With the launch of Frostpunk: Console Edition, 11 bit studios seeks to change our expectations of a dystopic video game. Originally released in 2018 for the PC, Frostpunk is a city-building and survival game that focuses on the players building a city to survive the fatally freezing conditions of a radically changed planet. With Frostpunk coming to the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 this year, I was joined by members of Evolve PR and 11 bit studios at an office space in downtown NYC to get a first look at the console edition of the game. I came away absolutely impressed and eager for the game’s inevitable launch on consoles.
The year is 1886 and the Earth has changed. The real-life eruption of Krakatoa in 1883, along with other environmental factors, have led to the destructive cooling of the Earth, destroying crops and killing millions of people. British authorities create mammoth sources of energy and heat, simply called generators. With resources scarce and humanity teetering between survival and extinction, you are tasked with building generator cities and protecting the citizens from various threats.
The single player campaign plays in several different scenarios, with each one challenging the player in various ways. Locating survivors, preserving resources, and defending your city form potential threats are just some of the responsibilities that players will be tasked with participating in. Frostpunk: Console Edition comes following an incredibly successful launch on PC, which included critical praise, as well as a BAFTA Award nomination for Narrative.
Jakub Stokalski, Project Lead and Senior Lead Designer at 11 bit, demonstrated to me the user interface of Frostpunk. With ease, Jakub was able to maneuver the city and show the basics of the first scenario. He was able to use the Xbox One controller to navigate the city, activating the generator and showing me the small, fledgling establishment of humans struggling to survive. He then pointed out the research and development, as well as collecting research items. Jakub easily zoomed into the environment, showcasing the smallest of details among the landscape. We could see persons moving and shoveling, deep within the snow.
The generator, billowing with heat and light, is a small beacon in a world of paralyzing ice. At night, these visuals become even more paramount, with the world falling into the night, and the already deadly cold becoming a cascade of near-instant death. In it all, Jakub dispatched a small team to locate and discover other potential survivors, trudging through the thick snow to reach them. Jakub’s demonstration was impressive, however, the objective of his demonstration was not the game’s content but the user interface of the game.
City-building games and real-time strategy titles are quite common on PC platforms, but very rare on consoles. Games like Frostpunk would fall into the genre that is occupied by games such as Tropico, Cities Skylines, and Sid Meir’s Civilization VI. The aforementioned titles put players in an isometric view, giving them master control over everything below. These games feature various menus, and sub-menus, in order to give the player a full range of direct control. This type of interface is best on PC, as the players have an entire keyboard to wield for direct inputs and commands.
On a console system, this type of control interface is extraordinarily difficult, as the player is given access to the limited button inputs of a controller. This means that to achieve a specific command, the player has to circle through several menus in order to make execute a choice. For Frostpunk on consoles, Jakub and his team went to great lengths to buck this trend and deliver an innovative user interface. And they achieved that goal.
Jakub was able to navigate the world with ease. Using the Xbox One controller, he was able to select choices and make decisions seamlessly, without tripping through menu systems. The screen allowed for a wide view of the activity ongoing, and the information properly displayed without obscuring the view. Menus were portrayed with a clean look and color to not interfere with the player. Seeing this was astonishing. Jakub even commented, “Right now, we are in a place where I’d prefer to play the console version of Frostpunk than the PC version.” Hearing that is extraordinarily encouraging. While Jakub admitted he needs some tweaking, especially with the font display, seeing this demo was sublime.
Following the demo, I had a moment to talk to Patryk Grzeszczuk, Marketing director at 11 bit studios. With the success of Frostpunk on PC, he is quite excited for Frostpunk making its way to the console audiences. He hopes that Frostpunk: Console Edition strikes a chord with players, as it will be one of the most unique games on the console market. According to Greszczuk, what sets Frostpunk apart is the game’s story and scenarios, which feature a long stretch of replay value, as well as multiple endings. This also includes the endless mode, for endless playability. Grzeszczuk revealed the latter in the Summer of 2019, 11 bit will release a new DLC, which will be fairly priced. The DLC will expand the lore, teach the player new mechanics not available in the base game, and greatly expand the number of activities that the player can embark on.
Seeing Frostpunk in action has been great, especially as I do not possess a laptop or computer capable of running higher-end PC games. Visually, Frostpunk was stellar, and the gameplay looks incredibly polished for consoles. It’s clear that Jakub and his team at 11 Bit studios are committed and determined to make Frostpunk: Console Edition the best it can possibly be, especially for those unfamiliar with the game. The user design clearly has console players in mind, and the commitment to the game post-launch is exciting. Stokalski and Grzeszczuk certainly have a fantastic new launch of a game on their hands, and I cannot wait to see more.
Frostpunk is currently available on Steam and Frostpunk: Console Edition launched on October 11, 2019 for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.