Have You Played… Cryostasis?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Cryostasis belongs to the same class as the S.T.A.L.K.E.R and Metro series, namely weird-as-heck Eastern bloc shooters. As an FPS it isn’t as good as anything either of those series’ offer, but the story it tells between the gun bits is satisfyingly mysterious and surprisingly touching.

You do need to get past the phrase “psychic meteorologist” to enjoy it, however. Alexander Nesterov is the clairvoyant weatherman in question, sent into the Arctic to investigate the nuclear icebreaker “North Wind” which has become trapped despite its essential qualities as a ship. He discovers the crew frozen to death and, in some cases, returned to an astonishingly creepy un-life by radiation leakage from the decaying reactor.

Nesterov can revert parts of the disaster through his “Mental Echo” ability, which lets him delve into the memories of dead crew-members and alter some of their actions. This is used to construct puzzles and obstacles, but its main function is to communicate the story of the ship’s captain, an affable old man who is nevertheless responsible for the ship becoming trapped, and whose authority dwindles as the situation becomes increasingly untenable. Through Nesterov’s eyes we see the crew abandon him one by one, old friendships torn asunder by ambition, doubt and desperation.

The elegiac tale is complemented by a frightfully icy atmosphere and a neat little heat equals health mechanic that combine to emphasise how unbearably cold the ill-fated vessel is. The hideous performance problems that plagued Cryostasis on release should no longer be an issue, so if you can tolerate the spongy shooting, Cryostasis will make for an absorbing few hours during these bracing winter nights.

44 Comments

  1. Anthile says:

    Yes, I have and it remains one of the best games I have ever played. A shame it runs like a dog even with a nvidia card but disabling the crazy water effects should do the trick.
    My favourite moment: the film projector.

    • Flopdong says:

      This game was awesome, definitely one i intend to replay at some point. I really liked how all the enemies were mutated in strange ways that related to the atrocities they committed in life. For example the jailors that left prisoners locked in their cells to freeze to death have had their faces replaced with a jail cell. The bars of the cell frame make up the face, and the head is hollow, with a bed and toilet and light inside. Weird stuff, but definitely cool

      • Synesthesia says:

        yes! I was going to post the exact thing. The enemy design has nothing to envy silent hill. The first time i stopped and looked at jail-face was a pretty good gaming moment for me.

        This game is very high on my list. So delightfully dark and weird. Maybe this one could be a good one for the oculus? I’d like to relive the last seconds of that cow’s life in actual first person.

  2. cmxavier says:

    I’ve always wanted to play this game but never found where to buy it.

    • Rinox says:

      It used to be on Steam and GOG.com, but isn’t on either anymore. Not sure why. Guessing some sort of publisher thing.

      • cmxavier says:

        Same on Amazon, truly a shame. It’s on G2A at the cheap price of U$S 84,50. Mebbe in another life.

      • TΛPETRVE says:

        The GOG version is still making its round on various torrent sites. While I otherwise don’t aim to advocate piracy, it’s sadly the only way to get the game at the moment. Here’s hoping for an updated re-release on Steam, or maybe even a remake.

      • Cyrus says:

        Yeah, it’s a shame that we can’t even get to play it, unless resorting to “other” means.

        I was looking up this game earlier this year and found out that it was not available.
        Same with Wolfenstein.

        • cmxavier says:

          We should do something about this, i have torches and pitchforks for everyone. Or torrent the game and feel bad about it for a minute or two.

      • rebb says:

        It’s a true shame, and seems completely nonsensical. What could the rationale ever be to block a game from digital distribution in this day and age ?

        • Anthile says:

          Well, I can’t find any details but I imagine the rights holder went out of business and now the license is in limbo. In other words, it likely got NOLF’d.

          • Legion23 says:

            Thanks to Night Dive Studios we know that Warner Bros do have the rights to NOLF, but they are just not interested in re-releasing it.

        • Klarden says:

          Simple, Action Forms guys (who still work, but in mobile segment, releasing their Carnivores games and such) decided to buy the rights for the game from 1c. But it’s been like 3-4 years now and no news, so I guess there have been some issues.

      • suibhne says:

        I purchased it on via Gamersgate, many years ago, and I can still download it there – but it’s no longer available for sale.

  3. KingFunk says:

    I loved this game too. To be fair, there isn’t that much shooty in it anyway. Somehow I never even realised he was a psychic meteorologist – I just thought he was some guy and weird stuff happened. At the time I was blown away by the ice-melting-off-the-walls effect when you heated a room up. Also some nice creepy enemy design like the guy with a miniature prison cell for a face. If you’re into the general Soviet stark and cold vibe that Stalker and Metro have, you need to play this!

    • Flopdong says:

      Yeah i doubt I’ll ever forget the prison-face guys. I especially liked the way the light in the jail cell cast shadows on the wall so you could tell where the guy was looking even if you couldn’t see him directly.

  4. TomxJ says:

    The only thing I remember about this game is fighting dogs in kitchens.

    I hate dogs.

  5. mrmalodor says:

    Yes!!! This is a must play for survival horror fan. It’s right beside Silent Hill 2 for me.

  6. yogibbear says:

    When this game came out, I got to the first enemy, freaked the s*** out. Shut down my computer. Threw my shoes at it. Curled up into the fetal position under my blanket and starting rocking back and forth. NEVER AGAIN!!!! DIEEE!!! KILL IT WITH FIRE!

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    Aerothorn says:

    This is the only game (in the modern age) that I couldn’t play because of my graphics card (ATI). I tried, man, I tried, but it totally barfed. So I put it on the backburner until I ended up with an Nvidia, and then haven’t got around to it since – it’s still on my list!

    And I realize I now own something like 6 Steam games that have been taken off sale. I’m a “collector” :P

  8. DoktorV says:

    I have the GOG version, and played it on an ATI 6870. It didn’t run fantastically well, but it was adequately playable.

    I don’t remember anything establishing that Nesterov was psychic, though I suppose the language in the manual suggested it.

    Unrelatedly, I like how the game gets across the feeling that Nesterov is not a professional fighter, and in particular he is not proficient with automatic weapons. Once you finally get an SMG, he’s barely able to keep it under control.

  9. Sinjun says:

    Love this game. Made a music video about it over 4 years ago because I loved it so much – link to youtube.com

  10. Paul says:

    One of the most atmospheric games ever made, a masterpiece.

  11. nimbulan says:

    All I remember about this game is how poorly it ran when it came out. When an enemy popped out, the whole game would freeze for about a second on top of the abysmal framerate. The water effects were cool but the rest of the game was quite forgettable and I never bothered finishing it. I’m surprised hearing so many people talk positively about the story when I don’t remember it having much of one.

  12. Fenix says:

    The “cow scene” in this game changed me in a way few other games have ever affected me.

  13. Panicintrinsica says:

    Honestly I liked the gunplay in this game. I thought it was fitting to the environment that aiming was awful, reloading was slow and you were generally crap at most everything. You’re not a solider, you’re a meteorologist; It’s way beyond freezing so your muscles are stiff as hell; you’re being attacked by crazy supernatural demon people, so probably panicked out of your damned mind; and you’re using found weaponry that’s just laying around a wrecked icebreaker entombed in a glacier. None of this adds up to expert marksmanship, it’s actually damned impressive the weapons still function at all in the massively sub-zero temp if you think about it. Thank the gods for whoever just happened to use high quality low-freezing point gun oil on that Mosin.

    Apart from that, this is one of my all-time favorite games due to its stellar atmosphere. I’ve always thought it was incredibly underrated by people. Thankfully my Steam copy still works, and it’s actually quite playable on max settings now with a 970 GTX. It was even playable on older cards provided you knew which INI file to edit to reduce the number of PhysX particles per object. All you had to do was half the number of dynamic objects that spawned from the ice sickles breaking and suddenly it ran pretty well.

    I’d say the game is very playable now on modern hardware though, so there’s finally no need to edit the INIs for basic playability. If anything you can actually increase the particle count now with all the extra frames you have to spare.

    • Klarden says:

      Yep, it actually works much better now. It was slightly optimized post-launch but it’s mostly due to how powerful hardware became. I played it with PhysX on recently on 970 GTX too, worked quite good.

    • Synesthesia says:

      oooh yeah, the mosin nagant was hefty as fuck. I might just replay this one.

  14. Oakreef says:

    Game is really great and the ice melting effects are gorgeous.

    That water gun makes things way too easy though.

  15. FlipMooMonkey says:

    While scrolling past this on the front page I mistook the pic to be two beavers chatting about why their dam froze.

    Now I’m just disappointed.

  16. Sc0r says:

    seriously, this is one of the most underrated games ever.

  17. JustAchaP says:

    I remember it being extremely unoptimized. Also it had a demo.

  18. Risingson says:

    I got an nvidia, and not ati card just for this game.

  19. caff says:

    This game is a great example of how Russian strangeness can work wonders on the psyche and provide an excellent horror experience.

    I’d love to see a modern remake in the vein of Ice Pick Lodge’s resurrection of Pathologic.

    • caff says:

      Also, I think this was the last game I bought on DVD! After this it was all Steam and (cough) trial versions of games.

    • Unclepauly says:

      I don’t think it’s old enough for that. It’s perfectly playable as it is.

  20. Papageno says:

    I got a digital copy of this as a freebie for a video card purchase way back and played it for a while and enjoyed it, but I ran into some problems with flaky RAM and somehow never finished it. Is it available anymore? Neither Steam nor Amazon are selling it now.

    • Papageno says:

      To reply to my own post: found my downloaded setup files, and it installed without incident–I even fired it up. However, the North American 1.1 patch for the Nvidia card freebie version (that came from Digital River as it turns out) can’t find the installed game, and I’m reading online of other people with the same problem.

  21. Scumbag says:

    *SPOILERS*

    Not sure if others felt this, but the box blerb about the character being a special psychic agent always came across as tacked on by the publisher.
    If there was anything I got from the story it was everyone, including the main character, died at some point and the game was a form of purgatory he was trying to escape from, like a lost soul on the brink of death but not quite dead. Essentially the opening part where he is laying in the snow on the ship is his final moments, yet somehow his spirit pushed on (the flashback parts made me think of this).

    I’m tired so cant articulate myself better here, but its one of the reasons I love this game. Not clear, quite ambiguous in its message, lots left to interpretation, symbolism out of the wazzo.

  22. Hauskamies says:

    I really liked the bad shooting mechanics because it fit the game so well.

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    Angstsmurf says:

    This is the only six-year-old game my Radeon R9 270 can’t play on highest settings. And yes, this is with the latest update.

    • Papageno says:

      By “the latest update” did you mean the 1.1 patch? Because for some reason the patch program can’t detect that I have the game installed (unless it would require a reboot for some reason I suppose–I may not have done that). Out of curiosity, did you install to the default location on drive C: ?
      (I suppose I could just look for an already-updated .exe file)

  24. Sin Vega says:

    Yes! I got perhaps an hour into it, and I was pleasantly surprised as it’s not the sort of game I normally enjoy all that much. Very atmospheric and I liked the setting.

    Unfortunately something about it made my PC very freezey and crashy at times, in a way that’s become very unusual since the early 2000s, which made me quite nervous about playing it more.