Review: Don’t Starve

 

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Don’t Starve
Publisher: Klei Entertainment
Platforms: PC – Steam, stand-alone program; PC/Mac – Chrome

Steam knows me better than I know myself. Don’t Starve is an indie game that was recommended to me by the Steam-bots. However, despite Don’t Starve’s vaguely Tim-Burton-esque quirky look, I was hesitant to jump into this game because it seemed to have something to do with vampires, and I wasn’t looking for some indie hipster vampire game.

There aren’t any vampires in sight. Just an extremely addicting game.

Don’t Starve is a survival game very, very loosely related to Minecraft, in that your goals are to 1) make it through the night, 2) don’t starve, and 3) make cool stuff.

You begin as Wilson, an inventor thrown into a strange world (or, as you progress, a number of other unlockable characters with their own special attributes). As you awaken, you realize that you need to gather supplies to make it through the night, and time is counting down quickly.

Wilson at base camp at dusk.

Wilson at base camp at dusk.

You gather up twigs and flint to make an axe, and then chop down some trees to make a fire. Make sure to grab some berries and carrots, too, because your hunger grows by the minute.

Darkness isn’t just an inconvenience in Don’t Starve, and starving isn’t necessarily your biggest worry. Just a few seconds in total darkness is inviting death from “Charlie”, a mysterious monster that will kill you almost instantly. In Minecraft, you have some hope of surviving in the middle of the night. In Don’t Starve, without a fire or other light source, there’s no hope.

While Don’t Starve isn’t really a horror game, encounters with Charlie are a bit scary, as is when you slowly lose your sanity and begin seeing monsters in the shadows.

As simple as it sounds on the surface, Don’t Starve is an extremely difficult game. Monsters pop out of everywhere. Poisonous spiders roam the landscape after dusk. Every so often wild packs of wolves attack out of nowhere. Battles are difficult, and once you lose health, it’s very hard to get it back.

Did I mention that once you die, your game is over? There are no restarts, no saves, and no checkpoints. You can find resurrection stones if you’re very lucky, or create “meat effigies” and amulets to resurrect yourself. However, they’re not easy to make.

Wilson resurrected at a resurrection stone.

Wilson resurrected at a resurrection stone.

As you advance in the game you learn to create more complex tools and objects to help you survive. Gathering resources and advancing quickly is important. Eventually, winter will come and will totally kick your butt if you’re unprepared. Some monsters hibernate, while new ones emerge. Also, the winter cold is unforgiving.

While Don’t Starve defaults as a sandbox survival game, there is an adventure mode component to it as well. The story is that of a mysterious man named Maxwell has imprisoned you in the game, and by finding Maxwell’s Door in sandbox mode, you begin on a 5-world quest to assemble machine pieces until you finally find Maxwell. It is through finishing Adventure Mode that you “beat” the game.

Maxwell teasing you (as Wendy).

Maxwell teasing you (as Wendy).

Don’t Starve is interesting in that it’s available through Steam, as a standalone PC game, and as a Google Chrome application. By playing through Chrome, you can get a taste of the game before buying, but I prefer the Steam version to Chrome (it seems to load faster). When you purchase the game, your ID key unlocks all versions, so it’s possible to have multiple versions available (I have the Chrome version on my work computer for lunchtime gaming).

Don’t Starve is a great game for survival and puzzle game enthusiasts. Its quirky artwork belies its difficulty, and it is a truly challenging game for clever gamers. Also, it’s constantly being updated with new content, which keeps this seemingly simple game interesting. If you’re looking for a challenging game that will constantly keep you learning, this is the game for you.

I give Don’t Starve 4.5 out of 5 pig heads on a stick.

Good luck making a base camp this nice.

Good luck making a base camp this nice.

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Who ARE these people!?

Mary Knize, Captain Painway, "C-Pain", and formerly Mary Staggs, was Panels on Pages' May 2010 Fangirl of the Month and is a former rollergirl. When she's not busy writing, she's probably playing a video game. She also loves Wikipedia and science.

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