reviews\ Jan 25, 2014 at 4:00 pm

Don't Starve (PS4) Review: Rinse and repeat


I never played Klei Entertainment's Don't Starve when it was available on PC. I was interested, but it wasn't until it came to the PlayStation 4 that I first attempted survival in this unforgiving, gothic-inspired world reminiscent of something from the mind of Tim Burton.

Don't Starve is a roguelike, which, for those unfamiliar with the term, means once you die it's over. All of your progress, all of your experience, and all of your items are lost. All you can do is start over from scratch. To that end, Don't Starve -- like any roguelike -- can be particularly frustrating. 

Newcomers to a game like Don't Starve will undoubtedly be confused at first. I sure was. After a short cinematic you are dropped into an odd, but unique fantasy world; it's beautiful in its own twisted, dark way. From there, the rest is up to you. There's no direction, no expanation, no tutorial; it's just you and your struggle with survival.

And struggle you will. My first playthrough I survived just one full cycle of night and day. The game offers absolutely no sort of advice or explanation for anything in the game. The lack of instrution, as frustrating as it can be at times, actually does make for a more rewarding experience, however. The struggle with being tossed blindly into a new world makes something as simple-sounding as making your own campfire seem like you climbed Mount Everest.

Don't Starve snow

But remember, when you die -- and you will die -- you lose everything, without so much of a pat on the back from the game. Don't Starve offers very little in terms of rewards after you complete a run. Yes, you earn experience which can be used to unlock new characters (which each have their own unique abilities) but aside from that there's very little to be enjoyed aside from the personal satisfaction of outlasting your former playthrough. Some sort of leaderboard or competitive aspect to share with friends would make the game much more compelling. 

Don't Starve is undoubtedly challenging, but it doesn't challenge you with a strict set of goals. There are no set missions or objects, just survival. Because of that, anyone who can't set their own personal goals may have a hard time finding the motivation to keep playing. With that being said, it is absolutely possible to enjoy Don't Starve without missions being fed to you. The lack of direction can at times, feel liberating as you are free to do what you want to do, when you want to do it (just as long as you are prepared for the dangers of nighttime).

So direction, or lack thereof, aside, what do you actually do in Don't Starve? Well, aside from not starving, it's basically up to you. Your personal goals will likely dictate your actions throughout the game. If you are an adventurer type personality, you'll likely spend more time exploring the land, investigating caves, things of that nature. If you're like me, you'll take a more cautious approach, spending the days collecting supplies and establishing some sort of safe haven from the dangers around you. 

Don't Starve camp

Because of my personal playstyle, I rarely ventured out at night and because of this the time cycle in the game left me extremely bored at night. I would often sit by a fire feeding it wood so I would have light. During the day, I would explore a bit more and collect new supplies and learning new recipes. Gameplay can get quite repetitive, as early on it's all about collecting your supplies for survival. However, once you get that first Science Machine, the entire game opens up. It becomes less about scraping by and more about exploring and seeing what you can find. Just be prepared for it all to end at any moment.

On the PlayStation 4 the menus and navigation are functional. They definitely take some getting used to, but after a playthrough or two, you should get used to scrolling through your inventory rather quickly. Aside from the controls, the game looks good on PS4. It's got a dark, whimsical art style that's fun to look at, though the grays and browns do get depressing at times.

Roguelikes aren't for everyone. If the thought of putting hours into a session and having it end with you losing all of your progress upsets you, then you probably won't like Don't Starve. The lack of direction or instruction or any sort of help is admittedly frustrating, but it does make your accomplishments all the sweeter. 

My best advice is to just try it for yourself, because Don't Starve is such a polarizing game. What I can say with certainty, however, is that you should at least give it a chance. With Don't Starve being free-to-play on PS4 for PlayStation Plus members, there's really no reason why you shouldn't. Download it, try a few runs, and see if you keep coming back to it.


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