Each Monday, Chris Livingston visits an early access game and reports back with stories about whatever he finds inside. This week, fighting the cold and popping pills in Frozen State.
There are a lot of ways to die in Frozen State, a top-down survival action RPG that takes place in a snowy abandoned city in Siberia. You can die from hunger or thirst, you can die from the cold, and you can get monstered to death by monsters. You also need to sleep from time to time, and while doing so you can die in all the ways I just listed. What follows is a chronicle of my first nine lives in Frozen State, in which I find those ways to die, and others, and a couple more.
Life One: I spawn in a small house with a few items: a pistol, an axe, a flashlight, a little food, and some other odds and ends. Searching the house, I find a few more items, including a condom, just in case I hit it off with an alien monster, I guess. Searching outside, I'm quite saddened to discover I'm able to cut down trees, because come on, video games. Enough with the cutting down trees already. Still, the wood is useful, and I craft some torches and spend night standing between them, pointing my gun at the doorway in case something breaks in. Nothing does, so I sleep for a bit.
After sleeping, I run around in the dark outside some more, and I discover I can collect snow off the ground. When combined with a campfire, it melts into drinking water. That's actually pretty cool: it's almost constantly snowing so I'll always have something to drink. Unfortunately, I discover this after walking over a ramp, falling between a building and a wall, and discovering that I'm unable to climb out. I wait there all night, trying to hack the wall down with my axe and drinking melted snow, but I can't escape. At least that explains a curious item that's been in my inventory since I started: a cyanide pill. If you get stuck or glitched, at least you have an exit (DayZ could learn a lesson from this). I pop my pill and hunch over dead.
Life Two: Making sure to avoid the spot I became trapped in, I gather what I can (items are randomized) and explore the map some more. I find a "transition zone", and learn the game doesn't take place on one big map, but on a bunch of small zones arranged into a grid. I pop into the map, then pop out in the new zone, and begin running. Almost immediately, I spot footprints in the fresh snow. Footprints! I was alone in my starter zone, but now, it seems, I've got company.
My gun held in front of me, I switch from a trot to a walk, slowly following the prints in the snow. They lead toward a building, then around the side, then to the back door. It's a small house. Holding my breath, I open the door. Nothing. I step inside. Still nothing. I creep slowly through the house, peeking into each room. It's a house much like my own. In fact, it's a house exactly like my own. Wait. This is my house.
The footsteps I've been following are my own. I left this zone, but not understanding how travel between zones works, I accidentally re-entered my own zone instead of a new one. I've been slowing stalking myself for a good twenty minutes. By now I'm hungry, thirsty, tired, and cold, not to mention embarrassed. I quickly and sheepishly swallow cyanide.
Life Three: I've left my zone and I'm sliding around on the map-grid, trying to figure out how it actually works. I can move between squares, each square representing a new area to explore, and disembark where I want. I don't realize until too late that game-time passes while sliding around on the grid, and I've been sliding around for a while as I experiment. I die while grid-surfing by freezing to death. Oh-kay.
Life Four: I respawn and return to the grid, but this time, nothing is shown on it and I can't grid-travel at all. Which means I can't leave my starting area. I leave a post on the game's Steam discussion page to ask for help: I don't want to cyanide myself because I spawned with a machine gun and bullets. Three hours later, someone tells me it's a bug and I should restart. I sigh-anide.
Life Five: I leave the grid and successfully enter a new one! There I find several crumbling buildings and finally meet the game's monsters, which are said to be alien hybrids but are basically zombies: some crawl and leap, some spit acid goo at you, some are huge. I kill a crawly one and a spitty one with my axe. A large one impales me with his big spike hand and I'm dead.
Life Six: On another grid, I have to fight my way through several hybrids to get into a house. Once inside, there are several more. After those, there is one more. It kills me.
Life Seven: I'm doing well! I've been through three different zones in the same life! I've explored several buildings, found some loot, and killed some hybrids. I come close to freezing to death, but I manage to break into a house: if a door is locked, you can hack your way in with an axe, which is a rare thing you can do to a locked door in a video game. I make a campfire in the house, warm myself, and combine rice and melted snow in a pot and cook myself dinner.
As I'm creeping around the house I see a couch has been pushed to block a doorway, and on the other side of the couch is an Giant Stabber Monster. He lurches toward me and then stops, blocked by the couch.
Well, if he's stuck behind the couch and can't move, it's probably a pathfinding glitch. Surely I can exploit this, by just hacking at him until he's dead, right? I walk over and whack him. He immediately reaches right over the couch and impales me twice.
Life Eight: I spawn with ammo but no gun. After thoughtfully stroking my beard for a moment, I take cyanide.
Life Nine: I spawn with a pistol and some ammo. Excellent! I hit the grid, finding a store in the next zone (in every game, the grid, the zones, the buildings, and the loot are all randomized). I loot the store, then head for a door behind the counter. As I start opening it, something starts bashing it from the other side. It's a spitter monster, breaking through. Closed doors are shown no respect at all in this game. I like that! The monster and I trade spit and lead; he eventually collapses.
Night falls, and it gets very dark and very cold at night in Frozen State. I break into a building, check a few rooms for monsters, then close all the doors leading into a hallway. I make a campfire, drink, eat, roll out my sleeping bag, and go to sleep.
I'm awoken by the sound of splintering wood. Looks like setting the clock to sleep for six hours doesn't mean the game just patiently waits for you to get your beauty rest. Also, I like the door-smashing thing a little less now. A monster breaks through the door, and it's one of the big, pointy ones. I empty my pistol into it at point blank range (little choice, as I'm in a narrow hallway) but he quickly guts me like a thing that is extremely easy to gut. Ninth life, ninth death.
You know, I didn't think much of Frozen State at first: it seemed like just one of many survival crafting zombie-type games. But, like a deadly alien fungus, it's kinda growin' on me. Yeah, you die a lot, but within a minute or two you've got enough gear to start exploring again, and the way everything is randomized makes it unpredictable. I think it's fun. I'll give it at least another nine tries.
Frozen State is available on Steam for $10/£7.