Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason Review

A Radical Departure in Storytelling with Sub-Par Gameplay
by Adam Biessener on Sep 22, 2009 at 02:04 PM
Reviewed on PC
Publisher Aspyr
Developer Action Forms
Rating Teen

Cryostasis is anything but another action-heavy FPS, despite its first-person perspective and occasional gunplay. Judged on the technical merits of its combat or design of its puzzles, the game is a brutal failure. However, to do so would utterly miss the point of the game. Cryostasis ably uses its unique gameplay structure to explore the tale of a doomed ship, the stories of its crew during their final hours, and the faceless terror of unending, unfeeling, deadly cold.

As players explore the icebound ship, the frozen corpses of her crew demand closure. By touching their lifeless bodies, players can relive their late owner's last moments. These brief vignettes involve overcoming fear or cowardice, sacrificing oneself for the good of others, or otherwise being a more moral human being. Upon completion, whatever mistakes made in the past are rectified and a portion of the ship returns to heat and life. The quality of these episodes is uneven, but overall this unusual mechanic is used quite well.

Parallel to the revivification of the ship, a fable is relayed to the player via scraps of paper that kick off narrated illustrations. This story of a primitive tribe fleeing enemies through a hostile, ancient forest is a clear allegory to the trials of the icebreaker's crew. As heavy-handed as the moralizing can be at times, this secondary tale provides a useful additional perspective to the main story.

An excellent, visceral presentation ties all of these elements together into a powerful interactive experience that pushes storytelling in a direction that would be impossible in another medium. Full-screen visual effects like freezing fog and frost rim your view, and the crackle of crisp, hard ice combined with the audible shivering of your avatar, hammer home the idea of deadly cold. In contrast, the warm glow of a fire and the babbling of free-flowing water elicit primal relief. Few games have triggered such a strong emotional response in me, and that list is filled with classics like BioShock and Baldur's Gate II.

Unlike those timeless titles, Cryostasis fails to deliver engaging gameplay to accompany its story. The demon-like enemies, while apt enough in their personification of the evils that the crew brought on themselves, are brainlessly simple to slay. Similarly, the puzzles cleverly illustrate elements of the story but require little creative thought to solve. Go into Cryostasis with the right attitude, though, and you'll be well rewarded.

Slowly restore life and heat to a frozen nuclear icebreaker in a surreal Russian morality play
Lots of little touches convey the horror of relentless cold and the relief of finding a heat source remarkably well
Great audio design makes listening to your environment is as important as keeping your eyes open
The limited action is terrible, but that's not the point of the game
Though it's barely technically competent, this is a fantastic example of games striving to be more than shallow entertainment
Moderately Low

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