Frostpunk: The Video Game sports a steampunk coat of paint, the stylish, often meaningless brass cogs and aviator goggles, but the real hook was “global warming in reverse.” It’s a satire equipped with the macabre comedy of that old Robert Frost poem:

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire,
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if I had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

“Global cooling” has come and gone. You, as the leader of a few “lucky” survivors, are managing the aftermath.
It isn’t a retro-futuristic tale so much as a recitation of the human rights you can expect to lose. The nine-to-five? Gone. Bring back the twelve-hour workday. Childhood? A social invention created by French philosophers. Little Clarence should shovel his sixteen tons like anyone else. And when the average denizen of your dystopia lifts their gaze skyward and asks what it’s all for, you have two opiates on offer: a state cult or the promise of a gentler hereafter for the well-behaved.

You can implement more humane options, of course. You can implement prosthetics for the injured, cemeteries instead of paupers’ burials, and six-hour double shifts. The costs, however, strike immediately and every gentler, more enlightened decision lays the foundation for more desperate ones later on.

Frostpunk creates a thicket of those decisions while its climate crisis mounts in the background. If you make enough compromises to save your colony, the game concludes with a time lapse video of your colony’s construction and decisions. The supertext “The City Survived, but Was It Worth It?” flashes on screen.

A powerful message but arguably a flawed messenger.

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