by Goran Damnjanovic, Gaming Columnist
Published in Gaming on 16th May, 2018
Frostpunk, the latest game from the studio that gave us This War of Mine, took the PC video game world by surprise. The phenomenal indie game where you try to keep your settlement and your citizens alive while fighting with the cutting cold of the next Ice Age showed that PC gamers want to play punishingly hard games.
Frostpunk's amazing mix of survival and city managing gameplay hit the bull's eye and the game garnered superb review scores. Gamers followed, making Frostpunk one of those (not so common) titles that managed to impress both critics and players alike, and the success materialized in massive sales. This allowed developers (who also managed to self-publish the title) enough resources to create more content for the game, ensuring that Frostpunk will remain relevant across 2018.
The game features incredible graphics, with chill-inducing snow particle effects, and detailed buildings and other stuff you find in the game. Gameplay is punishing and will put you to the test. Even when you think your settlement flourished, the next disaster is just around the corner, making you vigilant at all times and not allowing you to become unfocused, not for a second.
The game is filled with difficult choices perfectly showing the reality of a disaster-stricken world where no decision can go without its ramifications, often sacrificing one thing to keep other parts of your frosty settlement alive and well. Now, while the game is amazing and probably the best city building title of the year, it has a couple of downsides the biggest of which is its short length. Even if you count the campaign and all other scenarios (which are just a few at the moment) the game hardly can last longer than a dozen of hours.
And while we are sure that developers will inject Frostpunk with lots of content in the coming months, that isn't great news for someone who played the game and just wants more of the same. Luckily, there are many similar games on PC that recreate Frostpunk's punishing difficulty and its mix of survival and strategy quite well, and if you take a couple of minutes of your time and explore our list you will find enough titles to give you hundreds of hours of pure fun. Let us begin.
Switch lack of heat with lack of oxygen and you get the general idea of Oxygen Not Included. This one is another mix between survival and strategy that puts the player in the role of a manager of a space colony. And yes, the colony's most valuable resource is oxygen.
Unlike Frostpunk, Oxygen Not Included is a 2D game that features cute art indie art style so you won't be constantly reminded of the dread and a realistic sense of hopelessness that are the main focus of Frostpunk's art style. In this one, your colonists are a happy bunch of scientists, soldiers, and colonists that are happy while trying to survive inside an asteroid.
In Oxygen Not Included you won't just find that oxygen is scarce. Giving your colonists enough heat (and not too much heat) and enough living space. Try keeping them sane while they are coping with the isolation that is common when living inside a giant space rock, keep every part of you base functioning and collect enough resources to not just secure survival, but also enable your colony to develop and thrive.
The game is pretty hard, a sought feature in this list, and will make your first couple of colonies to quickly die by suffocation, or by some other horrific cause. But once you master its gameplay and become skilled in running an asteroid base, you will become extremely addicted and will waste many hours on this small, cute, addictive, beautiful, and complex game.
While Northgard is more of an RTS (real-time strategy game) game and not so much a city management title, it does share some features with Frostpunk. Firstly, there's cold, and lots of it. While the game features different seasons, it is dominated by harsh winters during which the game will test your settlement and your playing skills. You have to build your city and gather enough resources during the summer and spring in order to keep your settlement alive during the times of chilling frost.
The game tells a tale of a Viking tribe that found new lands and, like most settlers do, now wants to settle on it. You will lead Vikings among many different missions in the game's single-player campaign and through other game modes that include online multiplayer and sandbox mode which can end when some of the various victory conditions are met.
Solid graphics and detailed models make Northgard very pleasant to the eye, especially once the snow starts falling, slowly shrouding the land in thick, white cover. The game features pretty long campaign and will offer a few dozens of hours of playtime in its other game modes. And if you are a fan of sandbox mode you will waste even more time playing Northgard. And since the game features different tribes, each with their own unique mechanics, you will have enough incentive to replay the campaign, or to achieve multiple victories in sandbox mode, each time playing with a different tribe.
Another indie smash hit, RimWorld took Steam Early Access by surprise in the middle of 2016. Since then, the game got tons of new content and at the moment is one of the best (if not the best) space colony games. In RimWorld you are responsible for your own group of survivors on an alien planet, a band of specialists who must survive countless threats.
Some of them include gnarly aliens, other humans, forces of nature, starvation, diseases, and more. Your survivors can even go insane, descent into madness and become a huge burden for the colony. The game will throw hundreds of different events at you with the help of an intelligent AI storyteller, some of them positive but most will be of negative nature, and it is your responsibility to overcome them and come out of them stronger than before.
You start with three survivors with the goal of keeping them alive while trying to expand your new colony. New colonists can be found around the map, you can convince prisoners to join you, your colonists will get kids, and there's always the choice of filling your colony with slaves bought from slave traders, which can be turned to colonists or used as free labor, the choice is yours.
Your people have their needs, desires, love interests, and through the course of the game they will fall in love, have children, get sick, ask for new stuff, and much more. The crafting system in RimWorld is extremely advanced and allows you to craft virtually anything. When you cannot craft something, there's a complex trading system that helps you in getting rare resources and expensive items. The game map covers an immense number of biomes and lots of different adventures for your colony. The possibilities are endless and RimWorld is one of those games that can be played for thousands of hours without getting stale or boring because each new colony has its own unique story to tell.
Another space colony sim, Planetbase is quite different from RimWorld. Firstly, the game is constructed like a classic management game where you build your colony without the need to find new colonists, without crafting, and without crazy encounters and bizarre stories that can happen in RimWorld. The similarities with FrostPunk are the punishing difficulty and the need to provide colonists with a constant influx of air (instead of heat).
The game features pretty graphics and four different planets you can try to colonize. You start with a simple landing craft and will try to build a huge space colony capable of surviving on its own and capable of providing colonists with every resource available. Three main elements your colonists need are oxygen, food, and water, and the lack of one will mean you are in a bad place. And the game isn't forgiving.
There are four different planets you can colonize (desert planet, frozen planet, gas giant moon, and storm planet) and they are ranked by difficulty, and even the easiest one will give you a tall challenge that will be too hard during the first couple of attempts.
The game lacks any single player campaign or story to follow but its four different planets and the challenge of creating a self-sufficient colony on each planet will suck hundreds of hours of your free time. The main shortcoming is a dumb AI of your colonists, so unless you love micromanaging your people this one probably isn't for you. On the other hand, PlanetBase is a great survival/sim game that can entertain you for years, so it definitely deserves a chance. The choice is up to you.
The name says it all. In this one, your goal is surviving the apocalypse. And not any apocalypse but the one that includes demons and Hell on Earth. So, instead of the freezing cold of Frostpunk your greatest enemy in Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation are demons. The game's start is similar to those found in RimWorld. You start on a randomly generated map with three survivors that possess random specializations.
Then, you must build your base and hope for the best. The first challenge is surviving the first demon attack and if you get out of that alive, it is time to find new survivors and try staying alive as long as possible. You will find new survivors, will live through many attacks and will find new items that can give your settlement important and powerful bonuses.
Now, this one contains a major combat element and after your settlement gets defenses your main goal will be to train survivors (magic wielding ones and warriors) and send them out there to gather new items, fight demons and become more powerful, and find new people for your settlement. The game features neat crafting mechanics that is complex enough to offer lots of different craftable items and weapons while not being complex enough to enrage you when you realize the sheer number of items that can be crafted.
Graphics are simplistic, of a 2D style similar to the art style used in RimWorld that guarantees humble system requirements. Despite the graphics Judgment: Apocalypse Survival Simulation is one of those titles capable of sucking you in, taking hundreds of hours of your time before becoming stale. One thing that might interest those who find Frostpunk and RimWorld just too damn hard is the option to pick difficulty before you are thrown to the demon-infested Earth, so you can play on easy before getting grip on various gameplay mechanics and getting ready for tougher challenges.
The Long Dark is one of the best survival games ever to be released, and it while not a city building game it shares one huge similarity with Frostpunk, chilling cold. The apocalypse is upon you, and instead of demons, you fight with the cold, freezing cold. Power is lost and the only way to stay warm and alive is embarking on a journey over freezing landscape hoping to find survivors, a shelter, food, and heat.
The Long Dark features a beautiful art style that is capable of sucking you in as soon as you start to play the game. Once you enter the freezing world of The Long Dark there's no turning back. Once you die that's it because the game features permadeath. The difficulty is there to make you give your best and to stay focused on surviving in the cold, barren landscape.
Challenges are varied and include getting and staying warm, having enough sleep, hunting for food and battling against predators, and more. There are many different animals roaming the wild and the huge, 50 square kilometer, open world of The Long Dark is filled with buildings and items that can be of help.
Once you spend dozens of hours in the game's mesmerizing sandbox mode you can try one of the four different challenges or try playing the story mode that, at the moment, offers two out of five episodes that should, once all episodes are out (as free downloads mind you) offer more than 30 hours of play time.
Another game combining strategy and survival, They Are Billions just exploded near the end of the last year after the game entered Steam Early Access. In They Are Billions you have to build an airtight base because the Earth entered a good old zombie apocalypse. Keeping your base walled and without any hole is the most important thing because once one of the survivors gets bitten the zombie virus will start spreading like a tsunami across your base.
Of course, a real-time strategy cannot be good if it doesn't offer lots of combat. And in this one combat is one of the main parts of your survival strategy because getting access to resources means taking them from zombies. And there are billions of them. The game supports an insane number of units on the screen, allowing for some epic battles between your soldiers and thousands of undead that can just swarm entire screen in just a couple of dozens of seconds.
There are lots of different game modes including an excellent campaign along with a compelling endless mode that offers hundreds of hours of fun. Graphics look impressive but won't melt your PC. If you like RTS and survival games and want a challenge that's completely opposite to the one offered in Frostpunk, consider this one as your next time waster.
Banished is a sim game where you control a band of misfits who decided to abandon their world of relative safety and conquer new lands. And this may be harder than it sounds. When it comes to difficulty, Banished is as tough as Frostpunk but in a much different way. Here you have the constant need to grow your city, and the only way of getting new citizens is your current citizens to have children.
Banished is the game where people are the most important resource of them all and if you want to have a constant influx of this resource, you must keep your colonists alive and well, healthy and well fed in order for them to decide to find love and to procreate. And of course, that can be tough. The first couple of games will probably end with all of your townspeople dying from starvation of with your town disappearing because everyone will get old and die without having children to replace them.
After a couple of games, you will learn how to create a stable economy and how to survive harsh winters (it seems cold is one of the worst enemies in many sim games, not just Frostpunk) with enough food in the storage. Once you learn how to produce enough resources your city will finally start growing. There will be many children, the best of your citizens will become the village elders and will keep the economy stable and there will be plenty of resources. The next challenge will be surviving the inevitable generation shift without the economy crashing.
The game features pretty graphics that isn't taxing on resources, an extremely immersive sandbox mode and if you're one of those gamers who love endless city builders Banished will give you endless hours of quality fun.
Before giving us Frostpunk the people from 11 Bit Studios gave us This War of Mine, one of the most emotional survival games around. Your task is This War of Mine is simple - survive the war. But, survive the war without being a soldier but a common person who doesn't know how to handle a gun, who isn't an experienced and gritty survivalist, and who just wants to see the light of a new day.
The game shares lots with Frostpunk, but the most important thing is that during the campaign of This War of Mine you'll have to bring lots of hard decisions, none of which being the better choice. Choosing the lesser evil and living with consequences that will haunt you for days is one of the best things about the game. Will you take survivors knowing that you don't have food for all of them, would you become a thief and strip people from their possessions only to keep your family alive, or will you become a ruthless raider that only looks for resources and is willing to kill to get what they want?
This War of Mine is split into two different parts, day and night. During the day you will manage your hideout, keeping it in good shape along with keeping other survivors alive and well. You can't go out because soldiers and snipers will notice you very quickly, killing you on spot. During the night you will hunt for resources and raid other survivors (if you want) in order to get enough food and water to survive another day. The game features beautiful 2D graphics, it is a joy to behold and during its course, This War of Mine will make you cry more than once, whether by its emotional story or by your ruthless actions that are needed in order to keep your family alive.
And for the end, we have one classic game that got re-released on Steam a couple of years ago. Space Colony is developed by Firefly Studios, the same team that brought us Stronghold games (both good and bad ones) and is one excellent space colony sim game. If you look past the game's dated graphics, Space Colony will give you many hours of pure fun.
The goal of the game is to build a powerful colony while keeping your people alive in a harsh, alien environment. Build new buildings, keep your defenses up against dangerous alien creatures and try keeping your people happy.
The game features lots of micromanagement of colonists because each one of them has a mind of his own, and most of them will often get into trouble pretty frequently. So, the survival part of the game is less keeping a constant flow of resources and more controlling your colonists and keeping them out of trouble. The game features lots of different game modes including a single player campaign and if you like city building sims with lots of micromanagement, do try this one out.