Review: Don't Starve21 Jul 2015 0
After playing Don't Starve for over a week now, I can definitely say that its title is something of a misnomer. If Klei Entertainment had wanted to be honest, they should have named it Don't Get Stampeded By a Beefalo or Eaten by Spiders or Hang Out With Pigs During a Full Moon or Forget to Light a Fire at Night or Piss Off Bees or Chop Too Many Trees or Fight With Hounds or Build Things Close Together Without a Lightning Rod oh, and Remember to Eat. I can see where marketing might have put up a fuss, but in the end Don't Starve as a title doesn't capture everything. In fact, learning how to not starve is one of the earliest tricks you'll figure out.
And there are a lot of tricks to figure out. That's what Don't Starve really is, a sandbox with toys that you've never seen before and need to piece together. Into what? You don't know. Just see what works. It's a game of trial and error and death--lots and lots of death--that makes you want to start all over again with the new knowledge you just gained. It's all kinds of brilliant.
Don't Starve drops you into a world that is very much like our own, but different. While there are trees, birds, flowers, and butterflies, you'll also stumble upon pigs that walk upright, wormholes that pop open as you walk near, and spiders the size of dogs. You're given no instructions of what to do or how to do it other than the mysterious Maxwell appearing and telling you that you should find something to eat. He promptly disappears, leaving you on your own. Entirely on your own.
Along the left edge of the screen are buttons indicating different categories of things you can construct. You'll spend your first couple days collecting what you can and crafting items to help you collect different goods. For example, you begin by picking up sticks and flint, but then can turn those into an axe and pick which allow you to get logs and gold, respectively. You'll need to continue to explore your world, but at some point you're going to want to settle down and make a permanent camp. As your knowledge increases, so does your chance of survival. Eventually, you can build farms to grow your own food or raise your own livestock.
Hunger isn't the only thing you need to worry about, however. There is also a track for your health and your sanity. Health is obvious, but sanity's a little trickier. As your sanity decreases, weird things begin to happen. You'll see hallucinations which, if your sanity drops too low, will eventually become real and attack you. Raising sanity can be done via some craftable items, but losing sanity seems to happen any time it's not sunny. Losing Health means you die, and there are a lot of things out there that want to kill you.
That's the game. Survive as long as you can, and learn as much as you can to survive a little longer in your next run. There's no victory conditions or even any goals, just stay alive. Unless you explore a little more. One of the joys of Don't Stave is exploring the world and seeing things you've never seen before. Occasionally you'll stumble upon machines, the purpose of which is unknown until you use it. One of these will begin Adventure Mode which drops you into a new world with a goal of escaping. It's completely optional, but if you like a bit of narrative in your game instead of the free wheeling Sandbox mode you're given at the start, it's there for you.
The game looks magnificent. It's like you're controlling a hand-drawn cartoon, marching through a horror landscape directly from the mind of Edward Gorey or Tim Burton. Not only do things look great, but the style really imbues the game with a sense of dread, even as your protagonist offers humorous quips about the world around him. As the world gets dark, you'll feel it in the pit of your stomach. Time is running out for today, I need to make a fire or die.
Every game, no matter how short, will earn you experience points which will unlock new characters to play with. Each have their own strengths and weaknesses, and there are a lot of them to unlock. On top of that, the amount of customization you have over the world is staggering. You can alter the prevalence of anything in the world from butterflies to rocks, making the game easier or infinitely more difficult.
It's not all sunshine, however. The app is wonderfully ported from the PC version, and works fantastic on a touch screen. Unfortunately, the save mechanism wasn't altered for a mobile device, so the game will not save on closing. Autosaves do occur every game morning, but these will occasionally crash the game causing you to lose that entire day's worth of progress. I've noticed that notifications will also, sometimes, cause the game to crash. Another issue I have is the damn cinematic always starts up when the game is opened. Yes, you can just tap to stop it, but it's annoying. With the myriad of other options in the game, I'm surprised that "turn off cinematic" isn't one of them.
Don't Starve isn't for everyone. I think the difficulty curve coupled with permadeath, which causes you to replay those first few days over and over again (and those first few days aren't too exciting) might turn a lot of people off. Personally, I don't mind it and find each new game an opportunity to try something different, but I know there are those who will find it repetitive.
Don't Starve is unlike anything I've played before and I can't stop myself from playing it. It's frustrating as hell at times--finally getting farms built and then getting eating by roving hounds comes to mind--but I can't turn it off. Each game is a challenge, and there's always something new to try and figure out. If a patch can change the save system and fix some of the stability issues, this would be a no-brainer. As it is, it's still one of the better games on iPad right now.
Don't Starve was played on an iPad Air for this review.