It’s hard to believe that a game like Don’t Starve hasn’t already been done in the past. In the broadest sense, its main ideas can be derived from the recent trend of procedurally generated games with crafting and building. But developer Klei Entertainment takes this concept in its own direction with Don’t Starve, placing emphasis on discovery and pure survival. It expertly melds a realistic survival scenario with tons of intriguing crafting options and oddities that still keep me wondering whats around the corner. Don’t Starve is an exercise in resource management, exploration, and endurance — and easily one of the best games the PS4 currently has to offer.
Don’t Starve doesn’t waste the player’s time, immediately dropping them in the middle of an unknown wilderness by a mysterious man. Left with nothing but a suggestion to build a fire and the clothes on Wilson’s back, players must start learning to craft tools, cut down trees, build fires, and not starve. Death is never far from reach in the world of Don’t Starve. Every character has a hunger, health, and sanity level, all of which require constant attention, as a failure on any of these fronts will result in permanent death. In this way, Don’t Starve inhibits rouge-like qualities, forcing players to learn the harsh realities of their environment the hard way.
Yet, as unforgiving as Don’t Starve can be, I never made the same mistake twice. The game always finds a way to put me in a desperate situation that mimics real survival tales. Once in the middle of the night, I ran out of logs to keep my modest fire ablaze and keep me out of the clutches of night-lurking entities that would see me dead. With nothing else flammable enough to keep the lights on until sunrise, I had no choice but to burn my precious manure I had ran so far to acquire. It’s scenarios like this where Don’t Starve‘s isolationist tone and brutality shine the brightest. One small slip-up can destroy hours upon hours of work. There is some progression to be had though, as players can level up upon death to unlock new characters to start a new game with.
The different characters at the player’s disposal in Don’t Starve introduce a satisfying element of variety. Every character has its own advantages and disadvantages that can drastically affect play styles. Wilson, the starting character, can grow a beard over time that can be shaved for crafting hair, or left to grow longer to better keep Wilson warm during the winter. Willow starts with her own lighter that never breaks, but randomly starts fires when her sanity gets too low, which can be catastrophic at an undesirable time. There is an amazing degree of balance between the strengths and weaknesses of these characters. There is no ultimate way to play the game.
And that simple fact is the single greatest thing about Don’t Starve. It’s always a treat to hear of the different ways people choose to thrive in the wilderness. When it comes to preparing for the harsh conditions of winter, my preference is to stock up on rabbits and vegetables and focus on not freezing to death. To me, that was the only logical way to ensure survival. So I was fairly surprised to hear that a friend of mine tackled the season in a completely different fashion — becoming a nomad, never staying in the same place too long, scrounging for new sources of food wherever he went, and storing up warmth in heat rocks to not freeze. I would have never thought this strategy to be viable, but that’s not how I would have attempted to live had it been a real scenario, either.
There is a certain amount of mystique to the ins and outs of Don’t Starve that make it incredibly satisfying to discover things naturally. And while this is mostly great, it becomes to the detriment of the player. The game makes virtually no effort to teach the player how to play. This applies to not only the survival elements, but also basic explanations of how to perform simple tasks. And while a quick trip to the Don’t Starve wiki can clear up any fog, it does come across as unnecessary brutality.
The PS4 version of Don’t Starve has seen excellent adaption to controller, especially considering the very mouse-dependent PC version. Small and intuitive touches like using the right stick to select items and pausing the game when managing inventory are excellent and necessary adjustments that feel perfect in practice. One of the greatest things about Don’t Starve is the extensive mod support, and the amazing things people have added to the game. Understandably, none of this is currently available in this version. It’s unclear as to whether Klei ever plans to release DLC containing some of these mods or mods they themselves have made, but there is no reason to assume it’s impossible.
Don’t Starve succeeds in everything it tries to do, which to me, is one of the greatest compliments one can give a game. Never has the concept of survival been so effectively implemented into a game, much less in a way that accurately simulates desperate scenarios in a deceptively friendly art style. On a console with not much to currently play, the arrival of a game like Don’t Starve feels rather perfect. It’s a game that makes me want to keep playing, try new things, and survive even longer.