I wanted to love it, but the optimization is so terrible that it made this game unbeatable.
The game won the 'best story' award by Gamespot and after playing a while into it, I can say that it really deserves it. The main objective is that you are a meteorologist who stumbles across a Russian nuclear ice-breaker shipwrecked in what appears to be the Arctic. Your character has developed a special ability called 'Mental Echo' in which you use to enter the memories of dead crewmen, and act in their last moments to change their fates. As you explore the ice-breaker, you will save lives, fight crewmen infected and possessed by radiation, and experience flashbacks which give an account of what has happened.
It's a storyline which is not too easy to understand on the first playthrough unless you pay close attention to events and messages so it makes it all the more neccessary to be engaged. Some puzzles are quite interesting when you solve them, but none of them are overly challenging. In this game you must survive by finding heat sources to warm your character up which is a great feature. We've seen a similar feature in 'Lost Planet' but here it is a lot more realistic. The combat is incredibly clunky but it is obvious that it was done to give a real sense of realism. Guns and axes are HEAVY. You cannot swing an axe in half-a-second without even using your body like you can in Left 4 Dead 2. If you come expecting a quick simple arcade shooter, don't go crying to the game seller.
The gameplay for this game is creative, but what this game triumphs most is in it's atmosphere. The game is literally more linear than any other game I have ever played; some corridors have very tiny space you may even very nearly get stuck sometimes, but I realised that this is neccessary for the atmosphere to get done right. There is always a very dark ambient as you play which makes you ready for any scares (and trust me, the game is creepy). With the marvelously detailed graphics and icy visual effects you really see you are alone in a cold ice-breaker. I played this on a boiling hot sunny day, but with the atmosphere this game contains, I still could not help shivering by what I was seeing (I'm not kidding). This is clearly the best video game atmosphere since STALKER.
Cryostasis is one of the most original games to come in a while, but also one of the most broken. This game is so buggy with false specs, that it is, at least on my system, totally unbeatable. This is the ONLY game I have ever played which featured annoying bugs that prevented progression. The game is much more demanding than the system requirements point out, but even on my super-powerful PC with Windows 7 there are some frame rate issues and crashes. Such stuff is not a big issue for me if the game is still beatable like STALKER, ARMA 2 etc unless it is the insanely demanding GTA4. However, this game is NOT beatable and I'll explain why.
It's surprising that very few people did not seem to have the same issue looking at all the positive reviews here so it must be my system. Don't get me wrong, the game is great all right, but it has a brick wall at one point which is inpenetrable (excuse the pun). These scene involved a flashback puzzle and I thought at first that I made a mistake, but when I looked at a walkthrough video this then proved to be a real computer bug. In that puzzle, I had to go to several stations to build a valve adaptor but if I ever stood too close to a station my character would get stuck to it, time would run out and I had to start again. I tried keeping my distance, but when my character put the pieces on a station I could not get them back and again time would run out. These are just to name a couple of bugs for that one moment.
IGN mentioned that they could not get past a point because of game-stopping bugs and if they meant the ninth level, I know exactly what they were talking about. The weird thing is that every single bug appeared to be bunched up in this one moment in the game. It was as if the developers deliberately wanted to prevent me from finishing that particular part but that is not the worst thing. The worst thing is that it has been over a year since release and the developers STILL have not released any patches to address the bugs, which means that until then, I am stuck on that part of the game.
Cryostasis has so many good things going for it. The well-sustained gameplay, unique atmosphere, phenomenal graphics and it's length. The music in the menu is unique, although still could have sounded better, but that's hardly an issue. I have seen how many levels there are and my current progress has been long and I wasn't even half-way through, so it means the game is nowhere near as short as most games are today. Not to mention the scary feeling this game gives. It has no blood or gore at all (one of few horror games to get a 'T' rating), but it does give me chills. If only the game was not unbeatable, it would have then been fantastic. My satisfaction from the design has me ready to welcome any sequel if possible, provided the system is much more stable than this one. Until they release a patch to fix the buggy problems, I am afraid I cannot rate it higher.
EDIT: After a while of having it uninstalled, I downloaded it again off steam and I am pleased to report that the bug I mentioned in my review is gone now, giving me a chance to complete the game. For that, I move my score up to 8.0, but due to performance lags and other more minor issues, my rating stays where it is right now.