.... Yeah, it's not in Dactylic Heptameter. It's a video game review that I hope to submit for my school newspaper, but I'm not sure that it's up to snuff. I understand that most people won't get the terminology, but it's the "English" aspects that I'm most concerned with. Any input is very helpful to me.
For quite some time, I’d been looking forward to Cryostasis. After reading of the bizarre concepts in Ukrainian developer Action Forms’ First-Person-Something, Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason, I couldn’t help but be curious. Marketed as the “Russian BioShock”, this equally weird and ambitious game may have the creepy atmosphere, glistening visuals, and beautiful plotline as advertised, but is, in fact, not a shooter. Cryostasis is a first person survival horror game, for better or worse.
Cryostasis is set on a nuclear icebreaker, the North Wind, which crashed in 1968. Players assume the role of Alexander Nestorov, a meteorologist tasked with figuring out mysteries of the North Wind, 13 years later in 1981. Alexander also finds some nasty zombies, furthering his need to figure out the mystery. That’s all well and good, but the plot takes a while to get going. The main punch isn’t thrown until nearly the ending, so for most of the game the story is more “mysterious” than it is substantial or satisfying. This is fine ultimately, because the final fourth of the game ties the whole story together; with the last encounter being way too awesome to spoil. Just make sure you’re paying attention to the [seemingly-lackluster] beginning, because Cryostasis often references past events. There are even a few different endings to add some replay value.
The magnificent tale unfolds via notes left behind by the original captain and cinematic flashbacks to 1968. At one point, you’ll be walking through the frozen sleeping area of the crew, when a flashback reveals the actual crew sleeping. It all makes the North Wind feel like a real place. I do wish there was a bit more room to explore however, as Cryostasis is an extremely linear game. Linearity isn’t an inherent problem, but in this case, I felt like I wasn’t getting the full package. Cryostasis has this incredibly original setting that I want to go out and explore, but was just never given the opportunity. And generally, I loved the “vibe” of the North Wind, but there is too much repetition from level to level.
Gameplay-wise, Cryostasis has all of the trimmings of a Survival Horror game, but it lacks the “jump out of your seat” element that others have in the genre. Cryostasis is mostly just eerie, not scary – there is a difference. It’s clearly trying to go for “psychological scares”, but after the 5th or 6th repeat scare-tactic, enemies become more bothersome than frightening. The creaking ship is more unsettling than the various beasties, anyways.
The problems arise in gunplay. Most of the game you’ll be fighting with your fists or various other melee weapons – clunky, but not entirely awful. Around the halfway point, however, you’ll obtain a bolt-action rifle, and things go downhill. The weapons are realistically inaccurate, and the reloading times are, realistically, long. It does add tension when unarmed enemies charge you, but during fire-fights, it’s just plain annoying.
The touted “mental echo” feature comes into play often, but that may not be a good thing. Alexander will have to enter dead bodies and relive their final moments of life to change his situation in the present. These situations are more like “extended cinematics” than puzzles -- you have to fix something, but it’s usually obvious what needs to be fixed. If nothing more, playing as the dead crew adds narrative depth. Their deaths become more personal. More troubling than anything else is that “mental echoes” are usually paced poorly (i.e. fight with monster, small environmental puzzle, mental echo, repeat), and consequently, can become monotonous.
Admittedly, Cryostasis has a very original health system. Rather than the standard health regeneration, Cryostasis features health degeneration. You’ll gradually lose health due to the cold, and you can only restore health by finding a heat source, to terrifying results. The best bit is that you can see colder areas will physically affect you. Get too cold and you won’t be able to swing your axe as quickly, for example. Health and temperature are one and the same though, so when you’re shot by an enemy you get colder. It doesn’t make much sense, but it’s a novel idea that I hope other games (or perhaps Action Forms’ next game) will improve upon.
Graphically, Cryostasis can look very beautiful. The textures, water, enemy design, and lighting effects are on a very high level, with the “cold” being the biggest star. The cold effects are so well done you sense the chill on your own body.Cryostasis is, to my knowledge, the 1st game to use PhsyX real time water physics, and, like I’ve said, both the ice and water effects are marvelous. When multiple enemies are on screen the frame-rate dips a bit, which is a nuisance considering that ammo is at a premium (there may be a patch soon, though). Here’s the kicker: Cryostasis doesn’t run well on multi-core machines. The frame rate dips even lower than normal, even with settings turned down. Also, Cryostasis performs poorly on any card other than an Nvidia. There’s a pretty big difference between Nvidia and everything else, so it’s something to consider if you’ve got an ATI card. Excuse these oddities, and for the most part, Cryostasis looks great.
Cryostasis’s sound absolutely completes it. The sound is what really sells the atmosphere of any survival-horror game, and Cryostasis rises above the competition. Music is absent - save one gut-wrenchingly perfect “credits” song – but again, the effects are extraordinary. The various creeks and groans of the North Wind are more mind-numbing than any 4-eyed-monster can ever be.
Bottom Line: Unapologetically, Cryostasis is more of an “experience” than a game. It’s committed to its unique setting and story, often at the expense of gameplay. FPS fans expecting non-stop action will be disappointed by the slow pace and repetitive environments, while others will appreciate the touching story, beautiful graphics, and bone-chilling sound effects. Cryostasis deserves to be classified as art; but then again, art is subjective.
Recommendation: If you’re the type of gamer that can overlook some gameplay flaws in favor of a great story, Cryostasis is for you. At a budget price ($30 on Steam), the cumbersome gunplay can be forgiven, because of the amazing, amazing story. Buy it.