Solid presentation and great horror elements complement the different style and setting unfortunately let down by some performance issues and simplistic combat.
Posted by Ben Thomas (nutcrackr) on Mar 27, 2009 - 11:00am EST (Mar 27, 2009 11:00)
Cryostasis deserves some attention from the PC gaming community, yet it still retains a very low profile. It is a horror action title set in the North Pole on a Russian icebreaker that your character visits after it has been stranded for many years, but you aren’t alone on the ship as you discover just what happened aboard this cursed vessel. Perhaps it could be compared to a mix of Bioshock and Condemned although it has plenty of differences to both titles. The first reason it should get some attention is because it’s a very good horror action title. Additionally because it does a few things a differently with gameplay and storytelling that brings it out from the generic titles you often see today. In particular the mental echoes, flashbacks and the implementation of cold as a health mechanic. Presentation of the game is quite high, with amazing sound and atmosphere creating a unique feel aboard the Russian ship.
As a standalone horror title Cryostasis brings together all the necessary elements to shock you. The game isn’t really based around psychological horror as your mind will stay relatively focused. It’s more a jump out of your seat where creatures and events unfold unexpectedly in front of you. Initially you may be thinking monster closets, but there are very few moving walls on a Russian Icebreaker. Rather it uses clever placement, good scripting and more “natural” hiding spots. Say behind a generator that’s frozen solid or above you on a ledge, even behind a glass window. The creatures that attack you won’t always just jump out and slash immediately; they may be seen to taunt you by banging their shiny axe against a wall or running away from a distance. They may swim up to your diving suit and grab hold of it then swim away. Even some places if you’ve been playing games for long enough you come to expect scares; Cryostasis still manages to avoid some obvious ones and throws in a twist. A creature comes out toward you ready for a showdown to the death as you grit your teeth in fear reloading your rifle. Of course the solid horror would not be quite the same without the sound and atmosphere you feel around you. It also helps retain some horror elements by making the enemies kill you quite easily, so when you are accurate and time your moves well it’s not hard, if you fail or run out of bullets you won’t last long as the foes close in.
Atmosphere in Cryostasis lends itself to the horror elements as it does to the immersion through sound and graphics. The sound quality surrounding you is first class, the icebreaker will continue to creak and moan, the snow piercing through the open hull will chill you to the bone. The footsteps across frozen ice will crunch beneath you and your foes. Not only are the sound scapes well designed, the action sounds bring the icy ship to life. Of course the graphics aren’t too shabby either, most of this is because of the interesting icy effects. Also the nice shader effects when you are experiencing a flashback or a mental echo. Your cold breath will be visible in front of you and small particles of floating ice will drift through your vision as you descend a long pipe. The walls will change when heat is applied, water will run down them as a room is brought to a higher temperature from an intense light or fire and stalactites will fall shattering on the metal deck. This heat pierces through the ice in many places and sets the stage for a different take on a conventional health system.
The change in the health system is fairly basic involving heat and cold but it works effectively. It revolves around your body temperature, the environment has one temperature and your body temperature will slowly equalize to it. Any heat sources provide you with a fast way of recharging this body heat. When creatures land a blow your body temperature drops. So if you are damaged too much or are in the intense cold for too long you perish. You are often free to move back and recharge your heat from sources you just used as they are unlimited. It’s often a good idea to do so, but not necessary as the heat (health) sources are well positioned. The character does move slowly, and the pace of the game is significantly reduced from modern shooters, of course this isn’t really a straight shooter at all, for example many interactions and game segments are told in the past, you are shown brief segments of time before the ship was derelict. These lead up to mental echoes, where you take control of unfortunate victims to save them from a death years ago on the troubled ship.