At E3 2007, one of Russian publisher 1C's titles on display is Cryostasis, a first-person action game that leans more heavily toward the survival horror genre than a standard first-person shooter. It's the year 1968, and you play as a meteorologist named Alexander Nesterov. You've just awoken on a derelict icebreaker ship that's run aground in the middle of nowhere. Going outside is impossible because of the cold. Inside the ship, the bodies of a very dead crew surround you, and a group of what can only be described as ice zombies are out to kill you. 1C gave us a quick look at some of the game's mechanics, and we came away intrigued.
The most immediately striking thing about Cryostasis is its use of cold as both window dressing and a gameplay mechanic. The ship is an absolute icicle, with every inch of furniture, wall, floor and ceiling caked in frost. Over time, you'll even see Alexander's hands slowly frost over. To prevent yourself from becoming a human popsicle, you'll need to find heat sources to warm up. This is essentially the game's answer to a health system. Enemies that pop up don't hurt you so much as rob you of body heat. If you find a good heat source, you'll see the frost melt off your hands, and if you crank it up enough, even the surrounding area will get defrosted. The game uses a dual-texturing system that separates the main textures from the frost textures, and it looks quite nice.
Wandering around the ship, it's hard not to be struck by the morguelike environment. It's a dark, harsh-looking place that's easy to get lost in, with its labyrinthine internal structure. The fact that freaky ice creatures exist around every turn doesn't help matters. The good news is that you'll be appropriately armed. Alexander's default weapon is simply his two fists (with a lock and chain wrapped around one of them), but you'll be able to pick up several types of guns, from rifles to a Tommy gun. Enemies seemed to go down reasonably quickly, but if they manage to get a good swipe at you, they'll do considerable damage.
Perhaps the most bizarre element of Cryostasis is what's called a mental echo. These are essentially the game's equivalent of an environmental puzzle, and they're freaky as hell. Basically, whenever you happen upon the corpse of one of the unfortunate crew members, you can enter that person's mind, seeing the last few seconds of that poor soul's life. From there, you can actually travel back in time as that person and change the outcome of what originally killed that crew member. The way this becomes a puzzle is as follows: Say you come upon a corpse frozen in a block of ice within the floor. You discover by watching his last moments that originally there was no floor there and that there was a passageway you could walk through before it flooded in a horrific accident. Once you travel back in time, you can control the former crew member and get him the heck out of that compartment before it floods. Once you get back to your time and reality, the ice block is now gone, with a new path opened up in front of you.
Cryostasis is about as intriguing an under-the-radar PC game as we've seen at this year's E3. The demo we experienced was filled with creepy atmosphere that was backed up by a more than competent graphics engine--one that's been developed with both DirectX 9 and DirectX 10 support in mind. We're fascinated by the mental echo concept and are very much interested in seeing more of how this sort of mechanic will play out throughout the game. Gamers who like their horror games strange and psychologically oriented should keep an eye on Cryostasis between now and when it ships late this year.