The best part of playing Don’t Starve is not knowing what to do, at least not at first. This wilderness survival game has a steep learning curve. With graphics styled like something from the mind of Tim Burton, Don’t Starve can be a little macabre at times and has a dry sense of humor. The goal is to race against the clock to gather supplies and food before nightfall, because being caught in the darkness will kill you.
The game starts off with Wilson, a frustrated scientist. One night, the strange voice of Maxwell speaks to Wilson over the radio and offers to help him. Wilson is tempted by the mysterious Maxwell, who offers him unlimited knowledge. Though the game never explains who Maxwell is, when I looked it up on the game’s website, I discovered Maxwell is supposed to be a demon. So as it did for Adam and Eve in the garden, knowledge comes at a heavy price. Wilson is transported to an unknown wilderness and has to quickly prepare to stave off death.
Survival in Don’t Starve takes the form of picking grass, twigs, and flint found scattered around the terrain. These items can be fashioned into an axe or pickaxe at first and later users can unlock other tools. It all comes down to time management. If you spend too much time hunting a rabbit or exploring the map, you might not have what you need to build a fire before dark. On the other hand, you can over prepare for nightfall and not have enough food. The threats facing the protagonist come from an empty stomach, life-threatening attacks, or just simply going crazy. It becomes a juggling act to try to maintain Wilson’s hunger, health, and psyche. Death doesn’t mean failure, but you do have to start over. The game tracks how many cumulative days you survive to unlock new characters. The only way to fail is to stop trying. This die-and-try-again gameplay recalls the old days, when games only gave you three lives before sending you back to the beginning to start over. On top of having to start from scratch after every death, the environment changes randomly each time your character dies. Nothing is where you found it the last time you played.
Released for PS4 on Jan. 7 and also available for PCs, Don’t Starve is rated Teen for fantasy violence and crude humor. The monsters are cartoonish and the only disturbing imagery was pig heads on poles placed around stone tables. These tables are the only way to come back from dying and work only once. All the dialog is in the form of text on the screen. Don’t Starve offers a refreshing change from all the shooter and action games released lately.
Watch a gameplay video of Don't Starve: