(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)
- The Game Itself
- 3.5 Stars
- The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
- 4 Stars
- The Audio: Rating the Sound
- 3 Stars
- Replay Factor
- 3 Stars
- Bonus Content
- 3.5 Stars
- Bottom Line
- Worth a Look
- Street Date:
- January 7th, 2014
- Reviewed by:
- Bill Braun
- Review Date:1
- January 26th, 2014
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Klei Entertainment
PS4 version reviewed. The game is also available on the PC.
Klei Entertainment, responsible for both the 'Shank' series and the stealth hit, 'Mark of the Ninja,' made a radical shift when it entered into a new genre that was populated with the likes of 'Minecraft,' and 'Terraria.' The debut of 'Don't Starve' on the PC saw both magic and sanity added as systems into the survival-crafting sub genre of rogue-likes, but the development of the game did not end with its release. Frequent updates have kept many gamers transfixe, and that experience is now available on the PS4, both as part of the PS Plus Instant Game Collection and as a stand-alone release.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
My first introduction to Klei Entertainment was with 2010's 'Shank'. It also happened to be one of my favorite downloadable titles of that year. The animation was unique and beautiful, the controls were precise and deadly, and it was a game that immediately resonated with what I was looking to play. 'Shank' was quickly followed up by 'Shank 2', but the real leap was with the latter 'Mark of the Ninja'. THe application of lessons learned from past titles by Klei were clearly instrumental in the refinements of 'Mark of the Ninja's' game mechanics. It seemed clear that Klei Entertainment had found their niche in game development, and I could not have been happier. But then they released a little game called 'Don't Starve' for PC and I quickly realized that Klei Entertainment had much more up their sleeves than highly polished brawlers.
Received with both critical and commercial success during its tenure on the PC, 'Don't Starve' has since been ported over to the PlayStation 4 and added to the growing list of PlayStation Plus free titles. The game's opening cinematic introduces Wilson, the gentlemen scientist, as he struggles with his experiments. His troubled efforts are encouraged and directed by Maxwell, an entity likened to the trickster Mephistopheles. Soon after, his experiments take on a life of their own and transport Wilson to a dangerous world inhabited by harsh elements, fearsome creatures, and a shortage of food. Now in control of the beleaguered and abducted scientist, all you need to do is keep Wilson alive. Sounds simple enough.
I was unsure what to expect when first starting up the game, but quickly realized the resemblances to survival horror, minus the action and jump-out-of-your seat set pieces. You are dropped into a dream-like world with nothing and no one to help you survive. Food and shelter become a priority as the ever-present clock reminds you that day will inevitably turn to night. And with darkness come all the horrors children's nightmares are made of.
'Don't Starve' prompts the player to do one thing – survive. Survive hunger, survive the night, and survive madness. Where time-of-day is represented by a clock, hunger, sanity, and health are represented by a diminishing stomach, brain, and heart. There is very little time to lose and the second you enter this randomized world you begin your quest for supplies. Although there are plenty in abundance – trees for firewood, rabbits and birds for food – knowing how to acquire them and becoming proficient with the crafting and resource management systems are the real trick and the key to surviving a day, a week, or a month.
Items gathered from the environment are stored in limited spaces along the bottom of the screen. When specific supplies have been obtained the game delivers a tone advising that you now have enough to craft a particular item. An axe may be quickly crafted from twigs and flint found laying about the world. This, in turn, will allow you to chop down larger trees to build a fire that will see you through the night. (A night without firelight means death.) Seeds and carrots are sometimes in abundance and will help to keep your hunger at bay, but you soon realize there are bigger woodland creatures that would make for a fine meal. If only you had a way to trap them for dinner. What about weapons? How about clothing for those harsh thunderstorms? What can I do to keep sane? What's that over there?
'Don't Starve' is an interesting dichotomy of world exploration and the need to stay focused. Pressing the Dualshock 4's touch pad brings up the map, displaying just how large this world can get and complete with a fog over unexplored areas. Your desire to explore new areas is in constant battle with the more rational need to ensure you have enough food and firewood to get you through the impending night. After all, it's game over if Wilson dies from starvation, madness, or creature encounters. It doesn't matter if you've lasted a week and have enough supplies to last a week more. Game over means you start over. However, the longer you last the more experience you will gain. This, in turn, unlocks new characters to play as, each with their own unique strengths and weaknesses. While the starting character – Wilson – may grow a 'magnificent beard', Willow is both immune to fire damage and carries a lighter. Progress even further and you'll be able to play characters that bring their own axe, fear the dark less, or have increased strength.
I can't say my time spent playing 'Don't Starve' has converted me into a fan of the roguelike experience. Although I enjoyed the game and what it has to offer, I was only interested in playing shorter sessions. This is obviously counterintuitive to the game's design, but I found myself getting somewhat bored with the repetitive survival mechanics. Still, what inspired me to keep going was the wonderful amount of randomness and the ability for 'Don't Starve' to continually surprise. Just when I thought I couldn't chop down another tree, its neighbor sprouts legs and begins chasing after me like an infuriated Ent from a Tolkien fever dream. Unexpected encounters, when combined with those 'ah-ha' crafting moments, are what make 'Don't Starve' an enjoyable experience.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
The simplistic nature of 'Don't Starve' is nicely reflected in its presentation. Color is used sparingly and incorporates dull greys, greens and browns. The heavy vignette look suits the game's 'Wizard of Oz' age setting. The character and creature designs are chalk-like drawings reminiscent of a Tim Burton nightmare, particularly notable after the sun has set and shadows surround your dimly lit fire.
Most impressive is the way the visuals reflect your character's current state of health and sanity. As the days and nights stretch on, your character becomes more and more haggard looking. Dark circles under the eyes represent a lack of sleep and less-than healthy diet, and a mind nearly depleted of sanity will start to prompt hallucinations and visions of creatures that follow your character from the edges of the screen. Everything is a constant reminder of your weakening survival skills. 'Don't Starve' is a nice departure from heavy realism depicted in titles such as 'Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag' and 'Killzone: Shadow Fall'.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Not much can be said about the audio of 'Don't Starve.' Although voice acting is replaced with short, text-based dialogue, the variety of creatures all provide for an adequate animalistic representation. In addition, the dynamic change in weather pattern takes advantage of your surround system through falling rain, howling winds, and the occasional blast of thunder and lightning. Where some may view this limited use of audio to be a mark against 'Don't Starve,' I found that it enhances the feeling of isolation and desperation, while further immersing me into a world devoid of humanity and modern technology.
There's no disputing the replay factor of 'Don't Starve.' With the start of each new game the world you are dropped in to is randomized; the creatures that inhabit it, the resources that are available, all have an opportunity to change from one survival attempt to the next. Add to this the feeling of continued discovery – both from a crafting perspective and survival ability – and the developers at Klei Entertainment have crafted a recipe for success. Still, as enticing as that formula may be, the constant resource-gathering and close proximity to game over takes a specific type of gamer to truly appreciate it, and while I enjoyed the time I spent playing 'Don't Starve' I accept that it's not a game I would find myself returning to again and again.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
Although Klei Entertainment has recently announced forthcoming DLC called 'Reign of Giants' the real bonus of 'Don't Starve' can be found with the world customization feature. Allowing for up to 30 customizable options, players may tweak their world in just about any way they see fit. Looking to make things more difficult? Then change the day setting to night only or completely remove all edible vegetation. Then again, maybe the default settings are still too brutal and you would like to live a long and prosperous life. The choice is ultimately yours and the developers have done a nice job of giving you that freedom of choice.
'Don't Starve' has done a nice job of introducing me to a genre of videogames I had not yet experienced. The randomness of the world and unexpected, yet consistent, surprises were reason enough for me to stick with the game, but the repetitive nature ultimately sullied the experience. If there's one aspect that I truly appreciated about 'Don't Starve' it's in the understanding that Klei Entertainment is the team to watch. I may have been more partial to the tight brawler experiences of 'Shank', but their level of creativity and ability to broaden their development skills are enough for me to anticipate future titles.
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