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Video Game / Cryostasis

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"This is the North Pole's welcome. No marching band, no flags, no speeches."

"As long as the dark foundation of our nature, grim in its all-encompassing egoism, mad in its drive to make that egoism into reality, to devour everything and to define everything by itself, as long as that foundation is visible, as long as this truly original sin exists within us, we have no business here and there is no logical answer to our existence....Imagine a group of people who are all blind, deaf and slightly demented and suddenly someone in the crowd asks, "What are we to do?"... The only possible answer is, "Look for a cure". Until you are cured, there is nothing you can do. And since you don't believe you are sick, there can be no cure."
Vladimir Solovyov, quoted at the very end of the game.

(Not related to "cryosleep" or similar concepts. For that trope, see Human Popsicle.)

Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason is a first-person Survival Horror game, released originally in December 2008, developed by Ukraine based studio Action Forms. It follows the experiences of Heroic Mime Alexander Nesterov as he investigates the shipwrecked nuclear icebreaker North Wind. The North Wind wrecked over a decade prior and has only recently been found. Nesterov is sent alone to investigate, only to get trapped inside and forced to seek shelter from the Arctic cold.

The game starts off rather similar to most games of the genre, as Alexander is lost and confused within an unknown and hostile environment. As the aforementioned ship wrecked near the North Pole, ice and searching for heat are key motifs throughout the game. Freezing to death is a very real possibility. Also, the crew of the North Wind have gone mad and are intent on killing Alexander. Mild inconvenience.

Cryostasis rapidly morphs into more Mind Screw than almost any video game ever conceived. Interspersed with Alexander's conflict with the demonic presence on the ship is the heavily metaphorical tale of Danko, whose actions and flaws parallel those of the North Wind's Captain. The monsters you fight begin to morph into disturbing personifications of the crew's shortcomings. Despite the bleak setting, all of the action leads up to a rather heartwarming ending drenched in symbolic meaning.

Alexander has an interesting power at his disposal, named the Mental Echo; He can enter the memories of the dead and alter their actions, correcting their mistakes so they at least do not die in despair, or simply helping them survive just a moment or so longer so that parts of the ship that were sealed before become accessible. Doing so also provides an insight into exactly what happened when the ship crashed, and the relationships between key characters. This is an interesting storytelling technique as it means the main character never physically comes into contact with a single sane, living person during his adventure.

A major showcase for Nvidia's PhysX graphical engine, Cryostasis is a very beautiful game too, rivaling even Crysis. However, the game does not utilize more than one core in current-day CPU's, meaning the game stutters even on high-end PCs. It is also quite buggy in parts, which when combined with the slow storytelling and (some would say) repetitive level design can frustrate and bore some players. However the game is welcomed as, at the very least, an interesting experience.

This game contains examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: Some of the early trailers and in-game documents state that the North Wind was lost in 1968, though statements about the age of the ship and the appearance of vehicles such as the Kamov helicopter imply that the game takes place in the early 1980s. A theory, supported by the ending of the game, is that there are two timelines in the game: in the original proper timeline the North Wind never crashed and Alexander is due to be picked up by it, as the radiogram in the game indicates. This timeline is restored by the end of the game. However, in the divergent timeline, the North Wind crashes in 1968 and Alexander enters its parallel reality when he boards the ship, where the sins and flaws of the crewmembers are personified into monsters. At the ending of the game, by proving your worth to the God of Time Khronos, you successfully avert the ship's impact with an iceberg by taking possession of a central character within the story who influences the captain's decision. By doing this, you not only save yourself from the deadly fall you experience at the beginning, but also the entire crew of the ship.
    • Perhaps a more prominent anachronism, albeit one that does not affect the plot, is that the North Wind is named in several places as an Arktika class nuclear icebreaker. While these did exist, they weren't launched until 1975, 8 years after the North Wind is meant to have run aground.
  • Another Man's Terror: Thanks to the Mental Echo mechanic, you'll see this trope a lot.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Various records are found throughout the story, along with extracts from an Russian fable that parallels the main story. The "mental echo" segments have the player experience the crash and its aftermath firsthand.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Nesterov is attacked by a taxidermied bear at one point. In the aftermath, you save its life.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: One boss you fight has spider-legs made of ice growing out his back. There are also several enemies with moth wings.
  • Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": The health meter is described as internal body temperature. You warm yourself up by being near sources of heat, and it dissipates by being in cold areas. You also lose health when attacked by an axe-wielding enemy, but recover said injuries by going back to a heat source. Being a nuclear-powered ice breaker, you come across radiation hot spots which harm you by overloading you with heat.
  • The Captain: Subverted. The game itself is actually a chronicle of the decline and fall of the captain of the North Wind, though at the end, Nesterov has an opportunity to make everything better.
  • Chekhov's Time Travel: In which effective time travel spawns from an ability. The protagonist player has the power to enter people's minds and change their past actions. This may become useful in moving them in the present or in the past, which can save you or them.
  • The Complainer Is Always Wrong: While the captain did make a ton of mistakes, this trope is in effect during the North Winds' attempted escape from the ice - he wanted to try ramming the ice to break the ship free, but when he was injured, the First Officer and Chief of Security instead order the ship to make a full reverse. Not only did this destabilize the reactor, which eventually killed everyone through radiation poisoning, but if the ship had stayed its course as shown if Nesterov used his mental echo powers to convince the Chief of Security to help the captain, the ramming attempt would've worked.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: You're given a rifle with a scope about halfway through the game, but given how most of the fighting takes place in small rooms, it's actually slightly less useful than the iron sights.
    • The Water Cannon is this too. It's a very powerful weapon, but hard to aim (especially at enemies in motion), and it guzzles ammo like you'd expect a device that's basically a boiler attached to a hose to do. At least said ammo (icicles) is plentiful.
  • Chess with Death: Chronos is defeated by beating him at whack-a-mole, see "Puzzle Boss"
  • Dead All Along: It is strongly implied that Nesterov dies at the beginning of the game and the whole game is about freeing his soul from the North Wind.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: The end boss.
  • Dual Wielding: One of the mid-game enemies is a ice zombie crewman dual-wielding welders. The Giant Mook enemies also dual-wield 2 submachine guns and 2 flashlights.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Despite the horrific imagery and oppressive mood, the game ends on a pretty high note.
  • Elemental Rock-Paper-Scissors/Playing with Fire/An Ice Person: The conflict between hot and cold plays a central part in the game's design. Your character is healed by heat and his attacks have heat-based effects (based on the red burn marks that appear on enemies whenever you hit them), conversely, the monsters are all frozen zombie-like creatures which damage you with cold whenever they hit you (even their bullets cause damage by freezing).
  • Elite Mooks: After a certain point, the ice-zombie creatures you encounter start becoming distinctly less human. These are the creatures that tend to have heavy melee attacks, unpredictable movement patterns, and/or machineguns.
  • Evil Is Deathly Cold: All of the enemies have ice motifs, all of the characters are trapped in the frozen Arctic Ocean, and Nesterov's life is heat
  • Giant Mook: One of the rarest enemies is a huge, 7-foot tall brute in a hooded black coat who dual wields flashlights and PPSh submachine guns; he's slow, but it takes a very large amount of damage to kill him.
  • Grim Up North: Set on an abandoned Soviet icebreaker deep in the Arctic.
  • Guns Are Worthless: Well, these guns are worthless—your first gun was state of the art in 1891, and while the WWII Soviet rifle is better, they're meant for open-field warfare and are very awkward in the extreme close-quarters of the ship. You'd think a submachinegun would great for tight quarters, but Nesterov doesn't seem to be proficient in automatic weapons, so he has great trouble actually hitting anything. Some enemies are best handled at range, but most of the time it's more effective to smack things to death with a lock and chain.
  • Heroic Mime: Nesterov. Kinda justified, seeing as there are not a lot of friendly characters to interact with.
  • Humanoid Abomination: It's not obvious at the beginning, but almost every enemy is one of these.
  • Idiot Ball: The First Officer and Security Chief are both guilty of this when they were forced to take command - while aborting the ramming was a reasonable idea, ordering the ship to make a full reverse after colliding with the ice is not. Their decision caused the ship's nuclear reactor to destabilize, condemning everyone to slowly die from both radiation poisoning and hypothermia.
  • Implacable Man: The Man in the Parka who may or may not be Nesterov himself.
  • Improbable Weapon User: Nesterov's first weapons are a lock and chain and a valve. The former has him wrap the chan around his left fist while clutching the lock like an improvised knuckle duster or cestus, for the latter he carries the valve like a dumbell and hit with either the valve wheel or the other end of it.
  • Kill It with Fire: Because of the nature of enemies, this is the most effective solution, and is why the flare gun is the most powerful weapon of the game.
  • Life Meter: The bottom-left corner shows the temperature of the main character, which doubles up as the life meter when the player gets injured in combat.
  • Mental Time Travel: The Mental Echo replays the corpse's last moments and allows Nesterov to avert whatever mistake got them killed.
    • This is an interesting example, because many times the mental time travel saves a person's life... for about a minute. At several points, Nesterov is forced to save the same person's life repeatedly. Including himself, at the very beginning of the game
  • Mind Screw: Let's put it this way: three-quarters of the way through the game, you are attacked by a movie.
  • More Dakka: The submachine gun sprays bullets pretty indiscriminately. At close range, it's a great weapon for dealing a lot of damage in a short time, but expect to go through clips rather quickly. The Water Cannon even more so.
  • The Mutiny: In keeping with "The Tale of Danko", the crew loses faith in their captain and plot against him.
  • Poor Communication Kills: The character flaws of the three senior crew members below the Captain, leading them to ostracise and demoralise him, are what cause the disaster. At the end of the game, Nesterov corrects the past by getting just one of the three men to show the Captain some sympathy.
  • Puzzle Boss: The final boss. Neither of you attack each other, but instead play a kind of a game, where you have to hit the spawning monsters with balls of "heat" (presumably saving them this way), and the boss crushes them with his mace. First one to score ten positive points wins the battle.
  • Ramming Always Works: After the North Wind became trapped in the ice, the captain ordered the crew to ram into the ice in an effort to break free. As a Mental Echo shows, this would've worked if the crew hadn't backed out at the last minute.
  • Resources Management Gameplay: Keeping warm is akin to managing one's health in other Survival Horror games, due to the merciless frost of the Arctic setting.
  • Rise to the Challenge: The first mental echo has the player try to escape rising water, as the ship floods with cold water. Multiple attempts are allowed, due to it being a mental echo.
  • Regenerating Health: Since the health meter is described as a heat meter, the inner health meter will slowly move to match the ambient temperature shown on the outside of the temperature sensor, simply by standing around in a warm area. This also works against the player, as being in a cold area will slowly drain health. It's generally faster to interact with a heat source to quickly recharge heat.
  • Scare Chord: One monster actually seems to cause them when it notices you and when it dies.
  • Schizo Tech: Despite being set in 1981 (maybe, see above), most of your weapons are either of WW2 vintage or older. Justified, as it was common practice for the Soviet Union to stockpile obsolete weapons for use in support roles; the Mosin-Nagant is still used as an Arctic survival weapon today, in fact, because even the mighty Kalashnikov gets baulky at forty below. See also the earlier Anachronism Stew example.
  • Set Right What Once Went Wrong: The entire premise of the game. Nesterov gets the chance to do this after defeating Chronos. Whether it saves his life or simply allows the ghosts of the crew to move on is unclear. Or perhaps it does both.
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: Yes.
  • Ship Level: The entire game is one with the objective of getting safely out of the ship.
  • Shout-Out: The fable Nesterov finds excerpts of throughout the ship is actually the short story Danko's Burning Heart, written by Maxim Gorky.
    • It's a part of a larger story The Old Woman Izergil where she tells her life story and 2 legendsnote . Hence the story is narrated by an old woman's voice.
    • Also, in one mental echo, you're required to go into the ship's reactor (labelled "No. 4") and replace a graphite control rod. Now, what significance would a graphite-based nuclear reactor identified as "No. 4" have to a Ukrainian game developer?
    • The game's subtitle is "Sleep of Reason," alluding to the Francisco de Goya painting The Sleep Of Reason Produces Monsters''. It fits the game well.
  • Sprint Meter: The yellow meter between the health and temperature meters. It's also drained when making attacks or jumping.
  • Standard FPS Guns: Averted; nearly all of the weapons fall into two categories: Scavenged melee weapons and slow-firing war rifles (with the exception of the PPSh submachine gun later on). The water cannon added by a patch is also pretty strange by FPS standards.
  • Suspicious Video-Game Generosity: Runs rampant throughout the game. Because your heat/health gauge will drop accordingly with the outside temperature, there's no way to accumulate health. To make the game winnable, the designers had to put a place where you can warm yourself before each and every fighting sequence. The more heat it gives, the more anxious the player becomes. Subversions do happen from time to time.
  • Tech-Demo Game: A lot of effort went into the ice physics, that allow you to see entire rooms thaw in real time as they heat up. Every room in the game has a temperature that affects the surroundings and you. Unfortunately, the developers forgot to implement multi-core processor support, so the game can run quite sluggishly on newer systems.
  • Too Awesome to Use: The Flare gun. Ammunition for it is extremely rare, but one direct hit with it will cripple most enemy types so you can kill them at your leisure or just watch them slowly burn to death.
  • Wham Episode: The level titled "Fear". Up to that point your main opponents have been undead crew members armed with various weapons, with hallucinations or more supernatural monsters only showing once or twice. Not so far into the level everything goes to hell: good old zombies are replaced with disfigured, symbolic monsters, the ice formations in some rooms look as if they actively invaded the ship, your hallucinations seem to reshape reality in some cases, etc.
  • Winged Humanoid: One of the enemy types has moth-like wings.

Alternative Title(s): Cryostasis Sleep Of Reason