Don’t Starve PS4 review – The title is the only help you’ll get
It’d be easy to think Don’t Starve hates you. Actually hates you. A stern survival game with no instructions, no help, no anything. Just a floundering succession of slightly more progressive attempts at not dying. Now this is going to sound odd: that’s why it’s brilliant.
More on Don’t Starve
It’s a game that despite being a single player experience is still a hugely social and shared event. How many days have you made it through? How did you die? Did you know if you cook food it lasts longer? I GOT CHASED AND KILLED BY A TREE. The range and variety of the experience is made for storytelling, while the bitterness of death is somewhat sweetened by the chance to start over with what you’ve learned. Unless you had a really great farm that burned down in an accident, leaving you to starve in Winter. In which case: screw you Don’t Starve. Screw. You.
Building a settlement to protect your farm is key to surviving in Don’t Starve.
The first character you play is Wilson, a ‘gentleman scientist’ with more unlocked along the way, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. All are thrown into a strange dimension and left to fight for their lives. Despite the jolly cartoon styling this is as hardcore a survival game as you’re ever going to get. Initially food is the main concern – you’ll be scavenging for berries and seeds, or squealing when you see a carrot. But from here the game builds from simple foraging to complex crafting, building and management as your settlement grows from a basic campfire to a thriving farm.
This is the beauty of Don’t Starve – the
act of surviving sees you constantly
balancing and managing a complex
ecosystem while learning more about it
But there are other issues to deal with. Like sanity. The first time I played I started to see hallucinations – eyes and shapes appeared in the shadows around the campfire. Weird noises unnerved me. It was only later I realised that one of the indicators represented my mental health, something I’d completely neglected and actively destroyed by eating raw meat and wandering around in the dark. All these are bad for the mind I later discovered. Had I lived long enough (dogs savaged me in the night) I would have found the hallucinations eventually became real and started to attack.
This is the beauty of Don’t Starve – the act of surviving sees you constantly balancing and managing a complex ecosystem while learning more about it. The internal needs of your character mean you struggle to stay healthy, fed and not mad. Then there’s the microcosm of your farm, equipment and supplies. And, finally, the larger macrocosm of the world around you. Seasons change (and Winter is a bitch), more dangerous creatures appear while resources thin as you strip mine the local area.
Managing your sanity in Don’t Starve is a key skill as your hallucinations can be fatal.
Essentially the further you get the harder survival becomes. But you have a wealth of tools at your disposal. You start with little more than the ability to start fires, chop trees and make a flower hat which ‘smells of prettiness’ and stops you going mad. The first big goal at this point is to build a science machine. It’s the first step on the road to you no longer being simply a victim and instead being a victim with really cool gadgets.
Using a science machine lets you ‘prototype’ new gear which you can then craft anywhere. That’s when you start building traps, walls, farms, crock pots and all manner of things to help you survive. It’s at this point that the complexity of the game really takes off as you chase increasingly hard or dangerous to locate resources, and craft other machines to unlock more gear.
I won’t lie, I cheat all the time: playing and Googling in equal amounts. This is a game of exploration and discovery so dense that in reality it’s a necessity and barely gives you any edge. There’s no help other than the crafting menu recipes. A science machine needs wood, rocks and gold it says. Great. Where the hell do I get gold?
The only help you’ll get in Don’t Starve are the crafting ingredients. Off you go.
It’s this struggle and discovery that really powers the pay off here. Learning is half the fun and even the smallest victory makes you feel like you’re winning with a capital FU. The procedural generation, random elements and seasonal changes mean a multitude of shifting problems are thrown your way and you’ll rarely die the same way twice (a quick selection of mine: starved, burned to death, crushed by a tentacle, killed by a tree, eaten by spiders).
Learning is half the fun and even the
smallest victory makes you feel like
you’re winning with a capital FU
Really this is all about the journey. You begin scraping through the dirt; barely making it from one day to the next but over time grow into a grizzled survivor. A veteran who has no time for weakness and shrugs off the first 20 days with a stern beardy look (possibly while playing Dark Souls for fun). Your only fear? Winter. Seriously, winter can do one.