Cryostasis: The Verdict

Cryostasis: The Verdict

I don't even mention the heat as health mechanic, which is actually rather clever. That's what you get for IMPOSSIBLY HARD ZOMBIES!

Playing Cryostasis is like putting your entire music collection on shuffle and not being able to hit the ‘next’ button. It’s a long trawl punctuated by brief sparks of brilliance and intrigue that almost excuse the vast, insurmountable wall of problems that places itself directly between you and the game it so desperately wants to be, and hints at throughout. Cryostasis is bad because at moments, it’s so so good. It’s the dirtiest of teases.

The premise is simple, and profoundly confusing. The fact it doesn’t really matter who you are or why you’re even on this dead, frozen ship or even why you’re able to slip into the past through the corpses of those dead aboard does help it somewhat, but it does make you think. There’s a set of little narrated pictograms that you find scattered throughout the metal innards of the boat that tell a story quite separate from the one you are experiencing, but, of course, it all ties in together. The premise isn’t at fault here. The reasons you’re there don’t matter. The reasons the corpses are there really does.

Water zombies. Officially 10x scarier than normal zombies.

This whole ship is a frozen catastrophe. Things went badly wrong, they hit something and everything fell apart from there. Literally, in some sections. You find out about what happened both through living the last moments of the crew, and through peeking voyeuristically into the past, glancing down from a walkway to see the First Mate have a go at the Captain for being reckless, or glancing out into the open wastes, only to have your view swung up to the deck of the ship, where the crew are steeling themselves for a collision. It’s masterfully done, and really gives you an incentive to move on.

The problems begin to arise when the game introduces combat. You see, the game runs like QWOP. I turned almost everything down and I still couldn’t aim to save my life, which, quite often, I really was doing. You’ll die a lot in Cryostasis. The whole ship is full of weird frozen zombies that want nothing more than to have you dead. There’s little reasoning behind them, apart from the generic ‘dark forces’ that usually drive zombies. The fact that they’re so bastarding hard to kill is a bit of a kick in the teeth, but I understand it. Survival horror needs hard enemies, otherwise it’s not hard to survive, or particularly horrifying when they come at you. But when every move of the mouse freezes the screen and forces it all to tear about, I can’t fight very accurately.

This is one of those past sequences. They're just talking, but golly, it's interesting talking. Anything's more interesting than another metal room with a zombie in it.

This only becomes a real problem when firearms are introduced. That they’re all from World War 2, and thus weak and terrifyingly slow to reload doesn’t help much. It’s when the bloody zombies get guns too that it gets nigh on impossible. Every fight is repeated until you know where they’re going to come from, and where to put yourself so they can’t shoot you too well. It’s lazy design, and there’s no fun in it. You’ll be looking forward to finding a new body, just to break up the monotony of the present.

The past really is great though. Every memory, while extremely linear, is exciting and interesting. This ship had a hundred heroic moments before it died, and you get to play through most of them. You’ll be desperately fixing doors to stop flooding, creating huge metal washers in a metalshop while the smoke seeps in, threatening to choke you. You’ll fight the zombies, but in far, far more interesting ways than in the present. Every single moment in the past was infinitely better than those in the present, and when the enemies start to get mind numbingly, frustratingly, difficult, each body presents an escape.

This is one of the pictures from the Lost Tribe story, which I have no idea how ends, or what relation it has to the ship. Hmmm, interesting.

I’m going to make a confession. I didn’t finish Cryostasis. I really, really wanted to, but the horrendous speed with which the game ran, coupled with a horrifically hard section, meant I could never get past it. I want to know what happened on the North Wind. I want to know about the lost tribe that’s talked about in the pictograms. But I can’t, because the game decided that it’d be more fun to present me with an extremely hard section than let me enjoy a story. Really, that’s what Cryostasis’ main flaw is. It’s trying to be a shooter at the same time as being an exploratory quasi-adventure game. Is it really so bad to just have a set of experiences that you live through in the medium of a game? I understand that, if you took out the shooting elements, you wouldn’t be left with much game that was still a ‘game’, but I’d really like to see what would happen if such a game was made.

Ultimately, I can’t justify recommending Cryostasis. I really did enjoy my time with it, but the frustration of not being able to see it through, and the utter boredom I experienced moving through rooms that all looked the same, praying for the soft woosh of a muffled heartbeat that signified a body in the room outweighs the enjoyment I savoured finding out about what happened. If they really wanted to retain the combat, they could easily have just made it all the same difficulty. There didn’t need to be a curve. Cryostasis is a victim of low self-esteem. It didn’t think it could get by on the story alone driving the player, and so it’s made it progressively harder. Gaming conventions have taken another victim, and it really does make me sad.

This is me zooming into a dead man's last memories. WooooOOOSHHH!

Off Target
Off Target

8 thoughts on “Cryostasis: The Verdict

  1. I am sorry, but I must disagree with you, on many points.

    For those without patience, the shortest version of what I am about to write here goes something like this: Cryostasis is the kind of game that gives hope in an industry where even “critics” seem to forget about substance, content, story and the way that story is told relevant to its respective interactive medium(i.e. a pc game).

    It’s an industry where high budget games have becomed as stupid and redundant as high budget Hollywood movies – bland story, stereotipical scenes, characters lacking complex development (when they try to create a more intricate human beeing it just falls unbeleviebly short, usually a simplistic good/evil or wrong/correct pattern is offered <> ). After playing the game I was eager and curious to see how it was received by certain sites and magazines (magazines received it much better, probably because they are required to have a more serious opinion and to have some writing talent). The results were saddening, saddening because the average normal guy, trying to get a clear picture before buying a game, looks upon these judgements as valid information. If the making of such games is denounced then developers will cease from even trying.

    You should try not to give a “verdict” until you finish, it’s the basical requirement for a “verdict”. A verdict is an act of judgement – you can’t judge your subject matter if you don’ t fully encompass it. So your title is, athough the standard for your reviews, just …ilogic.

    Cons:
    >Yes – it’s quite obvious that the game developers really hit the fan with the graphic engine, this problem is especially obvious because they bragged about it(the most common mistake made by developers). I must admit I would have gladly played it on 800X600 and shader model 2.0. I certainly don’t think the game is not playable, I have a less than mediocre rig, and through some tunning of the video card settings I was eventually able to play with resolutions higher than 1024 and full details and effects (depending on the scene, I noticed I could even run on 1280).
    >It is true that they could have played a little more with the Mental Echo system, to disguise it as a not so linear one and to solve more complicated problems with it than just removig obstacles and minor treats.

    Pros:
    >The level design was almost perfect. Why? – I must be an idiot, because the occasions where I could figure out in advance where the enemy will come from are relatively few(and I’ve been playing shooters nearly all my life now); it makes me ask why you were’nt able to finish the game as long as you were able to figure out all the oncoming enemies, are you sure about that lazy design?; -the so called boring spaces(which I did’nt find boring at all because of the guess what: design) look so much alike on the surface because surprise surprise: we’re talking about a ship, an ice breaker in the middle of nowhere! there would be no sense in pretty sun rays, green (lame already) foliage and bright shiny colors, the purpose of the game is to put you in a claustrofobic space in order to experience the ship as the crew did, to induce a state o solitude and utter frustration(which I think would be normal in the portrayed environment); the spider demon(or whatever) introduction is brilliant.
    >The difficulty. Why? – I’m sick and tired of games where I magically land upon tons of weapons sooner or later, and I single handedly manage somehow to beat 1 million enemies and save the world; I want to save the world in the most difficult manner possible, heck! it certainly should not be a fun walk in the park; when this is realised fighting just a few but intense enemies, when this is realised with extremely poor outdated weapons(which have perfect sense to be on the ship given the conditions) and when the enemies have a twisted and imaginative reason then, and only then, the “heroic” actions become almost believable in the game universe (almost).
    >The Echo Mental ability.
    >The story and the way the story is presented.
    >The ending. It’s a wonderfully crafted ending, both in terms of gameplay and meaning.
    >Even the credits (they are practically the evidence of the mind f…ing abilities owned by the game designers).

  2. Yeh, i had problems with game speed too but then i downloaded new drivers and optimizers for my dual-core processor and it worked A LOT better. I could actually play it now. Great game however i was somewhat confused as the story progressed but maybe thats just me.

  3. Boring, confusing, pointless, difficult to control, graphics severely lacking.
    This is how I’d sum up this game… and I’m no slouch when it comes to atmospheric gaming. I’ve played almost every adventure game that was ever conceived.

    I can play Fallout 3 on my system without issue, yet Cryostasis runs “like an exploded dog” regardless of what PhysX drivers I happen to load, on my quad core with 8 GB of RAM.

  4. While I can agree on the high specs needed for the game – pretty much all your complaints are irrelevant when the game indeed does run. On my PC, it ran flawlessly, and presents none of the difficulty spikes or frustrations you seem to have experienced.

    The combat is a bit clunky, yes – but far from a game-breaker You even begin to enjoy it once you’ve gotten used to the pace. I died no more often in Cryostasis than I do in most shooters.

    I found Cryostasis to be a refreshing, rewarding experience.

  5. While I agree with the overall sentiment of your review, I also strongly disagree on a few points.

    Yes, it runs like molasses on valium, even on really good machines. Yes combat is frustratingly innefective most of the time (but it’s survival horror in a sense, which difficult combat is part of the experience). But it wasn’t THAT hard. I really didn’t die very often. The most I had to replay a section was with the final boss, and that’s somewhat to be expected.

    Where I found things the most frustrating was often with the flashbacks. Because I had no idea what to do, or did something a split second too late and then had to start over or consult a walkthrough, simply because the game presented itself so obtusely on occasions.

    One thing makes combat MUCH easier: Watercannon. First, there’s ammo EVERYWHERE for it (in the form of icicles). Second, enemies can’t move towards you while you hold it on them. Third, it doesn’t require precise aiming, so even on the choppy framerates it works pretty nicely.

  6. Helloween4545 didn’t have any of these problems, watch his Let’s Play of it. He didn’t seem to die *that* often either.

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