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Don’t Starve

January 29, 2014

Or as I like to call it, Minecraft that hates you. Last months PS+ release on the PS4 is a little indie developed game that was released on PC last year and everyone was all WTF this game makes me ROFLOLMAO.
I’ve never got into Minecraft as the openness scares me and would suck all of my free time away considering its apparent lack of direction. It seems all I needed was the loosest of motivations within a game world for me to be sucked into one that used many of the same mechanics as Minecraft.
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You start out playing as Wilson, an inventor tricked into making a machine that transports him into a cruel, sparse world all by his lonesome. Now you’ve got to survive and you know, “Don’t Starve”. This top-down-2D-sprites-on-a-3D-plane game is full of big detailed sprites that fill the screen with charm while reminding you just how thin the line between life and death is in this game world. Each game is played in a randomly generated world with a finite amount of resources and animals that you’ll have to discover for yourself in each new game file.
You have to create an axe to chop down trees to create a fire to cook food and create light and then make a farm and run from hounds. There is ALWAYS something to do in this game due to how deep it is as a concept. In terms of world building this stands near the very top of all games I’ve ever played in this regard. Everything is there for a reason within this world even if you have no idea why for a long time. Don’t Starve will not help you in any way as you start off. No tutorial, no help menu, just trial and error. The menu layout is excellent serving as your only help in the early days, highlighting each item as you collect the correct ingredients.
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You’ll eventually find a spot that you want to call home and build a camp so that you can stockpile food and other items. Should you spend all of your time just harvesting food and building fires in order to survive, but in a boring way, you will notice that your sanity level drop. Images, creatures and voices appearing out of thin air. Eventually attacking you as your mind starts to fail you. Don’t starve forces you to find a middle point between staying safe and exploring which keeps you invested when other games would get boring.
You’ll find yourself carving out a space for your food producing structures, building cookery pots and drying racks to make nicer food, building tents to keep you going through the harsh winter. You’ll keep this up for many hours and you could easily spend entire nights on one save game perfecting your camp. One mistake though and it’s all for nothing. One mistake and not only is your character and progress dead, your save game is gone as well. No take backs, no retry’s just defeat and a massive sense of loss.
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This is one of the main draws of the game but also its main problem in enabling a long relationship. Only having one life makes you care about each choice and keeps you cautious and tense the whole way through. It also causes you to wonder whether it’s all worth it when you have to start from the beginning again in a new world that you don’t know.
This is the point I’ve reached with the game. After keeping my character sane after digging up some games looking for an essential part for my fridge, after using my Beefalo herd to protect me from the increasingly difficult hound attacks, after building and maintaining my farm for over 77 days I stumbled on a group of spiders and they killed me in about a second. Like that it was all gone and I felt empty. That is both incredible game design for bringing out that emotion, but also my biggest barrier to starting again.
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You should play this however. I recommend playing while listening to the Game of Thrones audio book. The harshness of Westeros lends itself to the world of Don’t Starve perfectly. Brilliant and magical but maybe a little too brutal.

What games have made you hit a wall and tested you with their harshness?

XBL, PSN and Twitter @Urbundave

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