Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason Review

By Jason D'Aprile - Posted May 14, 2009

'Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason' is part first person shooter, part atmospheric adventure game, in which you explore the aftermath of a disaster from the hull of a nuclear submarine. Sounds like a winning combination, but does this new PC title pull it off or fall just short? X-Play reviewer Jason D'Aprile takes a look.

The Pros
  • Fantastic moody, tense atmosphere with a great presentation
  • Interesting, distinctive mix of adventure and FPS
  • Involving storyline and great setting
The Cons
  • Slow pace will turn off twitch players
  • Technical glitches
  • Overly slow firearms with overt kickback

In this day and age of name-brand horror, it’s rare to find a completely unheard of title creep out of the ether and prove that the genre still has plenty more to offer. Yet Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason on the PC does exactly that. Part first-person shooter and part brooding, atmospheric adventure game, it’s a slow-paced, yet remarkably involving game that’s hard to compare to anything else.

This ain’t no Loveboat

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason ReviewIf you had to compare Cryostasis to anything, it might be the Condemned games in that combat is very much a personal affair. Working your way through abandoned, haunted, and spooky locations while battering small numbers of macabre foes throughout is a part of both titles, yet the impression the games leave are completely different. There’s no back-up or outside help here, just the perplexing story of a man trapped in an artic nightmare with only the howling wind and ghosts to break up the silence.

Cryostasis opens rather inexplicably with cave-like drawings and a narrative that tells the seemingly unrelated tale of a primitive people who find themselves driven into a dark and poisoned forest. From there, you find yourself alone and freezing on a Russian nuclear ice breaking ship stuck in the North Pole. How you got there is less of a plot point than how the ship ended up there, and throughout the game, you will encounter the frozen dead crew members.

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Ghost Whispering

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason ReviewFor whatever reason, your character can live out the last few minutes of these poor wretches’ lives to learn how they died and, more importantly, help them succeed with their final goal. It’s not really an optional mechanic though—you’ll have to step into their frozen shoes to overcome obstacles. Saving a sailor inevitably leads to a door unlocking or an obstacle disappearing. Once “saved”, their bodies disappear and you trek on, leading the player to wonder if anything you see is actually real. It’s this emotional connection to not just your character but other unfortunate crew members that make this little slice of horror come alive even in the most repetitive environments.

To add to the surrealism, there are mutated crew members wandering the ship. Some are merely ghoulish versions of their former selves, armed with axes, rifles, or other mundane items. Others are freakish skittering mutations, winged faeries out of a nightmare, or dual machine-gun wielding maniacs. Although the diversity of monsters isn’t great, they all have a distinctive feel and persona. But don’t expect a mob rush of frozen flesh to bind your way to your destiny. Cryostasis pulls out page out of the Silent Hill playbook by keeping the monsters few and menacing. Once again, players looking to unload a clip into the undead will be better suited looking elsewhere for their killing fix.

Take Your Time

The main character is definitely the ship. Thanks to beautiful visuals and impressively oppressive audio effects, the game manages to make the player feel the bone-chilling isolation of its environments. Flashback sequences let you see the ship before the accident, and help contrast the frozen, lifeless halls even more. Walls shimmer and move as the warm engines melt the ice off the raw steel. Few games manage such a superb sense of atmosphere.

On the same token, Cryostasis is a very slow and methodical journey. Although the game mechanics are straight forward FPS, the actual gameplay is rooted in adventure. Wandering these lonely halls in sub-zero temperatures is hardly a race, and enemies are relatively scarce in comparison to normal action games. Much of the game involves switching power breakers on, opening doors, activating levers, and solving puzzles, and while none of these elements are new, they feel at least somewhat original thanks to the setting.

Frozen Stutter

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason ReviewFor those who enjoy the slower pacing, there are a few other issues. The graphic engine does a great job, especially with water and ice effects, yet certainly isn’t top of the line. There are occasional, very noticeable problems with clipping and jerky framerates—usually with no apparent cause. The game also suffers from infrequent lock-ups, though your mileage may vary. While these hiccups may be fixed in the future, right now they tend to pull players out of game that so heavily depends of atmosphere.

Gunplay isn’t central to the game, but is often necessary, and the usefulness of firearms is wildly varying. Fast shooting rifles and the machine gun are a great help later in the game, but the reloading speed of all the guns is abysmal. Further, most of them kick like an elephant gun, which is really annoying. Your character is clearly no soldier, as shown with his wild ax swinging, but the game seems overly intent on proving it.

Cold as Ice

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason is an especially appealing game for fans of horror who want something distinctive. It’s a slow, brooding, atmospheric journey into interactive story telling and very different from other recent games in the spooky genre. Other player may be turned off from the repetition of both foe and corridor. In a larger sense, it all makes sense and adds to both the story and atmosphere of the game – the claustrophobic steel hallways, the desolate white wasteland awaiting outside, and the fear that every fight may be your last. If you don’t mind the frozen nature of the gameplay, this is a ghost story well worth experiencing.

Article Written By Jason D’Aprile