2009 Reviews

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason

  • Review Date: 2013-07
  • Release Date: 2009-02
  • Developer: Action Forms
  • Rating: 6.0

Usually these Russian action games are extremely short, linear, cramped shooters feeling like they were ripped out of the 90's. Cryostasis does the linear and cramped, but it's most definitely not short or a shooter, this a survival horror game.

It reminds me of the Penumbra games by Frictional Games, only much more professional and better looking. I personally found the Penumbra games very over-rated, to the point that I didn't even feel like they deserved a review on here. But what they did do well was atmosphere. So does Cryostasis. And the atmosphere is what you really want when you're playing survival horror.

The game takes places on an arctic ship in 1981 that has been shipwrecked for thirteen years. Although you trudge along like a tortoise, you have to try to ignore the fact that you're walking around this ship for 9-10 hours indoors in an area that couldn't possibly fit inside the size of the ship. It's simply not THAT big from the outside. It even features a prison section!

After that much time, yes, the setting gets old. The level design definitely improves throughout the game, with the first level possibly being the worst. I wonder if the designers simply got better as they went, which is shame because the earlier parts of the game could be a bit off-putting. They're just too cramped.

Indeed it is a very linear game. The levels themselves are just one room and corridor after another, so this is Russian level design 101. But the engine is decent - the lighting effects are impressive. The way every surface has a trickling water sheen - this game is the first to make use of Nvidia PhysX real-time water physics, and they look great.

Back to the story, this might be the first game I've played where it's really open to interpretation. By the end, I'm really not too sure how to explain certain things, and I won't go into in this review. Some people really liked the story. At first it doesn't sound like much; an incompetent captain shipwrecked the ship and crew. That's it! But why is everyone zombie-fied, what are the monsters, how are you able to enter dead crew's memories and change the past to the point of allowing them to live? Who was the hooded figure, the giant boss at the end and the visions. The story told alongside the main one? It's all very strange, but that adds to the atmosphere. My only fear is that the story simply doesn't make sense because of poor writing and non-sense just thrown in simply to make the game better, and really has nothing to do with the story.

Cryostasis uses heat instead of health. It works basically just like health, but you use heat sources to gain it back. Get stuck too long in the cold and you'll die. I don't know why when enemies shoot you this affects your temperature, but we'll ignore that. Overall it's a very unique and creative gameplay element.

Being able to re-enact past situations in the bodies of crew members is also very well done. Cryostasis definitely deserve credit for their innovation and creativitiy.

Sadly, Cryostasis is let down a bit by it's actual combat. The melee attacks are frustrating and confusing when you get struck as you'll sometimes spin off in another directly and before you've even gained sight of your opponent they've struck you a second time and you're dead. Actually hitting the enemy can be very unreliable.

You do get guns about a third in, most of which are rubbish. The only one I liked was the water gun, which fired water at enemies and took them down pretty quickly. Doesn't make much sense, but at least it was effective. The other weapons weren't so effective and I found myself using the damn axe for most of the game.

I guess this is survival horror, so enemies are supposed to be scary and tough to beat. But later on they start appearing just too much and the reload screen becomes common. Speaking of which the levels take far too long to load.

The puzzles are all very simple, just going from point a to point b. Perhaps a good thing if you prefer action over thinking (which is me).

I've seen a lot of complaints about bad framerates. This may have something to do with turning Nvidia Physx on. I suffered no issues (apart from about desktop 15 crashes) on a GTX560. So a card much slower than this and perhaps skip this game.

Overall, Cryostasis had some great ideas behind it, but the polish isn't quite there. Linear, cramped, average level design, sometimes frustrating combat and a weird story can't save it's creepy, dark atmosphere.

Looks like Action Forms have moved on to doing iOS games now. What a waste.