Publisher: 1C Publishing
Minimum requirements: Windows XP/Vista; Intel Pentium 4/AMD Athlon XP; 1 GB RAM; nVidia GeForce 7800/ATI Radeon x1800; 6 GB hard disk space
Release date: Available now
For months I have been looking forward to the release of Cryostasis, from Russian developer Aspyr and publisher 1C. Clearly deviating sharply from the standard characteristics of modern shooters, Cryostasis is a horror-oriented FPS in many ways reminiscent of Frictional Games’ Penumbra series in terms of its overall tone and its combination of puzzle-solving and shooting action. It also has been highly publicized as a state-of-the-art implementation of nVidia’s PhysX physics engine’s capabilities.
You play the role of the only human aboard a huge atomic-powered icebreaker stuck in the ice near the North Pole. You explore a seemingly endless series of corridors, rooms and decks, and fight to survive while trying to discover what happened to the captain and the crew. Everything is dark, cold and uninviting, with a relentless sense of desperate loneliness.
Frozen zombies and dogs appear with great regularity to attack you. Along the way you have to solve environmental puzzles to move from area to area. You stay healthy in the cold by finding heat sources, critical since enemy attacks also make you colder. An ability known as “Mental Echo” allows you to get inside the minds of other characters and control their actions (primarily to keep them from dying in the early parts of the game) as you travel temporarily back in time using the dead bodies you encounter.
The great moments in Cryostasis are few and far between. Despite effective vocal effects, the story is fear-inducing but unfortunately largely unintelligible, with integration of an obscure Russian folk tale enhancing the confusion. You often have no idea what is actually transpiring, with little sense of direction (that your artificial flashlight glow rarely clarifies) or purpose. The level design is extremely linear and repetitive, encompassing bland grayscale environments containing similar looking rooms and enemies, and thus the gameplay is often quite tedious. However, the sense of freezing cold is very convincing, highlighted by nice sound effects of cracking ice.
In combat, your weapons (especially your fists, the fire axe and the valve) are usually too slow and ineffective, and when you engage in melee fights, the camera swings wildly, causing you to lose control. Most puzzles are too easy, often simply requiring you to find a nearby big red light to solve them. Little tension surrounds the heat-seeking mechanic because you rarely die of cold; even heat from a desk lamp can restore your health. The “Mental Echo” system can leave you confused and disoriented, except when you go into the minds of creatures towards game’s end.
Cryostasis is a botched but highly creative effort, a squandered opportunity to introduce a new direction for the FPS genre, which has become all too dominated by tactical military simulations. The highly touted PhysX effects are barely noticeable, as most items you encounter are immovable. Cryostasis is a disappointing shooter, but those with patience and a desire to be lost in the cold should give it a shot.