While I was out at the KRI game developers summit in Moscow I had a chance to play a number of games from the East European theatre. One that stood out was Cryostasis by Action Forms. This survival shooter has already caused a bit of hopeful muttering and anticipation round here, so I thought I'd go into it in a little more detail, as well as briefly talk to one of the leads on the project, Dmitriy Kozmin.
The plot of Cryostasis is based around a lost ship that is stranded and icebound in the arctic. You play a meteorologist who takes his dog-sled up there to investigate. The opening scenes of what I saw in Moscow saw you riding your sled up to that looming ship, desperate to get there before you freeze to death.
Once aboard the ship it becomes clear that you cannot survive for long without some heat sources. In fact, there's no classic "health" at all, but just temperature. If it drops too low from environment sources, or from exhausting yourself in a fight with the weird enemies aboard the ship, then you die.
The first thing I do is switch on a heater in one of the cabins of the ship. Slowly, all around me, the frosty sheen melts away. It's rather sped up for effect, but it's an interesting effect. From there it's a case of exploring the ship and finding out what disaster befell it. You're constantly searching for sources of warmth, and even a lightbulb is a good way to up your body temperature. Worse, you'll soon encounter the psychotic frozen denizens of the ship, and fighting begins in earnest.
But then there's this:
Alex is no ordinary meteorologist as he possesses a unique ‘Mental Echo’ ability that allows him to relive the final memories of the dead and change their actions in the past, changing their future.
This is crucial to Action Forms' intentions for the game as Dmitriy Kozmin explained: "We have three main features in the Cryostasis: Mental Echo, thermodynamics and off course the game scenario." It's the story that Kozmin seems most proud of, as he went on: "The story of the game can be called linear, but there are many variants of playing from one point to another and many time travel moments, the Mental Echoes. The endings of the game are multiple. There is also a sophisticated psychological dilemma in it and we hope, each player will find a solution suitable for him personally."
For us, however, it's this Mental Echo idea that is most intriguing. I asked Kozmin to explain a little more about it. "With the help of Mental Echo players can travel into the past of the ship and find out what really happened there and the reasons for the catastrophe. In this way Cryostasis: Sleep of Reason is more like an unusual detective story with an ability (for the reader or in our case - the player) to interfere the course of actions in the past and change the situation in future. The main task of our team was to create a game [in which this ability] is perceived as something integral."
The Mental Echo is set off when encountering various corpses across the ship. So are we traveling into the memories of these dead folk? "The system of Mental Echo is not exactly a 'memory travel'," says Kozmin. "The Hero not only revises the moments of the other character's life, he actually travels to the past of that person, settles in his mind and operates his body. Mental characters are people, who made some mistakes when they were still alive. With Mental Echo our Hero gets a chance to correct their mistakes and set them free. Off course, if one travelled to the Mental Echo and prevented some mistake or destruction there will be no consequences of this disaster when he returns to reality. In this way we can not only save the whole ship, but also return life to every living being on board."
This travel into the past, therefore, becomes a kind of problem-solving mechanism for the game. You can leap into the past and fix other people's mistakes to fix your situation in the present. Ultimately, it seems, how you deal with these Mental Echoes will resolve the fate the you, and of the ship you are stranded on.
Finally I had to ask Kozmin if he believed that Russia was providing a fresh take on the tired shooter scene, and if so, why would that be? "I do believe!" he said. "But I'm afraid that to get an answer to this question and to understand it fully one should spend some time here, learn Russian and try reading some classic Russian literature like Dostoevskiy for at least several hours a day. This might help!"
Cryostasis is set for release in October.