Calling it the first society survival game, 11 bit studios released Frostpunk in 2018. In an alternate version of the 19th century, players build and manage a city during a catastrophic global winter. The people in Frostpunk survive through terrible storms and resource shortages with the help of technological innovations and new laws. Players will shape the city’s society through these rules, creating good living conditions for the citizens or sacrificing any morality in the name of survival.
The true enemy is the Cold
While the game offers different scenarios, the main story sets players as “The Captain” of the city of New London. The city hosts people fleeing from a failing British Empire. Its survivors are running to the coal-rich North and escaping the freezing storm coming from the South. At the heart of the city lies the generator, a towering coal power plant providing heat and electricity to its citizens. Under these circumstances, every day is a struggle. From gathering food in the frozen lands to mining coal, the city is under constant threat of death. Furthermore, people can get ill in freezing workplaces or have limbs amputated because of frostbite. There is no antagonist in the game. In reality, the Cold is almost like a character in itself, ruthless and uncaring of humanity’s struggles.
Like Bong Joon Ho‘s Snowpiercer, Frostpunk uses the freezing setting to isolate the people in a man versus society narrative. The citizens are at the core. Players manage their discontent and hope. From the beginning, it’s clear tough choices need to be made. Sick people could eat additional meals, but that could risk depleting the food storage. Children could spend the day in shelters or work in the mines. The moral dilemma of keeping citizens happy against the efficiency of the city makes up the bulk of the game. Have discontent too high or hope too low and people may riot. In addition to laws, there are two paths players can choose to give the city purpose. Order and Faith provide additional solutions to problems. However, if the Captain goes too far, they radically alter New London’s society, setting up a military police state or an oppressive theocracy.
To help the people of New London in their survival are the engineers, a group tasked with designing and building new technological marvels. Akin to a steampunk Robinson Crusoe, the citizens brave the desolation around them, conquering the land following the man versus nature theme. Instead of claiming their small shelter in their kingdom, the people are humbled by the destructive force of the elements. It is only through developing new machinery and materials that the Cold can be kept at bay. In addition, technological progress brings equality. As workplaces become better, they require fewer people to function, culminating in the construction of Automatons, imposing steam-powered machines working in place of the people, requiring neither rest nor heat.
The City must survive
Following its success, various expansions were made for Frostpunk. One of them is The Last Autumn, a prequel to the main story where players are tasked to build the generator. As the British Empire is still in power, regular shipments provide materials and personnel. Similar to the 1927 Metropolis by Fritz Lang, the Captain has to mediate between the rights of the workers constructing enormous machines and the demands of efficiency by the engineers. Similar to the base game, players fight to keep a balanced, functioning society. If they push to the extremes, they can establish a workers’ dictatorship with daily executions or an engineer-led prison camp using slaves. After the last expansion released in 2020, 11 Bit Studios announced Frostpunk 2 in 2021. A direct sequel focusing on oil instead of coal, the game is to be released on PC first in the following years.