bhlaab's Cryostasis (PC) review

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A Respectable Mess

Cryostasis was considered pretty baffling when it first came out, but I think it makes more sense nowadays. Essentially it's a survival horror FPS sort of in the vein of Doom 3 and mixed with 'walking simulators' like Gone Home and Firewatch. Your time is split between walking through a derelict ship shooting monsters once they've spawn in and slowly uncovering the mystery of your environment and its past. However, instead of recreating an episode of Dawson's Creek you are at least treated to cool scenes of grumpy Russian sailors doing their job and being miserable. Despite the presence of what could easily be called zombies, the storytelling has a grown-up feeling to it that is pretty rare in video games. The fantastical elements are more spiritual and metaphorical in nature. For example, it's hard to say to what extent the monsters in the game actually 'exist' let alone a definitive comic book-style origin for their role in the story. The depictions of human misery and hardship for the now-dead sailors are never sensationalized or synthetically tailored to appeal to the "feels" of 20 year-olds. Like most Russian depictions of human misery, it simply presents itself and lets you grimly acknowledge it on your own terms. It's a pretty confident game, story-wise. Perhaps some of that confidence is misplaced, especially as things go full-on metaphysical near the end, but it's nice to see confidence in video game writing at all when so many pander and beg for audience approval.

Aside from shooting monsters, the other main thing you will be doing is sucking your brain into corpses in order to relive that person's final moments and save their lives-- at least momentarily. This will usually have an effect on the present, such as stopping a room from flooding so that a door won't be obscured by ice in the present. These trips into the past vary a bit. Some of them amount to little more than following directions. Some are annoyingly obtuse and require multiple attempts. A few, though, are highly creative and well realized. For instance, one flashback requires you to tip-toe past a kitchen full of mutated dogs as they growl and gnaw on meat. Another has you shining a light on monsters for an NPC to shoot, and then has you go back and replay the scene as the shooter while the original guy retraces your moves with the lantern.

The health system, in which you recharge yourself by warming up against heat sources, is interesting and works. Some heat sources provide more health than others, allowing the designers to control tension. If your current health is above the ambient heat level it will slowly deplete until they match, giving you reason to either keep moving or turtle up near your recharge point.

It's a bit unfortunate that this health system is matched with monsters that are best dealt with by standing still and damage racing them with your best weapon. And that's sort of the rub of Cryostasis: for all its creativity and well-realized window dressing, it just doesn't play particularly well. The controls are clumsy and ponderously slow and the mouse movement can only be described as 'swimmy'. It's also a game where you have to quicksave constantly. Scripted events such as floors giving out and monsters with fire axes jumping out from behind corners have a tendency to kill you unless you already know they're coming. I've died to bugs in the geometry collision. The best weapon in the game doesn't work without hardware physics turned on, but I had a significant number of crash bugs related to the hardware physics. The sound was messed up and choppy until I went into the control panel and dialed back my sound card to 16-bit 44khz. And even in the best of times, the framerate always felt like it was riding a sine wave pattern between perfectly fine and completely unplayable despite the game being significantly older than all of my pc components.

It's not a game for everyone. Or most people, really. And it's kind of a mess in plenty of ways. But it's a pretty respectable mess, all things considered, and if looked at like a walking simulator where things actually happen I think it makes more sense.

Other reviews for Cryostasis (PC)

    Cryostasis, A Walk Down Memory Lane...Sort of. 0

    Cryostasis is a unique action horror game that has a lot of new ideas and narrative elements that give this game a feeling that will leave you saying "hey that's new."  Now inventive game play mechanics and story do not solely make a good game but it is these qualities that make this game something that will be cherished by fans of the genre.  You play as Alexander Nestrov a meteorologist who was sent to investigate the shipwreck of the nuclear ice breaker the North Wind.  The job seemed simple ...

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    HD Video Review 0

     [PC; 2009]Developed by Action Forms [full credits]      It’s telling that Cryostasis’ favorable reviews on Metacritic take the apologist’s stance.  Cryostasis is a game that possess an ambition and vision uncommon in the medium, which makes it all the more difficult to point out the game’s many faults.  I can’t ignore mentioning all the problems you’ll run into the game, but part of me worries that others will ignore the good that is there because of these grievances.  There is no doubt that Cr...

    3 out of 3 found this review helpful.

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