Frostpunk is a city-builder/survival game from 11 Bit Studios, with a surprisingly rich story, beautiful aesthetics, and a boatload of replay value.
Story and Flow
Set in steampunk Victorian England circa 1886, the world has been plunged into a deep and brutal cold called the Frost. The world's crops are gone, millions of lives have been lost, and entire cities have been buried in snow. In a last ditch effort to escape extinction, large groups have left their cities to search for refuge elsewhere. Your group finds a Furnace, which is sort of like an oasis in the desert, but turned on its head. As "mayor", this is where you make your stand against the elements. Everyone's lives are in your hands, and only you can make the tough decisions that will save or end every life in your city.
If you're unfamiliar with the genre and having trouble picturing the setting, just think of it like SimCity, but everyone's freezing, starving, and if you fail as mayor, you're either killed or exiled into the harsh frozen tundra, which amounts to the same thing. Also, there are robots.
I kid, but honestly, Frostpunk is so dark that you'll need a humor break once in while. This is a heavy game, a nonstop barrage of hard decisions and impossible challenges, from rampant frostbite to full on insurrection and revolution. Your number one job is to keep the furnace fueled so that your people have some semblance of hope, and after that, your people need shelter. And food. And medical care. Then, just when you think you're all caught up, things start to fail, the temperature plunges, and you realize that you haven't properly researched ways to keep that life-giving heat coming. Nice job, mayor.
You'll also have to keep an eye on your people, who come in groups of Engineers, Workers, and Children, each of which have limited ways they can be useful. You'll have to pass laws, make hard decisions that will affect and end people's lives, and explore the wasteland for supplies and survivors, all while dealing with time limits and myriad issues that constantly crop up. The days continue to get colder and colder, and while I won't spoil the big challenge, you better hope you've been multi-tasking. And if you think you have been, you probably haven't been doing enough.
While the game is fun and more than a little challenging (I might have been exiled my first go round by my own people, the ungrateful bastards...) I found the most difficult aspect to be the interface. With a curtain of white snow and black smoke covering your city, figuring out what each building is can quickly becomes a chore. There are no labels to help you discern a hunter lodge from a hot house, which leads to a lot of aimless clicking. There is a convoluted work-around if you go into the building menu, but it's frightfully time consuming, and when you add in confusing windows that can (and did) result in deleting structures when all I wanted to do was close a window and you end up with a needlessly frustrating system that could use some clarity.
Despite this issue, the gameplay and the story is engaging and moving, if you allow it to be. Every one of your hundreds of settlers has a name, a family, and a job, all of which you can monitor. You can notice that one worker just won't go to the med bay because they have too much work to do. You'll hear about children who lost their parents and won't leave their gravesite. You'll come across parents who ignore level-headed advice and trudge into the snow to find their lost children. With resources scarce, you'll meet survivors, many of whom are sick and can't contribute to your city's productivity. Do you let them die or bring them in and add even more stress to your fragile city? These are your choices to make, and you'll be making them constantly.
Graphics & Sound
The music and graphics are incredible. The music does an amazing job of setting the tone of the game, always lingering in the background like a hungry predator, waiting for the right moment to pounce and ratchet up the tension. When called for, the music intensifies and really drives home the struggle for survival that your fragile city is facing.
As a city builder, the game doesn't focus much on intense graphics, but what it does, it does incredibly well. You'll mostly see artwork, which is both stunning and dark, and it really illustrates the death of the old world and the plight of the frozen wasteland, which is utilized perfectly and really enforces the emotions and humanity of the game.