Review by C-zom

"More of a story than a game, but it still manages to be engaging."

Graphics:

Lets get the most popular subject out of the way: Cryostasis was released to critical panning and flak because of its graphics engine, named AtmosFear 2.0, providing some of the worst optimization in the industry for 2009. This is the truth and was not exaggerated by the media or player base. Scenes inside a ten by fifteen foot room with no dynamic lighting or shadows, and just some water spraying out of a pipe, will result in cataclysmic framerate drops that will make the best rigs fall to their knees. Stability and frame rate is this (gorgeous) game is the biggest problem. It supports PhysX to a currently untapped level in the market. This is a double edged blade, however, as the lag prevents it from being utilized beyond a neat slideshow inducing feature. (PhysX being the next step in in-game physics, currently only supported by NVidia graphics cards.)

Imagine a sheet of ice on a window busting and shards of ice and snowy water fill the room. A torrent of water follows and slides and splashes over everything, and even the smallest shards of ice and droplets of water *are actual rendered objects*. Cryostasis has scenes like this ranging into the thousands. Even at one point in the game as snow gushes out of a cooling fan, it will make fabric on the walls bend and twist and react to the wind and the snow flakes themselves will be individually rendered objects. A metric ton of "litter" is in every room, every corridor, that reacts to you or enemies or the environment. Sparks fly out of bad wiring and coat hallways in little sparkles that are real objects. If you light up a torch an entire wall coated in thin ice will melt and water will pour down and react to anything on the floor. Its a breathtaking atmosphere and engine this game sports but one must assume either time constraints or a thin budget, or both, got in the way of making it run even half good. My rig, consisting of 4GB of RAM, a 3.1GHz Core 2 Duo and an 8800GT, never saw this game run above 25FPS even on medium low settings with PhysX on. We're talking *bad* lag.

While requiring more hardware than necessary to run, Cryostasis still manages to look spectacular at times. While being confined to a small environment it still keeps things crisp and clear. A broad range of textures are loud and present, often covered in dynamic sheets of ice and snow that can react to you. Equipment is rusted, dried out or sealed frozen and has the grim look of decay and rust. Tons of objects are scattered around the abandoned freighter that make you really feel like it was lived in, and many a person's home. But I digress. Cryostasis is about the cold; Everything in the visual vocabulary reflects this. Snow, ice, your vision freezing, dynamic water, cooling systems--everything is frozen and miserable and this atmosphere strikes home and beyond. It is a remarkably chilling game that will deliver some of the thickest and creepiest atmosphere this side of Penumbra or Dark Corners of the Earth, the two games that most closely represent it.

Sound:

The voice acting is stellar. From the Russian commander, to the deckhand's, to the old lady narrating the flashbacks to yourself--you will be immersed with accurate accents, delicate scripting and some really immersive narration that will keep you on your toes. Nothing gets dull, if this is your sort of thing, in Cryostasis and the voice crew reflects this.

As for the in game sounds, well, its a mixed bag. The ship is a rather silent beast. As you trudge through the thick snow, the messy corridors or the stomach high water you will only hear your immediate surroundings. Ambient noise has been a top tier way to reflect a thick and creepy atmosphere and Cryostasis barely borrows this technique. Now and then you will hear the same "bump" effect from the next room over to indicate an enemy is within. What you will not hear is distant/ambient roaring of the sinister enemies, the ship, cries for help or even the weather.

Its rather lucky that your immediate surroundings have a very delicate sound library. The crunch of snow and ice is different. As you bump into even the smallest can or cup it will crack or make a dense sound. Opening doors, crashing boxes, firing a gun--the sounds are crisp and strike home. You will never hear a rehashed sound effect. The weakest part is saved for last. Cryostasis has some dull and dry gun sounds that really won't make you feel like you're packing a rare punch. When you fire the mosin nagant it releases a treble filled explosion with some gas blowback that is akin to the sound in most games that is steam blowing out of a vent. It just sounds like a puff of air each time you fire, making you feel very unintimidated by the gun itself. Lastly the second biggest complaint lies within the enemies and their "voice actors". There are no vocal queues in this game so when you shoot an enemy and he keeps on running at you, you have no idea if you shot him or missed because bullets punch through most flesh and hit a wall behind him. If you shoot them four times in the chest you'll need to spot a very subtle visual hint you hit them, rather than hearing a grunt or scream from the enemy. Its very confusing.

Story:

The story in Cryostasis is a slow burn one that reflects techniques from anything between twilight zone, John Carpenter and Lovecraft. A story about a tribe that gets pushed into ancient woods and must survive in the horror's within begins the tale. Soon you find out something about a dog sled accident you were in that led you to a gigantic crashed freighter of unknown origin. You venture inside and discover the two most original concepts in the game's story. The first being if you find any crew members you can "teleport" into their minds (for reasons unknown until *much* later) and save their souls. That is, correct their fatal mistake. Teleport into the head of a fat guard and get out of the seat he died in because glass shards killed him. Correctly pilot an underwater suit and save a man from drowning. There are over a hundred of these moments and almost all of them serve to advance the sinister and mysterious story, to not sound cliche.

As you wander around the present--a derelict, broken down freighter, you will encounter what appears to be the crew. Rabid, malformed, and sometimes purely mutated men that will charge at you from every corner with axes, shovels, pipes, crowbars and even blowtorches. As you fend them off and collect clues from the ship's present, you will also uncover the story of the tribesmen through scattered clippings and also the "soul saving" feature will uncover what happened to the ship and its crew and, particularly, the secret between the captain and his crew and the "divining rod". It takes a *long* time for it to become obvious exactly what is going on and what your own purpose is in the game's story, about 5 hours of gameplay actually, but as soon as it does become clear it goes uphill quality wise. The story really unfolds to something special, and basically unseen in the genre for quite a while. It is a very lucid and excellent story that will keep you interested.

To be honest its a beautiful story, and one that has one of the finest endings in gaming history that I will not spoil for you. The story in Cryostasis is original, gripping and as comforting as it is purely bone chilling. You will be scared and maybe a little teary by the end as the credits roll. Its a powerful and engaging experience, and a long one too, clocking in at about 15 hours for casual players or 9 hours for blitzers.

Game Play:

Cryostasis is your basic survival horror game when it comes to game play. You trudge around rooms solving puzzles, gathering clues and supplies, fighting off menacing enemies and going to the next room to repeat. There are two things that help to differentiate Cryostasis from the crowd:

Temperature

Temperature plays a hyped, but still present, role in the game. Stay out in the wind too long and you'll stiffen up, attack slower, get worse vision and start violently coughing and wheezing. This leads to collapse then death. As you wander through the frozen and barren ship you need to approach heat sources (Anything electrical or lit is a heat source in -50 degree weather) and hold your hands over it to warm back up. Being warm makes you more lively, more energetic, quicker to react to enemies and a better shot. As you freeze up you need to go back to these warm spots and rest. Its a simulator feature that found its way into a survival horror and, for most run and gunners, this will be a complete turnoff but for people who take their time it is a wonderful game play element that adds to the atmosphere and style of the game. The main problem with it, though, is that enemies do not freeze as well. Its as if you're the only one with nerves and enemies actually burst *through* snow and ice to get to you.

Soul Saving

Cryostasis gives you a very unique game play and story telling mechanic that opens up some extremely creative level designing and puzzles. If you come across the body of a dead crewman you can "teleport" into his mind and take over his body moments before he makes a crucial mistake in his life. Jumping into a thin sheet of ice. Getting up off a chair before glass shards hit it. Correcting a mistake during a pipe soldering job. There are hundreds of these moments that open up new level design untapped by the main "Adventure", improves character development and is also a cool moral and atmospheric inclusion. Completing these soul saving missions makes the body disappear in the present time and the mistake he made is corrected, undoubtedly opening up the path ahead to travel through until your next soul saving moment.

Combat

Cryostasis has a primary focus on melee combat which is like the game Condemned: Criminal Origins which this game most closely represents game play wise. You can use your firsts, a chain, a pipe, an axe and even a water gun to smash, bash and throw off your enemies. While guns are present, like in Condemned, ammo is absolutely scarce and you will only use it in dire situations. But the gun selection is... diverse for an fps. A 17th century pistol, a flare gun, a mosin nagant, a water hose and some others I won't spoil for you. The problem with both elements of combat is a major problem: Enemies do not seem to care they are being hurt. If you wail on a guy with your fire axe he will stand there and wail back at you, making combat basically a "whoever hits first wins" contest. If you hit a guy in the stomach with an axe at full swing or even in the head a small flame-symbol will appear on the contact point for a split second and then vanish indicating you scored a hit. But this will happen as he doesn't react and punches you in the face twelve times.

The same goes for long ranged combat. Shooting an enemy has little to no reaction from them. The bullet will pass right through, slamming into a wall behind him and undoubtedly causing a cascade of ice to fall. What doesn't happen is him caring. He'll charge at you, six bullets in his face, like a maniac. Combat consists of running around the enemy and chopping them down until they flop over and it is quite easily the worst part about Cryostasis.

Exploration and Puzzles

Cryostasis is much like Penumbra: Overture in the aspect of puzzle design. They are simple logic puzzles that often can be solved by your first instinct rather than by strict in game laws or mechanics. If you see a door you can probably chop it up if its not metal. If a fire goes off, your water gun can solve the problem--not some sprinkler switch or something bound to level design. The game isn't very dynamic but it doesn't drown you in simple, stupid physics puzzles like the omnipotent "see saw" one in most modern games. There are only a few puzzles located in the present time game though. Indeed, most of the puzzles aren't really puzzles but are logical problems revolved around the Soul Save feature. The puzzle is finding out how to save him from death and moving on. This can range from simply side stepping in a split second soul save mission, or by doing an elaborate repair job in a diving suit on some piping. The variety is immense and although most of them are extremely slow paced, survival horror buffs and simulator fans alike will be in heaven trying to figure them out with their wits rather than with "push this button to fix"

Final Words

Cryostasis is a tough nut to crack for most gamers. It is almost colossal in length and the combat, puzzle, and level designs are all as slow paced as the frozen world it takes place in. Fans of Penumbra: Overture and Dark Corners of the Earth will enjoy this game for its unsettling atmosphere, rich story and sheer length. In fact anyone who calls themselves a horror fan should pick this up and play it despite the negative panning it got because of severe technical issues.

Fans of Call of Duty, Team Fortress and other PC games will despise this game for the same reasons other gamers would love it. Cryostasis is not a perfect trip into the frozen hell of horror gaming but it is one of the better ones on the market today. Immense technical issues keep it lower than a 9 which would be my original rating for it without them.

Pros:

-Brilliant story brings the lucid and nightmarish story telling of Lovecraft and Carpenter to the video gaming arena.
-Wonderful graphics which are cursed with a double edged sword
-A very, very chilling atmosphere that will get to you on more than one occasion.
-Well spoken voice actors with true to life accents and a very "fluid" script.

Cons:

-The worst performance in 2009 goes to Cryostasis. I hope your rig has at least an 8600GT or a Radeon 4650 or it will not run well at all.
-Poor sound effects in most categories except for voice acting.
-Dull, clumsy, rage inducing combat that is not fluid or dynamic in the slightest.
-Clunky and unfunctional guns; weak melee options
-Stupidly designed enemies and AI


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 12/14/09

Game Release: Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason (US, 04/24/09)


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