Don’t Starve … a bit like Marmite

Having just joined rank with Sony’s PS4, I only have Killzone, Resogun and The Contrast to my name. Thus, I have been itching to get my mittens on another title, and have been waiting patiently for the new release of PSN’s next freebie until I decide what my next ‘investment’ should be. This next installment happens to be ‘Don’t Starve’, and I really don’t know whether I like it … or absolutely hate it, hence the title.  This is based on my first thoughts of playing it, so my opinion may well change hours if not days down the line. Maybe.

Let’s start off with the simples, it’s a survival game set in a bleak and desolate Island, where you start of controlling a crazy little scientist called Wilson, who has a note worthy ability of growing an amazing beard. Yes, that is one of his labelled perks. After a short little intro video, he gets dumped into this random dark and dingy world of unforgiving menace. It doesn’t really get explained as to how it all happens bar some very short intro video of you doing what appears to be some experiment, than poof, hello insane world! I have to say, I have definitely seen some stronger beginnings before. If this was in Southpark’s episode ‘The Human Centipad’, a phrase Cartman would be known for saying would be: “but muuummm, at least provide me with some context before you F**K ME!!”.

Don't Starve Intro

It follows other craft based survival sand boxes in the way that you go around collecting menial supplies in order to create tools/ materials required to survive as long as you can. I.e your axes for tree cutting, pick axe for mining and weapons for fighting off the fiends. Although in this one, as the title of the game gives away, they throw the element of food into the mix and the role of hunger. However, as I found out having not read up on anything prior to playing, nor on paying much attention to the world besides collecting everything in sight, I quickly found out that things change a little when the lights go out. Basically when it comes to night fall, I thought I could just continue on my merry little way. Oh, how wrong I was. When the clock strikes, you’re job is to set up a fire, and have enough materials gathered to keep her glowing till daylight.  As you have a short period of a dusk type period, then it’s pitch black, you can’t see anything and you WILL die unless you create a fire / torch. Which in my panicked state, I obviously forgot to do. Within seconds I was being, what I can only describe as, torn apart by the beasts that hunt the shadows as my character took heavy damage, and after 2 hits from whatever it was, I was dead. That was lesson number 1. It was actually the first lesson of many which you have to learn when playing, or you pay for it and you pay big.

The benefit to the game is that on the default setting everything seems to be in bundles of supply, which isn’t so bad. Especially as everything is either consumed or has durability so you’re replacing everything quite soon and very often. Although, finding food to sustain yourself can be a little annoying at first. Also the world is randomly generated each time you play, so technically every time you play, it will be a slightly different experience. Which adds a little randomness to the adventure!

If you die in Don’t Starve, that’s game over. There is no reset point, no checkpoint, it’s cold hard dead. You lose everything and start off from scratch. This can, and does, make it massively frustrating, and what makes me despise it at times. Because you don’t know whether something will kill you, until you’ve been killed by it. Jump into this wormhole? Errm no thanks, finally pluck up the courage and it does no harm. But go and attack a “would be harmless” creature and it tears you a new one. Back to the beginning of the game I go. Having played Dark Souls recently, I understand difficult, heck, my patience for games has increased 10 fold. But Don’t Starve? I still don’t know.

Don't Starve Fight

The reason for my not knowing is based on you having to juggle everything. Nothing is quite straight forward. You have a health bar, an insanity bar and a hunger bar.  These each all play a role on how you go about your day. Keeping your hunger bar full does take some work, and you have to search the wilderness for yummies to sustain yourself. If it gets empty your health bar starts taking a hammering.  Your insanity bar is quite different, this is kept high by picking up flowers, and other nicely bits. The lower it goes, the more weird stuff you start seeing. Shadows appear of monsters from nowhere as your character starts slowly going insane. So trying to keep all 3 of the above in tact at one time can prove to be a bit of a nightmare. *Ba doom Tosh*. Get it? Oh, okay. Nevermind. Moving on!

Like seriously?! A WHOLE rabbit? How big is this dudes stomach?

The next stop for annoyance are the items found around the place that basically just add millimetres when consumed. I mean, I did think it was a little stupid at one point. My hunger was low and I had half health because I had ventured too far into the dark earlier on. So I went and caught myself a rabbit. This was done in quite a cool sense of crafting a trap, finding a carrot than baiting the trap. I then waited patiently for the rabbit to edge ever so closer to it, before BAM, I caught it. So for good measure, I found a few more and repeated the process thinking, hmm 5 rabbits that will do me a couple of nights, right? Oh ha de ha, was I so wrong. It came to nightfall later that day. I prepared my fire, added some logs to make it nice and cosy. Cooked myself the rabbits, and found out that each WHOLE rabbit added literally a smidgen to my health and to my hunger. Like seriously?! A WHOLE rabbit? How big is this dudes stomache? So after 5 rabbits I was still hungry and health was not even three quarters full. This leads to my next major point …

Reward. This term is normally used as an incentive for good behaviour. In games, if you do something well, you get rewarded for it. In Don’t Starve rewards currently don’t exist, and when they do, you need a magnifying glass to see them. You could survive for days, and there isn’t even a; “here, have this for doing so well, keep playing! “ Instead it’s a “oh you survived another day? How about we give you nothing but an increased difficulty, but please keep playing, it’s not like you have something better to do”. Which kinda sucks. In fact, it really sucks. After so long, you feel like all you’re doing is grinding to achieve nothing. All those materials you gathered and hours of work can be wiped away in an instant, from a silly mistake or by being tempted to try something new. The only physical benefit of surviving those days is the accumulation of experience, these points then go towards unlocking your next character to play with, where each one makes the game a little different on how you play due to their abilities.

Insanity Don't Starve IP

What I will say though, is that it is a pretty game. The graphics are cell shaded and have been done in a really cool way. And the sounds fit in very well with the style to create a great atmosphere, there is no audio or chat, it’s all little noises unique to the action. With your little characters squeak’s being put into subtitles. The mechanics behind it, I think, are really quite impressive with there being plenty of things to create, from various traps for different animals, to different weapons and helpful objects.

All in all, this review might come across as negative, but I do actually like Don’t Starve for those very reasons. Its creativity is cool, and takes a new spin to those other survival type games out there. It’s also highly challenging, which seems to be lacking from certain games too. There are also plenty of little neat ideas, for example the fact that you go through the seasons, so days can either be longer or shorter affecting how you plan your day, and so forth. So in that, I love its creativity, the style of graphics and how you have to use resources and time to your best advantage. The main thing that pulls it down then is the lack of reward just being overwhelming in the long term for me. At times, I feel like the hours of grinding that I spent on the game are all for nothing, and it’s a real sham when that feeling hits.