At long last, console gamers can get their hands on the “Complete Edition” of Frostpunk – an engaging, mechanically deep, and often stress-inducing steampunk city-builder with a focus on surviving the elements. Make no mistake, the original console release of Frostpunk is still a great game, but the expansions introduce some much-needed variety to the basic formula. These expansions change how you think about the geometry of your city, introduce new victory conditions, and shift the focus from self-reliance to trading with other settlements.
Despite only offering three introductory cutscenes (one for each of the major story scenarios), Frostpunk feels far more narrative-driven than many games in the genre. Each scenario is, in essence, an opportunity to craft your own story. There are technologies to research, laws to pass, encounters in the surrounding “Frostlands”, and plenty of player-choice in how you’ll deal with the demands of your people, refugees, and other settlements. This all comes together at the end of a scenario – if you survive – with a montage that provides a timelapse of your developing city while recounting your key decisions.
Did you establish faith to drive your people forward in the face of hardships or to crush dissent? Did you care for the critically ill and provide burials for the dead, or did you triage mercilessly and eat the corpses when the great storm arrived? Did you care for and educate children, or did you put them to work collecting coal in freezing temperatures? Although all choices offer a mechanically advantageous outcome and shift the numbers around, the narrative context adds weight to your decisions.
Of course, in any survival game, the complexity of the underlying systems is what dictates its success or failure. The narrative context is a nice touch, but Frostpunk would hold up just fine without them thanks to the myriad of systems you’ll need to consider and balance if you want your city to survive. Heat, food, and shelter are your primary concern. If you can get the basic layout of your city and resource-gathering operations in order quickly, a contented populace and victory are inevitable. Naturally, nothing in the frozen north is that easy.
In most scenarios, life revolves around your coal-consuming generator and the warmth it provides (there’s no nuclear power in this alternate history). An optimal city expands radially, ensuring subsequent upgrades to the generator keep an ever-larger area warm. However, the more efficient your generator, the more coal you burn through. The more coal you need, the more coal-producing industries you need. The more industries you have, the more citizens you need to employ. The more citizens you have, the more housing, food, and medical care you need to provide.
A new player is going to quickly find themselves overwhelmed, even if they set all the customisable difficulty toggles to easy. The urge to expand, recruit survivors, and generate more resources is alluring, but your citizens have numerous needs that need sustaining. Fail to keep them hopeful, or let discontent swell, and you’ll find yourself exiled to the Frostlands. On the other hand, researching and constructing expensive automatons gives you a 24-hour workforce that never gets hungry, never falls ill in cold temperatures, and doesn’t object to your ruling style. Both are viable paths to victory, but both require careful allocations of resources.
Of course, building up your city is only half the story. If you’ve researched the right technology, most starting locations offer an infinite source of coal, wood, and steel. However, it’s rarely enough to sustain a large population and decreasing temperatures (which plummet to -100° Celsius during storms), while simultaneously dealing with frequent demands to remedy housing, heating, and medical issues. There are two additional ways to keep your population hopeful and reduce discontent: passing new laws and exploring the Frostlands with scouts.
The Book of Laws typically offers two variants of any provided law, one callous but effective, the other compassionate with fringe benefits. There are basic “Adaptation” laws, which include choosing between burials or corpse storage (for later “use”), establishing care homes or allowing radical surgical treatments, and putting children to work or educating them. As you advance, you unlock “Purpose” laws – allowing you to chose between Order and Faith. Naturally, the end-game for both these branches of law is authoritarianism, but Order focuses on security and suppressing discontent, whereas Faith focuses on maintaining the hopefulness of your population.
Sending scouts into the Frostlands is another way to influence your city, bringing people hopeful (or depressing) news and rare “steam cores” required for efficient high-tier buildings. The system is simple and requires little micromanagement, but distances and travel time in the Frostlands are always an issue. Nearby locations can reveal survivors, supplies, or the fate of other generator cities (and almost always reveal two or more new locations to visit). You’ll want to keep your scout teams active all the time, as their discoveries – especially resource caches – can provide a means to get out of trouble fast.
Ultimately, Frostpunk is a game about learning the ropes, one step at a time. Failure – and you will fail – is an opportunity to take what you’ve learned, apply it to your next attempt, get something else wrong, learn from that experience, and eventually master each mechanic on your way to completing a scenario. You can save at any time but Frostpunk is a game in which failures can be days in the making. Thankfully, scenarios – aside from the “endless” ones – are only a few hours long, so you’ll rarely feel frustrated at starting anew.
Like many survival games, Frostpunk suffers from gameplay becoming rote once you’ve established an optimised build order and this is why the console Complete Edition is a great choice (or the expansion pass if you’ve already got the base game). “The Rifts” expansion – along with several of the “endless” scenarios – spices up the city-building element by forcing you to expand to adjacent land using bridges. The perfectly circular city structure and comforting glow of the generator are no longer guaranteed.
“The Last Autumn”, which serves as a prequel during the early stages of global cooling, tasks you with constructing a generator. Temperatures are mild, illness rare, and resources abundant, so maintaining the motivation of your cynical workforce and hitting construction deadlines becomes the new challenge. To manage this feat, you need to find a careful balance of new Administration and Labour laws. “On The Edge” serves as a sequel to events in the main campaign, tasking you with the management of a new outpost – sans generator – entirely dependent on “New London” for food supplies and establishing laws. However, New London quickly becomes antagonistic with their demands, and you’re given the choice to scout the Frostlands and establish supply lines with other settlements or try appeasing their unfair demands.
One slight disappointment is that Frostpunk is yet to receive an official next-gen upgrade. Make no mistake, it can still look great and feel incredibly atmospheric as you watch your torch-wielding workers wade through the snow while howling winds whip back and forth. However, the image looks distinctly soft on a large TV and has plenty of aliasing in motion. Dense ambient city sounds and grumbling workers add to the atmosphere, ensuring your city feels alive, rather than just a visualised spreadsheet. That said, when temperatures drop and troubles multiply, it can be a pain identifying individual structures in a large city and the interface becomes increasingly cluttered. The game does have a pause-time function so you can tinker at your leisure, but it’s times like these I’d found myself missing the mouse and keyboard. Frostpunk Game of the Year Edition is available on Steam and this is quite an enticing package if you’re more PC gaming inclined.
Minor visual and control gripes aside, the Frostpunk Complete Edition on console is still a fantastic purchase for fans of survival games or city-builders that demand a lot of planning and micromanagement. It is, however, an incredibly stressful game and might not be for everyone. If you’ve got the patience to carefully think through every move and plan well into the future, and the temperament to make tough decisions that will keep (most) of your citizens alive, there are few survival-focused city-builder experiences like it.
A review code for Frostpunk Console Complete Edition was provided to Gameblur by the publisher
Frostpunk Console Complete Edition (Xbox Series S) ReviewFrostpunk Console Complete Edition (Xbox Series S) Review
Story8/10 Very GoodThe choices you make for your population and your encounters in the Frostlands all add to a dynamic, emergent narrative that makes each victory feel unique.
Gameplay9/10 AmazingSome may be intimidated by the constant micromanaging and escalating threat, but that degree of fine control and constant decision-making ensures every moment is compelling.
Visuals7/10 GoodDespite the detailed animations and atmospheric environments, Frostpunk is in need of a next-gen resolution boost or decent antialiasing for those playing on large TVs.
Audio8/10 Very GoodThe roar of the wind, the clunking steampunk machinery, the grumblings of an unhappy population, all of it comes adds to the atmosphere and makes your city feel alive.
- A strong, emergent narrative component that’s uncommon in the genre
- Challenging but fair survival mechanics that often requires making hard decisions
- A stiff learning curve but individual scenarios are short enough to encourage multiple runs
- The expansions add plenty of content and much-needed variety to the basic formula
- Possibly too stressful for some
- Picking out individual buildings can feel finicky on a gamepad