We’ve told you before what we think of Klei Entertainment’s Don’t Starve, a rather interesting indie game that’s found success on the PC. It’s now available on the rather indie-friendly PlayStation 4, and it’s free for PlayStation Plus subscribers. It’s worth paying for.
Games these days, a few notable examples aside, seem to be getting easier and easier, holding players’ hands and telling them exactly what to do. Don’t Starve is not one of those games.
Don’t Starve puts you in the unfortunate shoes of Wilson, a ‘gentleman scientist’ with a penchant for facial hair who has accepted an otherworldly deal. A terrible mistake, Wilson finds he has been mysteriously transported to a strange, ink-scratched Victorian world by some sort of evil, yet gentlemanly demon. He lets you know you’re in bit of a tricky spot, and then vanishes, leaving you alone with your wits and the shirt on your back, trying to figure out how to stay alive and, as the name suggests, not starve.
That’s very nearly it for the story. Dialogue is incredibly minimal with little to no further exposition save a few exchanges in the game’s unbelievably challenging adventure mode. No, instead, like most roguelike-likes (or Procedural Death Labyrinths if you prefer) the stories come from your own experiences. Survival doesn’t come easy, nor is it very much fun at first.
For a long while, it’ll seem as though Don’t Starve’s randomly generated world, and the game itself aren’t very interesting. You’ll be harvesting all manner of ingredients; twigs from saplings, rocks and flint from the ground and bits of grass. You’ll be subsisting off of berries, carrots and hell, even flower petals if you get hungry enough. The crafting system though, is a rabbit hole. Collect enough raw materials, and you can start making other things; an axe for chopping down trees, picks for breaking boulders into rock, traps for catching better sustenance, simple protective clothing and rudimentary weapons. Importantly, you’re also able to create fire, without which you’ll very quickly perish. In the darkness, there lurks an unseen hungry evil, and without light to fend it off, you’re an easy meal. It’s not the only thing trying to kill you either; just about every other creature wants you dead, though you can also buddy up to some of the more sentient local fauna to keep you from prematurely expiring.
Taking its queues from other crafting-heavy games like Minecraft and Terraria, there seems to be no end to the things you’ll eventually be able to make. combine the right bits together and you can create science and alchemy machines, which allow you to keep prototyping and creating more, until you’re eventually able – should you survive long enough – to build a permanent settlement, including a forts and farms, better recipes for life-giving food and better tools making staying alive just that much easier. You’ll want a more permanent encampment too; survive long enough and you’ll go through seasonal changes and come wintertime and you’ll have to stay close to fire or risk lethal hypothermia.
The standard sandbox is the primary mode, but there’s an adventure mode to be found hidden in the game that gives you a few objectives to carry out over a set number of days. It’s frighteningly difficult, like a version of the already gruelling game for masochists. Every day you do survive you earn XP, but it doesn’t make Wilson any better; you’ll instead unlock more characters with which to play, like the jittery fire starter Willow – who carries a lighter around with her, or Wendy, who’s not quite as afraid of the dark as everyone else… and for very good reason.
And throughout it all, you’ll have to keep your health up, your belly full and your sanity in check. Let your mind start slipping and you’ll be attacked by ethereal creatures too. It all becomes quite addictive once you get the hang of it, but being a roguelike-like is also one of its biggest pitfalls. Like many other games of its ilk, when you die you lose everything that you’ve collected, save for your actual experience – so you, the player, level up instead of an in-game avatar. That’s fine for a game like Spelunky or Desktop Dungeons, where runs last minutes. With Don’t Starve the initial days are a tiresome slog of gathering the essentials and after countless repeated deaths it really becomes a bit dull and draining. While it does have its hooks in you though, it’s a fantastic experience, as you constantly challenge yourself to survive just a few days longer.
I can’t honestly say there’s very much difference between this and the PC version of the game, save perhaps for the control scheme of course, and the lack of mod support. Unfortunately the interface is terribly small, so playing on a TV metres from your face will no doubt result in squinting; and I found it to be a nicer experience played on the Vita, using remote play.
It’s certainly not for everyone but those with a sort of fastidious hoarder mentality will find a lot to love in Don’t Starve. Once you know how it all works and it’s less about exploration and discovery, Don’t Starve really does start to feel like a bit of a chore, but if you’re willing to embrace it, until then it’s some pretty hard-core, unforgiving fun.