Sunday, June 19, 2011

Cryostasis: More than a game or less than a game?

I have just finished Cryostasis, Sleep of Reason a rather strange game from Ukranian developer Action Forms. It is pegged as survival horror game but I'm not so sure that is should be viewed primarily as a game at all. To my mind Cryostasis is really an interactive novel and quite a complicated one at that. The main plot is a ghostly tale of redemption set on an nuclear icebreaker entombed in the icy grip of a berg. This is overlaid with an ancient folktale  that is seemingly unconnected but parallels the events of the current storyline. As I said it is quite complex and I didn't figure it all out for myself but there is definitely a bit of "literature" going on.

The main protagonist plays a scientist who struggles to survive the bitterly cold conditions. Given that you are no doubt wrapped from head to toe in several inches of thick furs and given that all that stands between you and freezing to death is the meagre heat of a few light bulbs it is hardly surprising that your movements are slow and awkward and that combat plays out as if in slow motion. Appropriate though this may be from a story point of view from a gameplay point of view it is a disaster. The controls feel awkward and unresponsive. With everything happening so slowly the overall difficulty level is generally trivial but there are a few unfair difficfulty spikes particularly at boss fights.

Whether you think this title is to be praised or knocked really depends on how you rate interactive story versus game play. I was sufficiently impressed to stick with it to the end but I have to admit that I feel a little bit like I do after watching an obscure art movie, not really knowing whether I enjoyed it but feeling that it was worth watching none the less.

All in all I am glad stuff like this gets made and it probably makes a much bigger contribution to the  "games are/ are not art" debate than any hundred million dollar blockbuster.   

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