to oblivion. To new players this game will be incredibly frustrating as they will find themselves going through the same early game steps only to die from unforeseen causes and be forced to repeat those same early game steps once again.
It really hurts the game, which is a pity, because if you’re willing to give Don’t Starve the inordinate amount of time it wants from you, you’ll find a really compelling and fleshed out survival game that is brimming with secrets that beg your exploration. From wormholes that throw you across the map to massive graveyards and ancient ruins Don’t Starve has a lot to show you.
The simple act of finding something to eat to prevent starvation is more complex than you’d think. At first it seems like a relatively simple activity, with the player able to chomp down carrots and berries that litter the landscape and require no tools to harvest. And the simple to put together torches are more than enough to get you through the first night.
But these simple means won’t keep you alive for long. You’ll need to put together a proper fireplace, craft tools, rig housing, hunt animals, cook better food and nurture your sanity levels if you want to make it more than a week.
Crafting axes, picks and shovels will allow you to gather more resources, which can be turned into a range of science machines that open up new avenues to craft weapons, armour and devices that will allow you to shape the world as you see fit. The game really does encourage exploration, the mere thought that there might be a rabbit den or a herd of beefalo around the bend far outweighs the dangers that might lurk there.
Eventually you’ll be able to put together a farm and some housing for a more sustainable living environment that will (hopefully) allow you to get through the game’s harsh winter months, where going outside now comes with the added danger of freezing to death. Stockpiling food for this period is a risky option as you run the danger of it turning rotten and inedible.
You’re not alone in this world though, along with a range of deadly monsters and livestock you’ll also find small communities of friendly Pigmen. These hulking brutes may seem scary at first, but really they’re just as afraid as you are and won’t lay a finger on you unless provoked. They can be befriended by way of bribing them with some meat and will accompany you on scavenging trips throughout the day.
But even with their welcome companionship Don’t Starve is overbearingly difficult. The darkness of night is lethal and you’ll need to keep a fire running to stay alive. Hunger is very hard to manage as even the most difficult to obtain food sources restore petty amounts to your hunger levels. Sanity requires you constantly manage sleep levels and create new inventions to keep you from going mad.
Combat possess paddling pool levels of complexity and solely revolves around you equipping a spear, facing your opponent, hammering the attack and fervently praying you survive. Aside from strapping on some armour there is no way to better defend yourself as the game has no dodge, block or any other defensive manoeuvres that you can use. Considering the brutality of the enemies, the combat is just a hindrance and should never even be bothered with.
The PS4 version I played is definitely well crafted with the menus and the inventory being overhauled to fit with the controller. Navigating crafting systems or equipping is decidedly easy and present minimal hassle. The PS4 version also carries over the large selection of characters (unlocked by gaining XP through playing the game) each with their own benefit and associated quirks. The story based adventure mode is missing though and there is no indication whether it will make its way over from the PC version.
Don’t Starve looks and sounds great. The hand drawn aesthetic are a joy to look at and manages to maintain a constant feeling of dread and fear within the player while still having a strain of whimsy. The soundtrack, while not featuring any standout tracks, adds to the oppressive atmosphere is a suitable fashion
Don’t Starve warrants at least a brief look. It has enough interesting parts to it to drag you in, but the brutal way in which it approaches death will put a lot of people off. There are altars strewn across the world that will revive you once a game, but through the seven games I played I never saw a single one. Many argue that the permadeath is integral part of Don’t Starve. I see that as an argument that can be made, but to the average player the option to have a less brutal death system would be severely welcome.
As it stand now though, Don’t Starve is a game I want to explore, but considering my penchant for accidentally getting trampled to death by that one mechanical rhino over and over again and losing everything I’ve done , I really can’t be bothered to come back to it. To a particular brand of player though, I can see it as a game they will fall deeply in love with.