America - Front
America - Back
By Karl Koebke 18th Jan 2014 | 7,262 views
Don't Starve is a game that initially seems obvious and repetitive but as you continue to play you'll find more layers of complexity than you ever could have imagined. The main goal of the game can be gleaned directly from the title: Don't Starve. That title could probably be amended to Don't Starve... or Get Killed By Bees... Or Go Insane and Let the Shadows Take you to be more accurate but that would start to rival Super Sonic Acrobatic Rocket Powered Battle Cars for length and complexity.
The player controls a gentleman scientist who is tempted by forbidden knowledge and teleported to an unknown world filled with strange creatures and a foreboding presence in the darkness. He has absolutely no belongings to his name. At first I made do just gathering whatever food I could and materials to make a fire each night. It's important that these are your first two priorities because the things that'll kill you the most quickly are the creatures in the darkness and the far less glamorous death from malnutrition. Basic crafting is simple to grasp and understand, with pictures used for ingredients that are easily distinguished.
After these basics were covered I started to explore and find out just how much this world has to offer. When you start up a new game you can customize quite a bit about the world, including the chances of coming across certain mobs, the size of the world itself, the length of the day, and the length of summer and winter. This helps to change what can be a frustrating game that kills you off just when you're starting to get yourself situated into something more your personally paced. Part of the challenge of Don't Starve is that the game will throw a pack of wolves at the player every once in a while to keep them from resting on their laurels. This, combined with the difficulties that come with living through the more sparse winter, can easily kill someone who isn't specifically preparing for them. If you don't feel like dealing with all that you can completely turn off wolves, winter, and even night to create a game with fewer complications, but Don't Starve definitely loses a bit of its charm without them.
Once you've scouted out a decent place to make a permanent home it's time to delve into the depths of what Don't Starve has to offer. Crafting options are pretty expansive, but once the possibilities open up, the use of pictures for determining the necessary materials becomes a bit cumbersome and you may have to resort to using the wiki in order to decipher what is needed for a particular item. There are also some control difficulties that come with the switch from PC to console. Selecting one specific item to pick up from a pile on the ground can take more work and trial and error than it probably should, and sometimes I would attack something that was not my intended target during a heated battle.
Even with all those complications Don't Starve can become quite the addiction, but I think that comes down to how much you enjoy either the beginning or the end game. Don't Starve has a rogue-like death structure whereby if you die that's it for that run and you'll have to start from the beginning all over again. That's not to say you gain nothing from those many farms you made only to die off when winter came around as your farms sat uselessly producing nothing. Not only does you acquire valuable knowledge of what works and what doesn't, but you also get experience in the game which will eventually unlock new characters, each with their own special abilities and qualities. No matter what character you choose, and even though the world is randomly generated, the first actions are basically always the same, which can make dying annoying even if you learned something from the death and earned some experience towards new characters.
After you get past that immediate hurdle the next is whether you'll continue to play after you get through your first winter, which is the large looming challenge during a standard playthrough. There's quite a bit to do if you desire, like traversing through caves, boss characters to defeat, and even an adventure mode with set challenges where you can learn a bit about the game's back story. It's difficult to say just how long one could spend in this world if they had a mind to, but doing everything there is would take quite a while. I've only spent about 11 hours on Don't Starve over several playthroughs but I could see tenacious players taking that long on a single world if they could survive the mounting wolf attacks, and that certainly makes the $15 price tag worth it.
Exploring the same type of environment again and again with every new world can get a bit tedious, but that first time you explore Don't Starve's fantastical hellscape is a treat. Everything around you is new and strange, and the deep dark contours of the visuals help give things an eerie quality, even if it's just a little bunny. The changes that come with losing your sanity are also interesting, and I feel that any game that includes a sanity meter should get special mention for that. Without the wiki it can be difficult sometimes to figure out how to manage your sanity from constantly decreasing through each night and when close to certain objects or creatures, but once you figure out the basics it's easy to maintain your brain. On the audio side of things each character's “voice actor” is actually a different musical instrument, which is a unique and interesting way to get around the difficulties of adding voices for a smaller developer.
Don't Starve is almost the perfect survival game. It held me with that gripping “holy crap what do I do to live through this” feeling longer than Minecraft did while giving me plenty to do. If I were playing this with a mouse I think it would undeniably be a better experience, but as is the console version is still fun. You'll either lose your interest after an hour or two of multiple attempts at not dying, or you'll be lost in its world for weeks and think I'm an idiot for the score you're about to see. Either way, it's a fun and unique take on the genre that fans should definitely give a shot at to judge for themselves.