Don’t Starve is an aptly titled game given that the sole objective is to avoid death by starvation, ensuring you’re not eaten alive by rabid dogs or stung to death by bees and trying to stop your character from losing the plot altogether, being eaten by shadow monsters if you go insane. It’s a tough world in Don’t Starve; a game with an immensely challenging difficulty which gives you absolutely no direction as to how to proceed whatsoever, but it’s ultimately a challenge worth taking.
Don’t Starve tasks you with guiding one of a selection of quirky, unique characters in the wilderness of Don’t Starve’s procedurally generated maps with the target of simply surviving. Don’t Starve literally drops you into one of its worlds and lets the player get on with it; there’s no tutorial, no specific objectives or goals, simply don’t starve, get hurt or go insane. If you haven’t taken the hint already, Don’t Starve is a difficult game with a fairly steep learning curve, but once you begin to understand the lay of the land, Don’t Starve is an enjoyable and rewarding affair.
Soon after you’re left alone in the wilderness, it becomes apparent that the landscape is filled with resources that are begging you to make use of them. It may take trial and error to begin with, but within a few lives it’s easy to become a professional at gathering resources to build fires, axes, spears and much more.
Progression is simply through building new equipment and machines, or by finding new resources. As you proceed, you’ll be able to build all manner of contraptions, including fridges, farms, traps and a dog-chest hybrid called Chester who will carry extra items for you and follow you around the map, should you want him to.
The landscape in Don’t Starve is far from a friendly place, and alongside the threat of starvation, injury or insanity there are a variety of wildlife forms just waiting for you to give them a reason to attack. Hazards come in the variety of monsters; angry pig-people, giant cycloptic ostriches, groups of angry bees and spiders should you disturb the wrong nests alongside darkness (Yep, stay in the dark for too long and you will die!), fire and poisonous mushrooms amongst others.
In terms of difficulty, it’s also worth mentioning that Don’t Starve goes one step further with its unrelenting difficulty in that death is permanent, except in rare occasions where you find a special item to interact with, which allows you one retry. Be prepared to start over and over again as you push to best the last total amount of days you survived for. As you learn new skills and approaches, coupled with the randomly generated world, it does significantly affect the beginning days of each playthrough. Whilst the core principles of finding food and surviving remain, how you approach the task will change dependant on your location and the resources available to you.
Don’t Starve’s world is a charming place to be, present in a Tim Burton inspired isometric 2D style, with hand-drawn inspired artwork, all of which is presented in an interesting and colourful way – it’s hard to explain or imagine, looking at screenshots, but there’s a definite feeling that the landscape is alive as you rummage for resources, with simple animations like trees blowing in the wind or the cute way rabbits hop around all adding to the overall aesthetic and atmosphere.
To a degree Don’t Starve shares some DNA with Minecraft. Both games offer little direction in terms of goals or objectives, both require you to hunt for resources and craft camps/homes while fending off threats and both offer a free and compelling world to explore. Don’t Starve does do enough to differentiate itself though – I’m not a massive Minecraft fan, but find the survival element of Don’t Starve truly compelling, and it’s that permanent threat to your safety and survival that makes Don’t Starve so addictive.
Don’t Starve can potentially be played at any speed, depending on how fast players wish to harvest materials and craft new equipment, but there’s always a sense of danger. Going on a run for rocks in order to build the upgraded camp fire sounds like a simple task and indeed it can be, but depending on how the map has been generated you may well have to traverse resource deprived wastelands and fend off angry cycloptic ostriches as you rush to reach your required destination and be back at camp before dark.
Don’t Starve is an extremely engaging game, and absolutely encourages that feeling of “just one more go” that all gamers know. The Vita is the perfect platform for Don’t Starve’s gameplay too, the ability to drop in or out of the game whilst on the go works brilliantly – Don’t Starve suits both short play sessions as well as camp development slogs that can last several hours.
The HUD, that felt slightly oddly scaled when played on the Vita through PS4’s remote play, works well on the Vita too; the port is generally exceptional and a true representation of the original title. Graphically, there’s little to distinguish between the PC or PS4 version to the Vita version of Don’t Starve. In terms of gameplay options, everything from the PC or PS4 version is also available in the Vita version. The only noticeable performance issue between the console version and the Vita version of the title is the loading, with the Vita version taking considerably longer to load or generate a world.
Once you’re into the game though, everything runs smoothly with rarely a performance issue. The Vita controls perhaps aren’t utilised to their full potential – there’s no touch screen controls for example, but Klei Entertainment have adapted the control scheme to suit the Vita’s physical inputs with great success.
Don’t Starve: Giant Edition on the Vita also comes with the Reign of Giants expansion included. It’s a great all-round package, and an even better deal if you got Don’t Starve PS4 through the PS+ Instant Game Collection, as the Vita copy will be free. The expansion pack offers new threats, new items and equipment to craft – but a word of warning (the game will also warn you), Reign of Giants is meant for experienced players and makes the game even more difficult than before. If it’s your first time with Don’t Starve, or you have little experience, I’d highly recommend playing without Reign of Giants first, to learn the basics before taking things further.
Don’t Starve won’t be for everyone – it’s certainly more difficult than Minecraft and offers a stiff but ultimately rewarding challenge. When discussing the game with friends, Don’t Starve offers those anecdotal stories that all great games do – you find yourself sharing stories of how you last died or how you took down the cycloptic ostrich, stole its egg and cooked it just in the nick of time to keep yourself alive.
Although there are some challenges to overcome, if you’re willing to progress through trial and error Don’t Starve is an exceptional game with a constant feeling of vulnerability and threat that implores you to “just play one more day before bed” and find the resources required to turn your tiny camp into a giant fortress ready to take on any and all invading monsters. Don’t Starve works exceptionally well and really feels at home on the Vita – it’s much more difficult to find reasons not to recommend Don’t Starve than the many reasons to recommend it.