Left Hungry: Don't Starve Review

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Are you familiar with Mark of the Ninja?  Maybe the Shank series?  Well, developer Klei Entertainment has released yet another game.  But this time it’s not all about ninjas or hitmen.  This time, they're focused on the exact opposite: survival.

In Don’t Starve, players take the role of scientist Wilson, who wakes up in a foreign world after a failed experiment.  With nothing but the clothes on his back, Wilson must maneuver around the 3-D sketch-art environment and scrounge up materials in hopes of survival.  That's it.  That’s the depth of Don’t Starve.

The first thing I noticed upon being dropped into this strange world was the eye-catching Gothic visuals.  While it looks like it's straight out of a sketchbook, the world pops to life with 3-D effects to make for a more 2.5-D world.  All in all, Don’t Starve is exactly what you'd expect from an artistic indie game, in that it's visually unique and elegant.  Beauty certainly does the game a huge favor.  Much of Don’t Starve is based on exploration, and who wants to explore an ugly-looking world?

Sadly, the depth of the design leaves something to be desired.  Soon enough, after you’ve found the dozen or so sights worth seeing, there really isn’t much reason to keep exploring.  Your only motivation to go out and about will be to gather supplies, and even those become tedious to collect.

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So what?  I mean, Minecraft and Terraria can be tedious too, right?  Well, unlike in those two gems, Don’t Starve doesn't make resource-gathering the least bit soothing or enjoyable.  The core mechanic is walk, then click.  Over and over.

Each resource serves a purpose, but for the most part, all of their uses are described in the menus.  There’s no sense of discovery.  No tinkering around with combinations of items to see if they’ll create something new and amazing.  Survival ultimately boils down to a bunch of fetch quests, but lacks anything that could make those fetch quests interesting.

Enemies are few and far between, and are as threatening as a baby kitten covered in bubble-wrap.  On most occasions, you can dispatch them with relative ease, unless you're significantly outnumbered.  Actually, difficulty as a whole is pretty non-existent. You’ll have to manage your hunger, sanity, and health, but it’s really not as hard as it sounds.  Food is abundant, fire is easily created to keep things lit-up at night, and with few threats to your well-being, health rarely dips.

And there you have Don’t Starve's most egregious fault.  When designing a SURVIVAL game, it might be a good idea to make surviving an unknown environment, you know, hard.

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On the bright side, Wilson and the other unlockable characters all bring their own sense of humor to the table.  Wilson, a quirky scientist, will often throw out chuckle-worthy one-liners.  Most quips are dark in tone, which fits perfectly with the overall atmosphere of the game.

Once I finished poking elephant-sized holes in the gameplay, there really wasn't much left to appreciate about Don’t Starve.  Yes, it’s quirky, and it has a great art-style.  But the game fails to do much else with any significant degree of quality.  While it’s not completely trying to imitate Minecraft and Terraria, it’s tough not to compare the three. There is a clear overlap in the target audience, but Don’t Starve doesn't do anything all that new or impressive.  It meddles around with some great ideas, but for one reason or another, those ideas weren’t executed as well as they should have been.

When a game so blatantly misses its number one goal, it’s difficult to give it any sort of praise.  While a few may be satisfied by Don’t Starve, I think it’s for the best if you steer clear.  There are so many better alternatives.

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