Review: Don’t Starve

Easier said than done.
Gathering food is only half the game, though probably the most important.

Don’t Starve is an isometric survival game from Canadian indie developer Klei, who have previously worked on puzzlers and side-scrolling action games. For this outing they have turned to the community in the form of a public beta to help shape the game. This is no Tomb Raider in which Lara Croft must fight her way through thousands of deranged cultists, instead the aim here is simply to stay alive for as long as possible.

Don’t Starve has no lengthy tutorials explaining the how and why of the game, nor are there any handy guides to be bought up while in the game. This is just a lone player fight for survival in a hellish otherworldly environment. A game begins by dropping the player into a random ‘green’ area of the map. This means that the basic resources needed to survive the first night are close at hand, but to last any longer a player will eventually have to go exploring for sources of food before they starve to death.

Early tasks usually involve making basic tools, chopping enough trees to provide logs for a fire and hunting small game to fill the slowly decreasing food meter. Living hand-to-mouth can only last so long though, as soon enough a player can strip the local area of food sources. While taking trips further afield, more vicious creatures can be encountered that are happy to relieve a player of any health they may have. Eventually a time comes to attempt setting up base in a relatively safe area while trying to produce some of the more advanced items in the game. No area will offer complete safety though, and death can often be right around the corner.

And play Farmville instead.
Once enough food has been gathered, players can start working on building a camp.

Don’t Starve plays similarly to a roguelike. Each new map is randomly generated and quite expansive. Death is permanent and nothing is carried over into new games, save for the players increasing knowledge of how the game works. This can be frustrating at time, as the beginning is easily the least interesting part of the game. The real fun comes later on when advanced structures can provide a small amount of food, and the player can focus on unraveling the mystery of the land. This can involve considerable amount of time and effort and a small mistake could cause a player to have to start over from scratch again.

The art style is quite different from other games. Characters, objects and the environment all look like someone has drawn them with a pen and animated the results. Even at larger resolutions the game looks gorgeous. Even something relatively minor like hair growth is represented, with full, thick beards developing as players endure the horrors around them. Whenever the protagonist takes an action, the results are animated appropriately including whatever clothing may be worn at the time. Birds fly around, bunnies hop about and even herds of animals that are unafraid of the player will react to their presence.

Playing a pyromaniac is also quite fun.
Fire is an effective means of killing hostile creatures.

The UI has been kept to a minimum to show as much of the players surroundings as possible. If an item can be crafted, the relevant section will light up to alert the player that crafting is possible. From here it only takes two clicks to put the finished item into the players hands. The world is traversed by clicking to move, but the protagonist can ofter get in the way when trying to use or place objects in the world. Eating the last piece of bait that should have been placed in a trap can be quite irritating. Likewise, when trying to run from enemies, it is annoying when the character instead begins chopping down a tree. These gripes can be avoided with experience, but does not stop a few choice word from yelled at the computer the first time it causes a death.

Don’t Starve has no real voice acting, instead all dialogue is accompanied by sounds similar to those made by adults in a Peanuts cartoon. The sound tries to be a bit creepy when it is present, but really does not do much to add to the game. This is a let down, as even the smallest action seems to have an accompanying sound effect.

Don’t Starve has few goals other than surviving, but the game is built around this sole challenge. Fans of Minecraft may have the patience to stick with this game long enough to see the rewards from surviving, but those with short attention spans should look elsewhere. It is also worth noting that as of writing this, the game is still receiving major updates. Recently added into the game are caves which include an entirely new biome to explore with its own challenges. It is worth checking back with the game regularly to see what other new features are included in the updates.


  1. This review has further piqued my interest in this game. I would have bought this game right when it came out, but Chrono Trigger and Lusipurr’s constant death threats about my leveling in WoW have delayed my purchase.

  2. You had me at the words “roguelike” and “survival game” Mundy. Great review, and I’m certainly going to be checking this game out at the next best possible juncture.

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