Friday Feature: Don’t Starve

I’m not sure I can explain why, but the past couple of years have seen a rise in the popularity of so-called “survival” video games.

As a general rule, these games drop you into an unfamiliar, hostile environment with little to no instruction on what to do next. Sometimes you have some equipment that might indicate your first action (“here’s an axe, and there are some trees”), but just as often you have nothing.

Games like Minecraft, Terraria, Starbound, DayZ, Rust, and Don’t Starve have taken hold of the industry and with upcoming games like The Forest in 2014 it looks like they’re here to stay.

Don’t Starve, right now, holds a unique spot in the survival game pantheon in that it (unlike Minecraft, Terraria, and Starbound) isn’t really a sandbox game where building your house is just as, if not more important than “surviving” and (unlike DayZ and Rust) isn’t an online game where 99% of what “surviving” means is avoiding other players who are better equipped than you and want to kill you for whatever resources you’ve gathered.

Don’t Starve drops you into the unfamiliar terrain and gives you only the instructions that its title does. You have the recipe for an axe, but you’re left on your own to find saplings and flint to make it. By the beginning of the first night you also need to have built a campfire. And I hope while you were hunting for flint you also scavenged some food, because within a couple of game days you’ll have starved to death.

Don’t Starve has a degree of difficulty that will be a turn off to many new players. As a general rule you’ll have to begin a new game and die three or four times before you really get the hang of what you’re doing, so it requires some patience, but it pays off.

In my opinion there’s a lot to love about this game. It’s charming because of its stylized game art which looks grim and hand-drawn in many cases. It’s endlessly unpredictable and replayable because of the randomly generated levels. And it’s challenging, partially because of the esoteric information about the game that you can really only access by playing it (or using a guide, I suppose, but that saps a lot of the challenge out of any game).

If what I’ve described doesn’t sound appealing, then maybe Don’t Starve isn’t for you, but if you’re already a fan of high-degree-of-difficulty gaming or survival games as a genre, then Don’t Starve needs to be on your must-play list.

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