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Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason is a first-person survival horror which mixes monster combat with puzzle solving as you shiver your way round a frozen ship in the Arctic Circle. You play a Russian meteorologist called Alexander Nesterov and you have been sent to investigate the North Wind, an old nuclear ice-breaker which is trapped near the North Pole. Using your mental powers you have to piece together the mystery of what happened before you freeze to death or get eaten. It is very atmospheric with an engaging storyline but if you like a lot of action in your FPS titles then Cryostasis won’t deliver.
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The game has some interesting ideas and it focuses more on the mysterious plot and puzzle solving than out right action. The most unique mechanic that developer Action Forms have introduced is the idea of body temperature. Your body temperature is synonymous with your health and if you want to avoid permanently freezing you have to spend some time warming yourself at heat sources. Whether it’s a naked light bulb, some hot pipes or a fire, the heat you can absorb is essential for your survival. This re-enforces the atmosphere and really makes you feel like you are in the arctic.
Perhaps less original your character has an ability called “Mental Echo" which allows you to go back in time. You can witness the events leading up to whatever disaster befell the North Wind but these flashbacks are not just limited to ghostly visions you can also take control of characters and even change events. The purpose of this is generally to solve a puzzle or remove an obstruction which is blocking your progress back in the present. Sadly the whole thing is very linear and like most FPS games there is no real choice in terms of route or approach.
The main menace you encounter is zombie like creatures who leap at you and provide a number of jumpy scares. There are also a few other enemies to defeat, some armed with weapons, but the combat game-play feels unpolished and secondary. The weapons are slow and awkward, they are dated and this is no doubt a deliberate attempt to increase the tension but sometimes it is frustratingly tough to beat the creatures throwing themselves at you. The actual control of your character feels a bit sluggish, as though the cold has slowed everything down, and manoeuvring in the claustrophobic confines of the ship environment can be a little tricky.
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Cryostasis is a fairly attractive game although it takes place in drab surroundings. The ice breaker setting is well realised and every surface is glistening with frost. The feeling of cold is palpable and it is accentuated by the visual effects which include liquid particle splashes of icy water, snow and frost. You can even see the moisture when things heat up and ice begins to melt. The dynamic lighting and shadows are nothing new but they definitely add to the mood. The characters and monsters are well modelled and animated although they aren’t the most exciting bunch. The ice zombies all look like they have been wrapped up and there are metallic bits protruding all over them. Visually speaking the game is solid and, while it won’t be winning any awards, it is nicely atmospheric.
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The sound adds another layer to the whole atmosphere. The rusted metal of the ship creaks and groans as you explore, the ice cracks and you can hear water dripping. The ambient sound is well done but the sound effects are a little weak on the guns and environment interactions. The enemies tend to make clanking metal foot step sounds so you generally have a warning sign about where they are.
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This is a hungry game and it doesn’t run brilliantly well on my machine which is significantly better than the minimum specs required. Realistically you are going to want a machine with at least an Intel Pentium 4 processor, 2GB of RAM, an nVidia GeForce 8800 or ATI Radeon HD 2900 and 6GB of hard drive space. It will run on lower specs but not very well, although you can always turn some of the effects off to improve performance. The game doesn’t support multi-core CPUs which explains the poor performance on my machine at least.
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Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason is a decent survival horror game but not a great first-person shooter. The atmospheric environment and story are quite engaging but the enemy AI and combat are below par and the movement feels annoyingly clunky a lot of the time. For every innovative touch like the heat/health game mechanic and the time flashbacks there is also a disappointingly familiar counterweight like the linearity or straight forward puzzles. If you want something different from typical shooter combat then you could do worse and Cryostasis is certainly attractive, engaging and creepy.