Frostpunk on Xbox One review: A frozen wasteland has never been more entertaining

Frostpunk is an award-winning survival strategy simulation game on PC, but it's now making its way over to Xbox One and PS4, finally, allowing a whole new audience to get their frost-bitten mitts on this landmark title.

Frostpunk is set in an apocalyptic Britain, where a new ice age has wiped out much of civilization. The remnants of humanity try to carve out a nomadic lifestyle with scrappy steampunk technology.

Frostpunk is built by the team behind This War of Mine, and like that game, it pulls absolutely no punches with its tough choices.

Here's why Frostpunk is now the best strategy simulation game on Xbox today.

What you'll love about Frostpunk

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Frostpunk (Image credit: 11 bit studios)

Frostpunk is a survival game first and foremost, with heavy strategic simulation elements. Your goal across every scenario and map type is, ultimately, to survive, while managing the temperature, basic needs of your colonists, and various dynamic hazards that appear at random.

There's rarely comes a moment when you'll feel truly comfortable.

The map construction extends out radially from a central heat generator, which is powered exclusively by coal that must be extracted from the earth. Heat can be seen instantly by pressing the view button, and gives you a infrared overlay of areas that are warm, all the way down to freezing.

Managing heat is crucial to survival in Frostpunk, and forms the basis of the game's most exciting moments and mechanics. If your workers are too cold, they'll get sick, get frostbite, and may even require amputations. The cold comes with other complications, such as freezing your crops, or making it too cold to hunt, putting pressure on your stockpiles and supplies. Frostpunk does an absolutely incredible job at keeping you on your toes, and unless you're playing on the easiest difficulty, there's rarely comes a moment when you'll feel truly comfortable.

Frostpunk is divided between story scenarios and an endless mode, which allows you more freedom to build and explore the frostland wastes on the overworld map. The scenarios come with their own story beats which also come with various choices and decisions, which can affect the mood of your citizens. You can play as a ruthless, survival-at-all-costs dictator, using your dead as compost, while arresting anyone who dare protest. This might sow discontent, and even lead to a revolution, putting stress on your resources to build guard posts and hire guards, and maybe even build prisons. Conversely, you can attempt to inject some warmth and kindness into proceedings, but all those extra rations put a strain on your resources in other ways.

The moment you think things are going well, a devastating blizzard might drop, wiping out your scout teams that are far flung from home. These blizzards come with increasingly intense music, and increasingly intense blasts of frigid cold, putting stress on your heating systems and coal supplies. Oftentimes, you'll scrape through the storm by the skin of your teeth, with many deaths in the storm's wake.

Poor city planning and population management can lead to cascadingly devastating effects on your colony. If all your doctors die, there'll be nobody to treat the sick, and then, there'll be nobody to work and tend to your resources. However, the simulation remains just on the cusp of being "too" complex, balancing accessibility with depth in a masterful way. You can always slow down or outright pause the action too while you make logistical changes to your city.

Atmospherically, Frostpunk really nails its setting with immersive visuals, stellar music treatment, and some of the best UI work of the generation. Soot satisfyingly spreads as you open up different UI elements, and the game's tessellation for its 3D snow effects gives physical weight to the threat faced by your NPCs, who will struggle against the wind as they move between their homes and their jobs. The music dynamically ramps up as the storms get more intense, creating a sense of urgency as your last food stores run dry.

Every aspect of the game feels meticulously crafted and polished, making it truly difficult to put down. I had planned to stop playing at around midnight to write this review, but when I looked at the clock, it was already 5 AM.

What you might dislike about Frostpunk

Frostpunk, like many strategy games, has struggled a bit in its leap from its mouse and keyboard schemes to console, but it has done so more elegantly than many other titles before it.

Frostpunk isn't a game where you need uber micromanagement and speed to survive, since you can quickly ramp up or slow down the gameplay speed using the directional pad. Radial menus with shortcuts also make it easy to navigate to the different segments you need, although finding things in the research tree to advance your city can be a bit grating until you've learned where everything is.

It's a tad irritating that Frostpunk didn't decide to leverge the new Xbox mouse and keyboard APIs, which would have made everything feel that bit more streamlined for those with the right peripherals.

The camera controls aren't "bad," by any means, but it's a bit odd that to rotate, you specifically need to move both joysticks at the same time, otherwise they get stuck in panning mode. There's a bit of a delay on the toggle, too. Additionally, selecting specific buildings can be a chore when your city evolves to be more complex, although it's far from game breaking.

Finally, I would have liked to have seen Frostpunk squeeze more juice out of the Xbox One X. It runs at 1080p, as opposed to the Xbox One S' base 720p, but when similar titles like Surviving Mars manage to hit 4K 30 FPS, it seems a bit odd that Frostpunk didn't reach higher. Although, its buildings and textures are a lot more detailed. That said, Frostpunk runs very smoothly on the X, even if you're playing in endless mode with a very large settlement.

Should you buy Frostpunk?

Frostpunk screenshot (Image credit: Windows Central)

If you're not a fan of strategy and simulation games, then you probably won't get anything out of Frostpunk. It doesn't exactly revolutionize the genre, but the polish, dynamic narrative elements, and bitesize strategic gameplay makes it an addictive beast.

This also comes with most of the updates the game has seen on PC, including new scenarios, Endless mode with aesthetic building options, as well as deeper difficulty tailoring. 11bit Studios is among the best indie outfits out there when it comes to free post-launch content, and Frostpunk's current state is a direct result of those efforts.

There are a ton of great strategy games on Xbox One these days, including Stellaris, afforementioned Surviving Mars, They are Billions, and Age of Wonders, but Frostpunk's dynamism, thoughtful console controls, setting, and narrative elements, for me, give it a special place above all of the others. This is a staggering achievement that strategy game fans shouldn't miss out on.

Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!