Review: Don't Starve
You open your eyes to a dark world painted in pastel browns, greens, and greys. A tall and eerie man is standing before you informing you that the nightfall will soon be upon you, and that you best be near a fire when it hits. The man is then enveloped in a burst of black smoke, leaving you alone and confused in this strange but beautiful world. A panic washes over you as you scramble to find the necessary supplies to build a fire, and the nighttime scrambles to consume you.
This is Don’t Starve. Developed by Klei Entertainment, Don’t Starve is Klei’s first attempt at the survival genre. Known for such titles as Shank and Mark of the Ninja, this is a big departure from Klei’s previous titles. Similar to their other titles however, Don’t Starve is only available digitally, on Windows, Linux, and Mac.
While many games attempt to hold your hand and ease you into the experience, Don’t Starve does anything but. This tone is set from the very beginning, with the story that is loosely explained to you, involving a man named Maxwell and an awful dimension inhabited by hostile creatures. After this brief introduction from a mysterious man in black, you are thrust into the dangerous world of Don’t Starve, and on your own.
The game’s primary objective is (I’m not going to say it) to stay alive. In order to accomplish this you must maintain your hunger, sanity, and health levels. While it may sound rather straightforward, the number of ways in which you can accomplish keeping these levels above zero is how the game stays interesting. I won’t spoil any tricks in this review however, as learning through failure is half of the fun in this title. That said, you will quickly evolve from a primal beast eating raw carrots, to a dignified and cultured man making stew.
Despite having numerous complex systems in place, the lack of a tutorial never seemed to hinder my playing, rather it enhanced it. I found that many of the solutions to my lack of sanity, hunger, health, etc., were solved by solutions I would employ in real life (if you’re hungry, it makes sense to eat). This made it that much more satisfying when I actually did succeed at doing something, as I had figured it out myself. The only area I found the lack of tutorial to be somewhat frustrating was with sanity, as it was often dropping for no apparent reason. That said, I never gave up when I died, as death is more of a learning tool in Don’t Starve, similar to Dark Souls. By my third or fourth incarnation I was chugging along past day thirty, as opposed to my sad first run which ended at day nine.
Enough about the mechanics behind Don’t Starve, let’s talk graphics. Donning a mug that would make Tim Burton proud, Don’t Starve is a dark and eerie place. The graphics look like they were ripped straight out of a children’s cartoon, then ran through a fax machine by Poe. The game’s palette is made up of neutral tones which are then unsaturated to the point of being almost black and white at times. Even the ocean is a dark blue, and looks like nothing more than a cutout of water moving back and forth by hand. The creatures in the world often looked like their Earthly counterparts, only slightly off. The end result is an absolute nightmare of a place, with a childish spin to it. If you find it to be cartoony or cute at first, don’t be fooled.
To top off this terrible place, the game features a great soundtrack and excellent sound design. The game has numerous lines of dialogue which stream across the screen, however, upon voicing them your character doesn’t exhibit an actual voice, but distorted jazz sounds. Some of the characters have higher pitched saxophone-like voices, others feature a deeper accordion-like sound. This, coupled with the dark and eerie lines of dialogue streaming out of their head, resulted in a very humorous, albeit dark experience. I often found myself laughing far more than I should at “I shall destroy you” floating over my character’s head, accompanied by his creepy accordion voice, whilst chasing a rabbit for dinner.
The music, much like everything else in the game, is very dark and outlandish. That said, it fit the atmosphere very well, and kept me entertained. My only complaint would be the lack of additional songs, as there only appear to be one or two slight variations of the song. Klei has been very active about updating the game, so I am holding out hope that they will be adding more songs in the future.
All in all Don’t Starve is a very unique and very entertaining experience. While its harsh world and steep learning curve isn’t for everyone, it is a great addition to any survivalist’s library. The system requirements aren’t too steep either, so it’s a rather accessible title in that regard. If you have a dark and punishing itch that just can’t be scratched, and a tight budget, do yourself a favor and give this title a try. And remember, no matter what you do, don’t starve…dammit.