(PlayStation 4)

Don't Starve (PlayStation 4)

Game Review

Don't Starve Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Joey Thurmond

The hunger game

Nature is beautiful. We observe it from pictures and videos from the safety of our home. We get up close to it on vacations through tour guides and hikes. And sometimes, we even interact with it by camping in the wilderness, preparing with ample supplies and experiencing only a sliver of what it must be like to rough it for real. But what if you suddenly found yourself in a stunning yet strange land with nothing but the clothes on your back? What would you use around you? What strategies would you implement to fight back hunger, maintain your health, and keep hold of your sanity? Don’t Starve presents the scenario that these questions pose as it slaps you down into an unfamiliar and unforgiving world with no tutorial, no guidance, and no mercy. However, will its harsh difficulty discourage and deprive you from experiencing much of what the novel PlayStation 4 release has to offer, or are the title’s beautiful visuals enough to keep you coming back for more?

Wilson is a ‘gentleman scientist’ that’s out of luck. We see him trying to come up with a potion of some sort in the opening cutscene, but when botching it for what seems like the umpteenth time, he slumps down on his recliner in defeat. Suddenly, a mysterious voice comes from the radio by his side that offers him a chance to attain the knowledge that he lacks. Gladly accepting this deal, Wilson is imparted with newfound intelligence that compels him to get to work on a weird machine with an unknown purpose. When he’s finished, the voice tells him to switch it on, and when he does, the protagonist discovers that he’s made a terrible mistake. Lightning cracks, the sky turns black, and shadowy hands protrude from the wooden panels of his home to drag him into the unknown. Once in the actual game, we see that Wilson has been transported to a foreign land. Then, while he’s lying on the ground recovering from shock, the brooding villain responsible for his predicament appears and encourages him to start searching for supplies. Only once he’s disappeared from sight, does the fight for survival start.

Played from a top down perspective, the goal of this game is to find, manage, combine, and use hundreds of items for the purpose of enduring in a randomly generated world. You have to feed yourself by hunting animals, combine food to create recipes for better meals, and maintain a garden to store up rations. You need to keep up your wellbeing by donning armour, heal with natural resources, wear warm clothing to brave the winter, and stay out of the dark with light sources to avoid experiencing hallucinations and draining your sanity stat. In addition, you can befriend strange creatures, fight menacing foes, explore bizarre underground caves, and much more.

If you’re thinking that this title sounds similar to playing Minecraft on Hardcore mode, that’s certainly right. This release seems heavily inspired by it, making the game a tense and dangerous journey to embark on every time. But one major difference is that you can play as different characters that have unique pros and cons. For example, Wilson is the average, well-rounded hero. The witty scientist can grow a beard that helps keep him insulated during the winter, but he has no major weaknesses or strengths to note. On the other hand, a character like the disturbing, emotionally detached Wendy is comfortable in the darkness and can summon the ghost of her sister to fight enemies. On the downside, she loses a lot of her sanity when she does the latter and lacks strength to fight compared to the other characters. You unlock all of them over time with a level up system tied to your performance, which works as a fairly neat incentive to try them all out.

While the abovementioned mode is the only option in the game, you can adjust an assortment of settings like how many of a certain enemy appear, how long the seasons are, what foods are in normal or limited quantities, and so forth. Altering these options can make the game somewhat easier, but also harder – which is probably not something that you want to do at first. Without looking at walkthroughs, figuring out how everything works and what you should do to survive while juggling the essential needs of your character can be stressful.

Even after a little over a dozen hours spent with the release, we weren’t able to get a true sense of the full adventure due to the intentional learning curve and severe difficulty of the experience. Like a roguelike, you lose everything that you've obtained when you die; hours spent playing will be wiped away if you slip up, which only leaves you with the knowledge that you gained if you start a new session. We hoped that we’d get lucky enough to spawn in a randomly generated world with plenty of food so that we could focus on getting further than our previous attempts, but due to the deliberate game design, this didn’t happen. The gameplay is definitely solid, but the devotion required to succeed will render the experience divisive.

Fortunately, there’s absolutely no doubt that everyone will enjoy the fantastic art style backing up the graphics. Heavily inspired by Tim Burton’s animated films, every object and character in this game has a sort of stylised, cartoony, and spindly aspect to its design. What’s also fascinating is that nearly everything looks like a cut-out piece of paper that's been drawn upon, which results in a mostly flat presentation of the world despite the fact that you can navigate it in any direction as if it were 3D. This makes the game a visually memorable experience because it manages to pull you in with its peculiar charm.

The audio adds to the high production values, too. Specifically, the sound effects immerse you in the experience with the unnerving cries and shrieks of creatures, the sound of your footsteps changing from environment to environment, and especially the impeccable ambience of sounds like the ocean, fire crackling, wind, and trees swaying – there’s definitely some great attention to detail here. Meanwhile, the ragtime and silent film era inspired soundtrack is quite catchy, featuring unconventional appliances such as the xylophone and accordion with the typical piano and strings. These upbeat compositions are pleasantly odd, and the same can be said for the characters' voices and their amusingly entertaining dialogue, which are individually portrayed by a specific brass instrument like a trumpet, tuba, or melancholy flute.

Conclusion

Don’t Starve may make your stomach rumble in frustration if you’re not willing to invest the required time to master its complex systems, but triumph over its crushing difficulty, and you may find a satisfactory dish here. The beautiful art style, entertaining music, and solid gameplay mean that you owe it to yourself to at least give the title a try – but know that not everyone will want to stick around for seconds.

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User Comments (20)

get2sammybAdmin

#1

get2sammyb said:

Untitled

Brilliant review and wonderful subheadline, Joey. I obviously own this (DAT PS PLUS) but I haven't had a chance to play yet. I have heard that it's scarily obtuse, so I'm not sure whether it'll be for me. I totally get what they're going for in that sense, but I worry that I won't have the patience to figure out all of the mechanics in order to play this properly.

Like you say, though, it does look amazing.

Squiggle55

#2

Squiggle55 said:

This game is quite challenging. I'm only on my third try and the most I've survived is 2 or 3 weeks. I haven't even gotten to a point where I'm making a farm or anything like that yet. I'm afraid that this type of game will eventually wear me down and make me quit when I die after getting far.

ztpayne7

#3

ztpayne7 said:

I read a couple of tips, and it looked like I finally found the spot I was looking for. Friendly neighbors, herd of beefalo, open space to make farms...it was great. Until my second day there and a boss-like monster randomly spawned and wiped me out.

One very important note that was missed in the review. Except for the fact that the item you need to craft isn't always 100% easy to see, this is one of the three games I've played so far on my ps4 that is very remote play friendly. Nothing on the l3 or r3, the top rear touch pad just controls camera which isn't necessary. Only annoying thing is accidentally activating the map.

Squiggle55

#4

Squiggle55 said:

One tip is that there is some sort of altar that you can activate as a sort of back up life somewhere on the map where you will resurrect at the altar and you can go find your dead body and loot. But it seems like when you use it there are more monsters on the map out to get you or something.

lvnlavitaloca

#5

lvnlavitaloca said:

I played this quite a bit and loved it. Its like a top-down-paper-craft-tim burton-evil mincraft. I found a village of pig people to hang out with and start a wooden fort!

banacheck

#6

banacheck said:

@lvnlavitaloca
Be careful at full moon thay turn into werepigs, that's what killed me. Also if you kill a pig or knock down the pig's house you'll get pig skin, give the pig skin too a pig and he will follow you. Help you cut down tree's etc and defend you, but as I said if it's a full moon light a torch and run.

NintendoNaut

#10

NintendoNaut said:

Awesome review, though, as someone who's not a huge fan of this type of game, I think I'll pass.

Cloud7794

#11

Cloud7794 said:

@get2sammyb I feel that it's one of those games where the difficulty actually makes you want to keep going, not shy away. I'm on about my 6th try, and really haven't even made it to 2 weeks yet, but each time I get better and get my start much faster.

A word of advice for someone who wants to get into the game a tad easier, turn off hounds. They will severely mess you up if you're not prepared, and you definitely won't be prepared with just an axe or spear.

belmont

#12

belmont said:

Remember the Lost in Blue series on the original DS? They were some of my favourite games of the console. From what I read this game somewhat reminds me this games with the obvious difference that in those there was nothing random generated.

Gemuarto

#13

Gemuarto said:

Very boring game. 3 out of 10, for me. No actual story, just boring repetative gameplay, boring art and uninspiring music. Worse game I've played in 2013-2014. No real game design, also, because everything is random. Tokyo Jungle was 1000% better. This is just boring copy of it.

SimonAdebisi

#14

SimonAdebisi said:

@ztpayne7 it does work pretty well on vita remote play, I've not actually played it yet on the ps4, my only complaint about the remote play is that the details are very small in the open world setting so I think I'm going to prefer it on my ps4/TV. So far I've not played it a whole lot but for me this is best PS plus game along with DCUO. Nope, I didn't like resogun. I will definitely be playing more of this in the next couple of months.

DrJoeystein

#16

DrJoeystein said:

@get2sammyb Thanks! Yes, that was one thing I definitely had to point out in my review. Inherently, it's an extremely good game, but it's geared to a more exclusive audience, so I can't recommend to everyone. Definitely try it though (especially since it's free for the time being! ;) )

@ztpayne7 That's a good point; I didn't try out the remote play. Interestingly enough, I actually didn't know you could shift the perspective of the camera until I was writing my review! I noticed this when watching videos online of people playing the PC version of the game, but thankfully, it was completely unnecessary to playing the game...wish I had experimented more with the controls though. :P

@lvnlavidaloca Ha, can't say I disagree with your summary of the game! Yes, I figured out you could befriend the pigs without a walkthrough, but I wasn't able to make much use of them. However, I can tell that if you recruit a lot of them, they can help you take out a lot of enemies.

@NintendoNaut Thanks! Sounds like it's not your type of game, but I definitely wouldn't pass while it's free. It's definitely a fun adventure for the first couple of hours, so I'd recommend just doing that so you can see what the game is like. Again, like Minecraft, everyone should play it to get a feel for it, but everyone won't feel a draw to the game (like me, for example).

@Cloud7794 Yep, the game has that addictive quality that makes you want to keep playing, but like the said, the difficulty will either keep players striving to get better or discourage them. All about personal taste here!

@belmont Huh, I don't believe I've heard of that game. I'll check it out. Thanks!

@Gemuarto There isn't an apparent story, but it's there. You kind of have to dig for it, and when you do, it's quite interesting (which is especially helped out by the awesome characters and immersive world). I disagree that the art and music aren't great and that the game doesn't have "real" game design, but I slightly see what you're saying. I can imagine the game being boring for some due to the time investment and grind of getting items, exploring the world, etc. As for Tokyo Jungle, I've heard the mixed reactions about it, but I'll take a look at it. Thanks for commenting!

Squiggle55

#17

Squiggle55 said:

@Cloud7794 I think the problem is that it's very addictive in the beginning, when you only survive a few days and learn something new to help you the next time. But the first time I die after surviving several months I'm not sure if I'll have it in me to start completely over from the beginning.

Reverend_Skeeve

#18

Reverend_Skeeve said:

Great review, sir! And I enjoy this game a lot. Love the art style and sound design.

@lvnlavitaloca pretty much nailed it when he called it a "top-down-paper-craft-tim burton-evil mincraft". :)

Cloud7794

#19

Cloud7794 said:

@Squiggle55 As someone previously said, you can activate stones that will revive you apparently, so after several months you should have activated at least one and know the locations of others. I would put a chest filled with a few decent items next to the activated stone to allow you to have good enough gear to make it to your main base.

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