Inside Pulse 12

Review: Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason (PC)

Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason
Developer: Action Forms
Publisher: 1C Company/Aspyr
Genre: FPS/Horror
Release Date: 04/20/2009
Minimum System Requirements: OS: Windows XP SP3/Windows Vista SP1, Processor: Intel Dual Core 2.0 GHz or AMD Athlon 4000 or better, Memory: XP: 1 GB RAM, Vista: 2 GB RAM, Video: DirectX9.0c or better, 256MB video ram or better.

Upon initially reading about the bizarre concept of Russian developer Action Forms’ modestly produced survival horror effort Cryostasis: The Sleep of Reason, one cannot help but be considerably intrigued and curious about this alternative take on the conventional FPS formula. Chock full of desolate, ghostly atmosphere, and accented with a heavy air of mystery, at first glance, Cryostasis seems to be a horror definitely worthy of us surviving. Unfortunately, it seems ones general interest in this ambitious title is ultimately the thing that is challenged to survive.

Cryostasis takes place in the year 1968, as you assume the role of Russian meteorologist Alexander Nesterov. During a treacherous expedition in the Arctic Circle, Mr. Nesterov becomes separated from his crew. Near death from the frigid cold, he comes upon the ghost ship “The North Wind”, which becomes the stage for the game’s frozen fight for survival. The game lays the mystery and mood on thick right from the beginning, using the opening cinematic to narrate a bizarre myth detailing an ancient tribe that was outcast to a poisonous swamp that resulted in them transforming into sinister creatures. The “once upon a time” vibe that is employed during this cinematic is particularly creepy and extremely effective in the sense that the narrated myth bears no immediate connection to the events that first unfold within the actual game.

What follows is a full fledged plunge into the unknown, and I can easily imagine that the story writers at Action Forms were influenced by the Lovecraft classic “At The Mountains of Madness”, as much of the plot framework in Cryostasis is consistent with the events that unfold in aforementioned story. Without giving too much away, as unraveling and experiencing the conclusions to the mystery itself is probably the most rewarding thing Cryostasis has to offer, I can say that the plot elements are woven together in an interesting fashion, and through a myriad of storytelling mediums. The concept of fear, dread, and uncertainty are effectively heavy and sometimes surrealistically portrayed throughout your chilling expedition aboard the cursed North Wind, and discovering the fate of your crew is only part of the fun one will have.

Story Rating: Classic

Visually, Cryostasis hits its mark quite effectively. The frozen corridors, walkways, doors, and cabins of the ghostly North Wind are all coated with a translucent layer of ice and frost that shimmers believably against the beam of Mr. Nesterov’s flashlight. This frozen spectacle really portrays the feeling of cold that the developers attempted to instill in the game’s arctic setting admirably. The environments, coated heavily with the previously mentioned sheets of frost, are presented effectively as well. The environment is often portrayed in dark colors and textures to further enhance the mood the mysterious ghost ship sets up. Character models, with the exception of Mr. Nesterov, are also frozen, much like most of the interior of the spooky vessel, in a pleasing aesthetic touch. This also works well in favor of the game’s atmospheric emphasis on the elements of frigid cold, and gives players an interesting hint at their awaiting fate should they not survive this arctic horror.

Graphics Rating: Great

The score consists mostly of the ambient sounds one would hear while trekking through the barren arctic environment, and this was a wise choice in favor of the strong atmosphere in Cryostasis. Wind blows, metal clanks, and ice splits in acceptable audio quality. There is some voice work, and what is to be heard is also top notch. In the opening cinematic, the voice of the old woman who narrates the strange myth that becomes the game’s central plot point sounds ancient and is eerily fitting.

Sound Rating: Great

On a fundamental base level, the gameplay in Cryostasis is what one would expect from your typical gaming experience that is executed in the popular first person perspective. You’ll use commands to open doors, use items, and attack with weapons, as well as jump, climb ladders and crawl through smaller openings aboard the vessel. Given the frozen environment, one will have to be reasonably keen to keeping oneself warm with any and all available heat sources. Mr. Nesterov’s body heat meter is displayed along with his life bar, and if the wayward meteorologist cannot warm his mittened hands above enough coal lamps and burning kindling that is randomly found around the ghost ship, he’s doomed to turn into a popsicle monster himself.

Speaking of which…

The North Wind is infested with humanoid ice monsters. The monsters themselves are adequately threatening, and often give you a good scare as they leap from around corners, sneak up behind you, and even plunge into icy waters to pursue you. During these encounters, you’ll brandish a collection of assorted weapons and engage in combat that is similar to, though not as intuitive as, that found in Monolith’s Condemned series of games. You can fight bare-handed as well as with melee weapons, and you can execute a variety of different strikes and block as needed. Rifles and shotguns are to be had as well, which come in to play as one would expect in such a game. The combat sequences often feel clunky and unwieldy, and the assumption as to why that is will be addressed momentarily.

But first, let’s talk time travel.

The troublesome encounters with frozen ice ghouls acts as only a sub-element of the survival that one needs to do aboard the derelict ghost ship. The game often chooses to present the player with more methodical ways of doing business, requiring you to solve a good amount of puzzles that usually involve your frozen surroundings over the simple approach. Though progression through the ship could involve the mere pressing of switches to open doors and start machinery, a considerable amount of the time, paths become unbarred by using Mr. Nesterov’s “mental echo” ability. By investigating the frozen remains of those he finds aboard The North Wind, the lonesome meteorologist can assume the final memories of these unfortunate souls. Sometimes, the echo will come back as a simple real time cinematic, and other times it will see you controlling the actual ill-fated soul during their last moments, wherein you can actually change the appearance of the present reality. These scenarios, which happen quite often and are a prime source of filling in the details of the game’s strange and surrealistic premise, are at times a bit confusing in the immediate context of the game. They also seem to be a kind of forced gameplay element that can be interesting on one hand and unnecessary on the other, as most of the time these sequences exists for the sole purpose of activating something you weren’t able to activate in the present and little else. What seems to be an element Action Forms invented to further strengthen the supernatural aspects of the title, more often than not, just winds up weakening the pace of a horror romp that was working fine without the incorporation of the main character’s bizarre and obtuse time traveling abilities.

Kooky time traveling aside, the main problems that arise with Cryostasis are, unfortunately, performance based. No matter the detail settings, the game is usually stuttering under a horrendous frame rate lag. In larger rooms or scenes where more than a few things are in motion, the game suffers considerably, and when you throw in some lighting effects or, god forbid, an encounter with more than one enemy, the game is literally reduced to a slide show. It’s here that the aforementioned ham-fisted combat problems in Cryostasis can be mainly attributed, turning what could very well be an acceptable combat engine into a frantic series of left mouse button clicks. At the date of this review, no patch to alleviate these issues was available for download, and that’s quite a shame. The effective atmosphere, interesting premise, and expert attention to the frozen details are all aspects I could praise when recommending Cryostasis to the horror game enthusiast. These praise-worthy attributes, however, are unfortunately all but totally negated when they’re part of a game that suffers from such detrimental performance issues that, at most times, render said game unplayable. Please, Action Forms, patch this sucker.

Gameplay Rating: Bad

Suffering through the difficult performance issues that plague Cryostasis once is probably more than one can ask of your typical gamer, but full-fledged horror game fanatics might be able to deal with a frame rate as frigid as the game’s environment for sake of discovering the secrets of the twisted mystery that is The Ghost Wind. If you can make your way through, however, there is little to go back to, as taking in the story is essentially all the game has to offer. The option is available to play the game on different levels of difficulty, if the idea of a heightened challenge with the game appeases you, but otherwise, there’s nothing else to see upon completing the game.

Replayability Rating: Poor

Cryostasis is never exceptionally hard or easy, and tends to follows the same general difficulty flow throughout the game. The progression through The Ghost Wind becomes a predictable one, as it usually sees you wandering around, warming yourself when the opportunity arises, and using your mental echo ability to travel back in time to make further progression through the ship’s nine floors. The occasional ice monster encounter is effectively utilized here and there to add some surprise, but as a gameplay experience, the game essentially chugs along on a straight line with little deviation or increased challenge.

Balance Rating: Mediocre

Action Forms has pulled inspiration from a number of different entities to put together the concept behind Cryostasis, and in those respects, they’ve done well to create their own interesting survival horror premise. The core elements of the story remain subdued early on, and are only hinted at with bits a pieces of exposition well into the first quarter of the experience, which allows your imagination to really work with what the game lets you in on. The concept and execution are wonderful companion pieces to the horror elements that do eventually come to light. Much like the earlier mentioned Lovecraft story, “At The Mountains of Madness”, with its dismal mood and relentless air of uncertainty, the same elements are effectively mirrored across much of the Cryostasis experience, and that is to be applauded. Action Forms has woven an exceptionally creative title that presses many of the typical, tried and true survival horror buttons, as well as some that are not quite expected.

Originality Rating: Great

Cryostasis will pull you in immediately with its harrowing premise, mysterious atmosphere, and “What the hell is going on?!?” mentality, and you’ll be actively hoping for more answers, at least at first. These praise worthy aspects will quickly diminish for most, however, thanks to the intolerable performance issues, and your interest to continue playing will certainly be at risk quite early on in the game. Assuming you can tolerate these issues, there’s something here to keep you going, at least, but it’s almost never enough to justify what you’re forced to slog through, and that’s a shame.

Addictivness Rating: Poor

Appeal Factor:
The thirty dollar price tag attached to Cryostasis is certainly reasonable, and I’m sure quite a few horror fans will be interested in exploring The Ghost Wind regardless of the what they read in regards to the game’s troublesome performance issues. I believe Action Forms should be praised for their creativity and direction of this title, but I believe the poor performance of the product will hurt what the game could have been for many horror fans.

Appeal Factor Rating: Poor

Again, much to my dismay, I have to reiterate the fact that I cannot recommend Cryostasis to anyone but the most patient and dedicated horror game fan. The game’s puzzle solving and traditional FPS elements come together well enough, even if they are a little redundant at times, but the interesting concepts, setting, and atmosphere are more than enough to forgive those execution issues. The real killer, as mentioned, is the game’s terrible performance, which literally all but cripples the ability of the player to enjoy the game. Unfortunately, this renders Cryostasis as little more than a good try, if nothing else.

Miscellaneous Rating: Poor

The Scores
Story: Classic
Graphics: Great
Sound: Great
Gameplay: Bad
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Mediocre
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Poor
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Poor
FINAL SCORE: Decent Game!

Short Attention Span Summary:
Covered under a thick sheet of arctic frost, many elements of Action Forms ambitious and modestly budgeted survival horror excursion Cryostasis are captivating, moody, and effectively executed. Though it’s apparent that perhaps some aspects of this FPS/Adventure game hybrid should have been handled differently, the true bane of the experience lies in the maddening frame rate issues that really destroy what could have been a refreshing and interesting horror experience. I have a good amount of faith in Cryostasis as a product, so much that I’ll be keeping my eye out for Aspyr to issue a patch. If one is issued to address these performance problems, I’d be more than happy to revisit this review. As it is now, unfortunately, the mysteries of The Ghost Wind are better left alone in the frozen wastes they are based in.

  • feighnt

    hey, i’m just curious – is your computer a rather high-end computer, as far as technical specs go? i have a pretty decent computer, and many of the positives you mention here sound rather appealing… i’m curious if possibly my comp might be able to handle things better, so that the game breaking performance issues… er, well, dont break the game.

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  • J. Rose

    Hey there,

    The recommended specs for Cryostasis are:
    Windows XP/Vista,
    Intel Core 2 Duo /
    AMD Athlon 64 X2,
    2GB RAM,
    nVidia GeForce 8800 /
    ATI Radeon HD 2900,
    6GB hard disk space

    I ran the game on my PC which either meets or exceeds these recommendations, and had the same troublesome frame rate issues across all of the possible detail settings.

    I know there could always be a possibility with PC games being fickle with certain hardware configurations, but upon looking into it, it seems many people are just having a rough time getting Cryostasis to run to any reasonable degree.

    My best suggestion right now would be to keep the game in mind for the near future, hope that the publisher takes these reports into consideration, and issues a patch of the sorts to correct some the inherent issues. Conceptually and aesthetically, Cryostatis is an interesting piece of work, and I really believe the product deserves this treatment.

    Thanks for the comment, and heres hoping.

  • Frankie

    Just for the sake of it: It’s called the “North Wind”. Not the “Ghost Wind”.

    But yeah, I’m trying to find flaws in your review. Anyone who deems Cryostasis a “decent” game isn’t doing their job.

    Take me, for example. I’m under the firm opinion that games should stop being played if they stop being fun and start being work — I finished Cryostasis. The gameplay was never really “fun”, but it was never so bad to turn me away from the frequently amazing story and creepy atmosphere. I think most reviewers, like you, agree that Cryostasis is occasionally brilliant, but far too often monotonous and bland. It is monotonous and bland sometimes, I just think that “you guys” have the ratio off. It’s far more often great than it is boring.

    Plus, the ending was incredible. Cryostasis’s story deserves to have its story taught in classrooms, in my [often incorrect] opinion.

    The review was certainly well-written, even if I disagree with most of the authors conclusions.

  • Loki

    I totally agree with the reviewer, Cryostasis would be a fantastic game, all of the elements are there! A fnatastic story, the time travel load affect (which I thought was cool) the graphics and creepy atmosphere. The only thing I thought gameplay wise that could have been improved would be the combat system, which did feel a bit chaotic.
    Overall, however, the game would be one of my favorites, but it is unfortunately totally destroyed by lag. My laptop literally goes from single frame to single frame and I got tired of it after a while.
    I pray that a patch comes out to fix this!