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    Citizen Sleeper

    Game » consists of 7 releases. Released May 05, 2022

    A dice-based RPG about escaping corporate ownership and forming a new life.

    Game Pass Gambols 7: Citizen Sleeper is a visual novel with tabletop RPG elements that captivated me.

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    bigsocrates

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    Edited By bigsocrates

    The Game Pass Gambols is my chronicle of attempting to at least sample every game released on Game Pass in 2022.

    Game: Citizen Sleeper

    Game Type: Visual novel game with mechanics drawn from tabletop RPGs

    Time Played: About 7 hours

    Completion level: Rolled credits.

    Approachability: Medium-low: It can be intimidating at first and many people won't 'get' it but it gets easier quickly and I think most people will be able to master it pretty quickly.

    Should You Try It?: I wish you would. If you have any interest in visual novels this is probably my favorite example of the genre, and I think the writing is something special.

    When I booted up Citizen Sleeper I planned to dip in long enough to get a sense for what it was like and then shut it off. It was billed as an RPG but the screen shots made it look like one of those weird indie games that tend to be opaque and hard as nails, with lots of unintuitive mechanics and even more jank.

    I turned it off 6 hours later, having reached one of the potential endings but declining the finale to give me a chance to explore a few more of the potential ending paths. My first impressions had been wrong. The game’s mechanics had been relatively easy to pick up and ultimately unobtrusive, and they made way for the real star of the show.

    The writing.

    The illustrations are nice but the second person writing is really great.
    The illustrations are nice but the second person writing is really great.

    Citizen Sleeper can really best be categorized as a visual novel with some tabletop RPG elements. You play a “sleeper,” an android body controlled by a digital copy of a real person’s mind. They’re called sleepers because the real biological person is put into hibernation while this digital copy controls the artificial body and essentially acts as a serf for some megacorporation. The corporations do this because true AI is illegal but these copies of real people fall into a loophole and are allowed.

    Your sleeper awakens on a space station after the ship they were on experienced some catastrophic event and was salvaged, leaving you as the only survivor. The station itself broke free of its original corporate control and exists as one of the few independent places where misfits and non-affiliated people can survive. Unfortunately you soon find out that your body is programmed to self-destruct if you do not feed it a specific drug manufactured by the corporation you belonged to, and the corporation has also planted a tracker in you that it plans to use to recover its property. You must find a way to survive and fit in on this station while maintaining both your autonomy and your life.

    The mechanics of Citizen Sleeper seem complex at first but are relatively simple once you get the hang of them. At the beginning of each day you start with a certain number of dice with the numbers already rolled. You then go to various locations and engage in actions, such as taking a shift working as a waiter for a restaurant or scavenging for items. You assign a die to each action and the number of that die dictates the chances of a positive, neutral, or negative outcome. Positive actions generally give you a purely positive result, like earning a bunch of money or filling a large number of spots on a longer running task like gaining someone’s trust, which may take a large number of actions to complete as you fill up the meter over time. Neutral actions generally result in a less positive but still beneficial outcome, like gaining a smaller amount of currency but also using up some of your energy for the day (I’ll explain what that means a bit later), or filling in only one slot on the longer term project. Negative outcomes might have you earning no money, wasting a bunch of your daily energy, or even taking damage. Your chances of each of the 3 potential outcomes are determined by how high the dice roll assigned was. A 5 or 6 means you’re generally guaranteed a positive or neutral outcome, while a 1 might mean your best case is neutral and you are likely to get a negative outcome. There is also another type of action based around computer hacking, and there instead of using the dice to influence the odds of your outcome you have to use the particular dice shown to complete the action (so only a 1 will work for some hacking, 2 for others etc…) Often the best use for low dice rolls is this hacking, which can net you resources and money from dice rolls that would otherwise likely give you a negative outcome.

    The top of the screen shows your health, remaining dice, and energy bar. You use these or resources (at the bottom) to take actions, though some story actions do not require dice.
    The top of the screen shows your health, remaining dice, and energy bar. You use these or resources (at the bottom) to take actions, though some story actions do not require dice.

    In addition to the dice mechanic your character also has stats, which can influence the dice rolls on certain types of actions (such as actions characterized under ‘engineering’ if you have points in engineering; each action is characterized as one of these types) by giving you one or two extra ‘point’ on the die you assign (so if you assign a 4 it will bump it up to a 5 or 6, etc…) or by giving you an additional benefit, such as a chance of restoring your energy or getting a chance of earning an extra resource on certain kinds of actions. You also have both energy and overall health. Energy depletes with many actions and can usually be restored by buying food to eat. Health is lost at the start of each day, and your health status determines how many dice you get for that day, with each downgrade in health status meaning you can take fewer actions per day. If your energy is fully depleted you will lose more health at the start of the day. Health can also be restored, but it takes more resources than energy. Likewise health can be lost if you get a negative outcome on an action, but that’s relatively rare.

    If all this sounds head-swimmingly complex, it is a little daunting at first, but the system becomes relatively intuitive after about half an hour of play. Additionally the game seems like it will be fairly difficult but it’s really quite easy. After you complete a few goals and start assigning XP points to your perks you reach a point where you’re stable and can focus on longer term goals and storylines, and then when you’re overpowered that the game’s various meters and timers are barely an annoyance. The gameplay of Citizen Sleeper is fairly shallow but it soon recedes into the background so you can focus on the story.

    The map screen is simple and opens up as you advance and gain access to new areas. You can only travel between locations with icons and each location is one screen.
    The map screen is simple and opens up as you advance and gain access to new areas. You can only travel between locations with icons and each location is one screen.

    Citizen Sleeper’s story manages to combine its larger philosophical questions about what it means to be alive and an individual with down to earth stories of people just trying to survive in a harsh world. It’s this balance that makes it special. You will meet well drawn characters like a food stall manager or a spaceyard laborer and his adopted daughter and your interactions with them will cause your character to wonder about who they are and what their place in this world is. I found basically all the characters interesting, with clear motivations and actions that made sense, which is a rarity in video game writing. I found myself thinking “I’ll just see how this storyline resolves and then take a break” only to found myself swept up in the next one, a pattern that carried me to the end of the game in one afternoon and evening. The prose itself can be a bit pretentious and longwinded, but the characters and scenarios are interesting enough to make that a minor quibble.

    It's also notable how upbeat Citizen Sleeper is for a cyberpunk game. It’s a genre of fiction that’s usually focused on the dark corners of society, with its heroes cynical and hard-bitten and its villains menacing and powerful, with the endless resources of faceless corporations at their disposal. Citizen Sleeper features a lot of kind and genuinely helpful characters, and while the evil faceless megacorps are present they are not the focus of the storytelling and seem more like a reason why the people living in their shadow come together and hold on to the little bit of the galaxy they have carved out for themselves, even if it’s just a little restaurant on a backwater space station.

    Emphis is a mushroom vendor (most food on the station is made of fungus) with whom you share a number of philosophical conversations.
    Emphis is a mushroom vendor (most food on the station is made of fungus) with whom you share a number of philosophical conversations.

    I don’t think Citizen Sleeper will be for everyone, but if you’re into the Cyberpunk genre and willing to give it a little while to adjust to the mechanics I think it’s definitely worth a play. I liked it much more than I expected to, and when I reached the end I was both satisfied with the journey and left wanting at least a little bit more. It’s a bit of a misfit game but I hope it finds an audience on Game Pass and I’d be interested in whatever this team does next. These kinds of offbeat indie games that eschew traditional genres and try something interesting and weird often don’t pull me in, but Citizen Sleeper did and it offered a unique experience even to someone who has been playing games for decades. It’s a reminder that there is as much beauty to be found in the cracks and crevices of the gaming space as there is in the rusting corners of an old space station where a broken robot from a destroyed ship can find a sense of community and build a life.

    GAME PASS GAMBOLS RATING(out of 5):

    No Caption Provided

    Game Pass Gambols 1: The Pedestrian

    Game Pass Gambols 2: Olija

    Game Pass Gambols 3: Mighty Goose

    Game Pass Gambols 4: Nobody Saves The World

    Game Pass Gambols 5: Pupperazzi

    Game Pass Gambols 6: Trek to Yomi

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    cyrribrae

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    #1  Edited By cyrribrae

    IT'S SO GOOD!

    Edit: it turns out I can't message you, so I'm just gonna coopt this comment. Would like to steal your GP Game Club idea for a different forum. Would that be ok?

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    chaser324

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    #2  Edited By chaser324  Moderator

    This game is extremely good. Writing, music, and art all come together so well.

    I hit credits last night. I probably didn't get the ideal ending but it was still a hopeful tear-jerker with impact.

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    bigsocrates

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    @cyrribrae: Sure. Take it. As long as it's a respectable forum for nice people and not like some 4Chan cesspool.

    @chaser324 The writing and art are fantastic. The music fits the game well. The only reason I knocked pointsoff is that I think the mechanics sort of become tedious once you fully understand them and they just take up time. I realize that it fits with the story the game is telling about finding your place, but it still feels kind of perfunctory.

    I don't think there is an "ideal" ending to the game. I found at least 3 of them and they all have plusses and minuses. Given the story the game is telling I think that's the right choice.

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    chaser324

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    #4 chaser324  Moderator

    @bigsocrates: Yeah, I agree that the mechanics do become a little tedious towards the end - when you have your energy, condition, and money completely under control and you're just waiting on bars to fill up so you can get the next chunk of writing.

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    cyrribrae

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    @bigsocrates: What are your thoughts on ResetEra? lol

    One thing that I liked about this game was that you aren't locked into any endings per se. They always put you right back to your last autosave before you triggered the ending, so you can take a tour around all of the endings and see them play out. One "ending" that I think was missing from this game was the "do nothing and make a home for yourself on this rotating piece of space debris, making peace with yourself" status quo ending. There's no, like, "celebrate your place on this station with all the friends you made along the way!" option, that I think would be a great send off.

    After all, if you've done everything, you've set into motion at least two station-shattering political upheavals that somehow don't really change the status quo much. And you've found multiple ways to not only keep yourself maintained indefinitely (or as expected), but to maybe help others too. It would be nice to kind of canonize that ending as an ending in itself, too. But I can also appreciate the push to commit to something risky and definitive with pros and cons with their endings.

    @chaser324: Interesting that you both didn't like the second half. I LOVED the second half. It felt like I had weathered the storm, and now that I had clawed a foothold from that existential dread and started to make friends, that now I was finally clawing together a life for myself. It felt like a reward for having gone through all of that, even though there's always still more to do. Mechanically, I totally understand the feeling, though. (Probably helped that things were pretty streamlined for me as I always made sure to maintain full condition and had the rerolls to basically do everything quickly. Only had to do two rounds of farming :D)

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    bigsocrates

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    @cyrribrae: I think they give you enough variety in the endings . You can stay on the station, at least sort of, in at least one of the endings, and I don't think the game is really focused on the upheaval stuff. It's more interested in personal stories.

    I didn't say that I disliked the second half of the game. I think it's better than the first overall. I just think the mechanics bog it down and there are ways they could have streamlined things at that point (or just gotten rid of some of the mechanics altogether) to make things less annoying.

    I would have given the game 4.5 or 5 if it had switched to full visual novel after you kind of master the mechanics. 4 out of 5 is still a very high score for me, though.

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    goosemunch

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    Yeah, near the end I was swimming in resources and resolved most of story threads so I was just gambling at the tea room to pass the time. Didn't deter from the experience though.

    I don't think I've ever played an RPG without a main quest before.

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    cyrribrae

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    #8  Edited By cyrribrae

    @bigsocrates said:

    @cyrribrae: I think they give you enough variety in the endings . You can stay on the station, at least sort of, in at least one of the endings, and I don't think the game is really focused on the upheaval stuff. It's more interested in personal stories.

    I didn't say that I disliked the second half of the game. I think it's better than the first overall. I just think the mechanics bog it down and there are ways they could have streamlined things at that point (or just gotten rid of some of the mechanics altogether) to make things less annoying.

    I would have given the game 4.5 or 5 if it had switched to full visual novel after you kind of master the mechanics. 4 out of 5 is still a very high score for me, though.

    That "sort of" doing a lot of work, there :p haha. You are right about the focus on the personal stories (which I liked). My point was that, to me, it felt like the game was making it so that this was a legitimate "ending" and/or "beginning of the rest of my life" on par with any of the other very good, diverse endings in the game. So it would have been cool to have a "yea, um.. I think I'm good. I'm staying here. Everyone come over for mushroom beers!" ending haha. But I respect that they didn't want to do that too. Definitely wasn't upset with any of them per se (except maybe the main ship one (there are three mutually exclusive endings there)).

    And gotcha, fair enough. The mechanics did kind of become repetitive at the end. I don't know why I enjoyed that though haha XD. Felt like I was "good" at the game finally :p

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    MagnetPhonics

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    #9  Edited By MagnetPhonics

    I really enjoyed Citizen Sleeper. But I had so many minor gripes by the end that the first option I got that vaguely resembled an ending I took it immediately, despite 4/5 hanging storylines I was invested in. The game then gave me an 8-cycle clock to wait out as a final "fuck you."

    A lot of the promised tension never really eventuates either. I thought Nextlander's description on their podcast wasn't great, however they were spot on about never failing missions other than a fixed storyline failure and one "Proof of concept" mission that you can fail early (Even though like them, I was pretty sure I did not fail it by the on screen description.)

    However my biggest complaint about the game, (other than that the chunk of condition that takes you from 5-dice to 4-dice per turn is barely a subpixel inside the 4 dice boundary,) is that for a game with such great writing and a fantastic world. It sure isn't built for the concept of plot progression. There's some nice UI's for slotting your dice into, but the moment something changes in the game world everything implodes.

    These are the way the game represented "something happening after a goal/timer was met" to me:

    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I left the location
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I left and immediately reentered the location
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I entered a new location that appeared in the same spot
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I entered a new location that appeared in an adjacent spot (sometimes with the original disappearing, sometimes not)
    • The last three, but with a new set of actions/goals in said location. and no cutscene
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I entered a new location that appeared in a completely different part of the space station for no reason.
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game entered a cut scene when I entered a pre-existing location elsewhere. One unrelated to that questline that I would have no reason to enter.
    • As soon as the goal was met, the game started a counter in an otherwise empty location, elsewhere on the station, that was not marked or mentioned. And by the time I discovered it, it was already one cycle from failure before I randomly entered that location for no reason. And I got a cutscene thanks to randomly having 3 of the correct dice

    None of these are side-events, unrelated sidequests, "surprise" plot twists, or anything unusual. These are just "one thing happened and then the next thing happened" events

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    ALLTheDinos

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    I finished my second playthrough of this game last night, and I adore it. I’m a huge fan of the Scum & Villainy tabletop RPG, and I would be absolutely stunned if this developer hasn’t played it or read the sourcebook. The writing is as fantastic as billed here, but it was the exploration of the early-to-mid game that really captivated me. It’s one of those things you can really only experience in your first playthrough, but my second was also very enjoyable for exploring the paths I didn’t take. I really hope this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this setting and game system, because a sequel or follow-up could be a world-beater. It’ll take some crazy good games in the second half of this year to dislodge this game from the upper half of my GOTY list.

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