Like a Great Film or Book, Cryostasis is Something to be Savored
From the very first shot to the last, from the menu screen on down Cryostasis is an eastern bloc game through and through. Technically it is still impressive five years later. The art is bleak and the lighting extremely severe. Like Dostoyevsky, the characters are not so much characters as symbols meant to convoy a meaning. I adore this game and the more I think about it the more I enjoy it.
Playing it is never really all that enjoyable however. Your character, Alexander Nesterov, is wrapped in parkas and heavy clothing for this trek to the Arctic so movement is sluggish and just moving a step forward feels like you're carrying all that gear with how Nesterov lurches forward. Aiming your gun is like moving your mouse through jelly and shooting kicks with such force that it actually feels real. The guns are also inaccurate so even if your sight is on something that doesn't mean you'll hit it. Throw in a game not optimized for multicore PCs and the framerate is rarely consistent or that good. Cryostasis is such a slow moving game that it never becomes a problem however. This combat is such that simply taking down an enemy is each time a success. Some of the later encounters are so tense that I was left breathing heavy. Not every game needs to be like Cryostasis, but some should be some of the time.
This is more experience and art house than video game in any case. The structure and substance of the story is told in such a way that I simply couldn't look away or not think about. Again, it's more symbolism than actual story so it can leave some hanging with interpretation or just mouths agape asking what the hell is happening. That's what I enjoy about it though. It doesn't hold your hand in the story department and never really explains what's happening. This is a fantastic game that could foster great discussion on the meaning of just about each little detail. You get snippets of story told through pickups impossible to miss about a village making its trek through a blackened wood and growing uneasy at the decisions of the leader Denko. More pickups and flashbacks tell the tale of the captain's lust for the Arctic and his growing incompetence. The ship itself has a story to tell about a nuclear reactor and the machinations of a few men.
And the cold. This game is oozes freezing wind and piles of snow. The ship itself reeks of oil and metal. The atmosphere is just as important to the success of this game as the story. The melting of the ice on the walls and watching the water trickle down, the icicles exploding into dozens of pieces, metal covered in ice and the howling wind at almost all times. Comparing this game to Bioshock is correct only in that both excel at atmosphere and focus on an environment tied to water. This ship was just as alive and detailed as anything out of Rapture.
Clocking in at six and a half hours, Cryostasis is extremely enjoyable if you're looking for an enthralling story and experience. As a game it doesn't do so hot, but not every game needs to be fun. I liken it to Gone Home in that regard. The way the story is told in both Gone Home and Cryostasis could only exist through the medium of video games.