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Depressed by its bleak perspective, alone and freezing in the digital marketplace, Don't Starve survives solely on mystery and cheek. The first self-released offering from developer Klei Entertainment -- best known for attractive consoles side-scrollers like Shank and Mark of the Ninja -- Don't Starve drops the player into an unforgiving boot camp in wilderness readiness.
What first strikes the would-be survivalist is the gnawing, pen-drawn art style, which -- along with the macabre sense of bone-dry humor and 19th century British parlor aesthetic -- traces back to artist Edward Gorey and his Gashlycrumb Tinies book. In what other world could pigs develop an uneasy trade cycle of crops and feces with a poor scientist dabbling in meteorology and the occult?
Don’t Starve is punctuated by those kinds of obtuse relationships, which set the stage for the player's inevitable, failed attempts at survival in the always-freshly-generated landscape. The majority of in-game time is spent gathering basic resources like grass, rocks, and carrots, which quickly fill up the meager inventory slots. Collected components can then be combined to create useful inventions like tents, science machines, earmuffs, meat effigies, improved farms, fire darts, golden shovels, or campfires. The better portion of early play will find you discovering new inventions and deciding on the relative utility of each.
Wrong choices are inescapable, and in Don’t Starve, the price for wasting resources is permanent death. The reward for wise stewardship is a deeper collection, character unlocks, and the benefit of not losing all of your progress. Once assembled, the right mixture of food, building materials, and mandrake roots will allow the player to maintain stable levels of health, hunger, and sanity as indicated by three leaky gauges. Extreme hunger depletes health, which causes death. Over-farming leads to weak defenses, which leads to death by attack of the night-critters. Hallucinations are unavoidable, but dangerous – even lethal – when unchecked. An uneasy balance is mandatory.
Don’t Starve breaks up the feverish pitch of its day-night, summer-winter survival gauntlet with randomly-generated portals to Adventure Mode, an even more demanding, five-stage bull rush through increasingly difficult, booby-trapped collection missions. But if the Survival or Adventure Modes ever become too daunting, players can adjust settings for almost every element in the game to their liking.
The bottom line. The prospect of survival in a game is rarely as hopeless, or as coy and rewarding, as it is in Don't Starve.
Mac OS X 10.7 or later, 1GB RAM, 1.7Ghz Processor, 256MB VRAM
Death is a meaningful part of the experience. Simply lasting the night feels like a victory. Deep invention trees hook your interest. The Pig King rules.
Point-and-click combat is one-dimensional. Unflinching difficulty can be off-putting.