Donít Starve - Shipwrecked

Donít Starve - Shipwrecked

Rating: A-

Don’t Starve was originally released for PC in 2013, and was pretty successful, getting a PS4 port the next year. It’s a survival game in which you, a scientist named Wilson, have meddled with powers beyond your ken and have been sucked into an unknown world, where you have to deal with a bizarre array of materials and an almighty number of ways to die. Recently, it’s received an expansion – Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked.

The game’s title, Don’t Starve, heralds the ‘fuck you, player’ attitude taken by the game, which refuses to give you any instruction in how exactly not to die. You’ve got three main attributes – health, sanity, and hunger – and if any of those hits zero, bad things happen. If you have no health, you die – obviously. If your hunger hits zero, you start losing health at a steady rate, which eventually kills you. If your sanity is at zero, shadow monsters come out of the woodwork and start chewing away at you, and – yeah, you die. 

It’s almost a Lovecraftian game – and I know that’s pretty much as good as saying ‘it’s a zombie game’, but bear with me. Don’t Starve has this special little mix of science and magic that gleefully invokes the arcane and the occult, contrasting a devilish nemesis against lightning rods and gunpowder. The whole game has an art style inspired by Edward Gorey and Tim Burton, toning Lovecraft’s existential horror down to a playful disintegration of rational thought. You can construct a massive thermometer, but you can also make a meat effigy where your body will be thunderously reincarnated should you die. And yes, you will die.

Don’t Starve: Shipwrecked shifts the setting to, yes, an island shipwreck, with plenty of tropes from 19th century boys’ fiction. There are jungles and machetes, volcanoes and magma, desert islands and lots of sailing. The sailing part is pretty new – in the original game, you were strictly a landlubber, so they’ve had to redesign the interaction between land and sea. Previously there were little cliffs everywhere; now, there’s actual beach. There’s also a longer list of things that want to kill you. In keeping with the island theme, the original roster of spiders and malevolent toads is supplemented by a tropical twist in the form of stripey snakes. These little bastards live in vines, which are a necessary construction tool if you want to get off your island. This is the kind of stunning disrespect Don’t Starve has for its players. Off you go to harvest some vines, and suddenly you’re surrounded by an angry pack of carnivorous reptiles. I also learned that they also occasionally fall out of trees, which is wonderfully inconvenient when you need a bit of wood for the fire.

You chop down trees for wood, which is practically a staple in everything. You need wood for your fire every night (if you’re in the dark without a torch, an invisible monster pulls your legs off), you need it for your boat, and you need it for farming. You can also refine it into boards, which you need in order to make bigger, more complicated inventions further down the line. Not only are snakes in the trees in the jungle, but also, if you’re on a desert island and you try to chop down a palm tree, you’ll probably have a coconut fall down and conk you on the head. What’s more, on my first playthrough of Shipwrecked, I’d just settled down at dusk when a palm tree stood up, looked at me, and started hurling coconuts and screaming bloody murder. I didn’t survive that encounter – I was killed by an angry tropical Ent. 

It’s a good bit of fun, if you’re the sort of person who likes survival games. Don’t Starve rode in on the wave of success that Minecraft had – and it tells, because Don’t Starve suffers from the same problem. You goof around until you die, and then you stare blankly at your monitor and feel vaguely ashamed of how you’ve spent your time. A bit too much like real life, in that regard.

This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2016.
Posted 12:58pm Sunday 24th April 2016 by James Tregonning.