Video games are a lot like movies in the way that you have your big studio movies that take everything by storm, and you have the smaller studios that are doing their own thing.
It's a real treat when you come across that small time movie, that just grabs you by the throat and screams greatness. Movies like Dog Soldiers, 28 Days later or even 500 days of Summer (:P), these films tend to have a charm that the bigger budgets just can't buy.
Games work the same way.
You have your massive titles that come out with such fury that every game site has them plastered across their front page, boasting mad reviews and what not, and then you have that one game that you didn't even know was out there... and it totally hits the spot.
Cryostasis: The sleep of reason is one such game for me. I had posted some news about it a long time back, and had totally forgotten about it.
I came across it recently when I was fishing around for horror titles that I could get for the pc, and on some site somewhere I came across the games cover. Then one search led to another and a few links down the line I knew I absolutely had to get this game.
Developed by a Russian studio called Action Forums, who I can't seem to find anything about, the game is a survival/ exploration horror game unlike anything I've played.
The game takes place in the North Pole, where you play the part of Alexander Nesterov, a Russian meteorologist who boards a nuclear ice breaker called The North Wind, which has been wrecked on some ice burgs. At first there are no signs of the ships crew, but as you continue to investigate you find that something quite sinister has happened aboard the North Wind, turning it's crew into crazed zombie like monsters.
The most interesting thing about the game is the way the story unfolds itself. As you play through you come across the remains of some of the crew who didn't become monsters. These people died in either horrible accidents when the ship hit the ice bank, or at the hands of the crazed crew. Normally what ever killed these people becomes an obstacle for you, and to get past this you need to tap into the dead persons Death Echo.
O yeah... this is where this game gets interesting.
The death echo allows you to relive the moments that lead to the persons death, and by saving them, usually by means of avoiding an accident or fixing some bit of the ship, you get to progress further.
For example; You come across a body holding onto some floating debris in a flooded part of the ship, you can't get across because the water is freezing. So what you do is tap into the dead persons death echo, in this case it's a guy trying to cross the flooded area. You find him a rubber raft, guide him through the zombie infested waters, and then park the raft where you main character can reach it. When you get the guy across safely, the echo ends and your staring at a rubber raft where the floating body used to be.
There are tones of puzzles like this through out the game, and the echo bits are freaking tense and scary, because you know if you don't act fast enough the person is going to die.
Aside from these encounters, you also run into the zombie crew members while your exploring. You can dispatch of these guys with a cool assortment of make shift weapons, as well as old time guns and pistols that you find here and there. My favourite weapon though is the axe, swings slow, but nails em good.
Another interesting bit of game play is the importance of keeping warm. Being on a wrecked ship in the middle of the North pole is not good for you at all. Lose a little heat and simple things like running and walking around become harder to do, lose too much heat and your dead.
Luckily though there are lights and machinery scattered about the ship which provide just the right amount of heat to keep you going. Some of the bigger machines juice you up for quite a bit.
I have to say the biggest star though would have to be the ship it's self. Being inside the ship is like walking around in the belly of a monster. Massive in size but divided into destroyed sections, the environment perfectly captures the feeling of dread and isolation. As you scurry around, your breath steaming in front of your face, while you peer through your frozen goggles, seeing icy walls and flooded areas, giant machines and huge dark industrial areas of pipes and ladders, the North Wind is a cold, dark death trap that's already claimed it's crew... and now it wants you.
There is a story that plays out about the crew and what happened, as well as a sort of interwoven tale that explains your death echo trips, but I don't want to spoil that.
All in all this would have to be one of the coolest horror games I've played, and easily makes it into my top 5 list of all time favourites. Sadly the game didn't get the mad review scores I thought it deserved, with Gamespots review being one of the few bigger game sites that really liked it, but when it comes to these review scores you really need to take em with a grain of salt.
What's often important to me is the games hook, that is something unique to a game that appeals directly to me. Like if say there was a mad military shooter that got outstanding reviews, and a zombie game that is said to be bloody and fun. You know I'm grabbing that zombie game. Classic example would be The Evil Dead series of games which weren't the favourites of many a game sites, but I played those games to bloody little bits and still consider Evil Dead: Fist full of Boomsticks one of my favourite ps2 games, not to mention Hail to the King which made the last days of my ps1 mad fun.
Cryostasis came in at number one on Gamesutra's list of Top 10 over looked games of 2009.