A terrific setting and an eerie atmosphere that works well with the game focus on exploration and storytelling.
Cryostasis isn't your regular first person shooter. Even though it is played on first person, most of the enjoyment comes from exploring the ship and finding more about the story behind the tragedy. Even though bullets and axes are sure to take you down, your worst enemy is undoubtedly the freezing temperature.
Exploring the ship is a realistic experience and the environments are very detailed and well designed. One gets to navigate through engine and generator rooms, infirmaries, crew quarters, jails cells, the command center and a variety of other section of the huge ship. Sound plays a very important role in setting the mood, one will hear the sound of massive doors being opened or closed, large engines and generators being put to use, metal chains and other metallic instruments and structures clattering as one explores and somehow seems to disturb the crew's resting place.
After the incident, cold has settled in and the icebreaker is almost like a giant freezer . In order to survive, one of your priorities is to power up some of the many generators and allow the heat to dissipate some of the cold, almost as if you were breathing life into the dead structure. That sense is further enhanced by the fact that your health bar is your body temperature. On very cold environments, your body heat will deplete, working essentially as a life draining effect. Also, most environments are covered with ice and the cold is so intense that a careful exploration is not possible until you find a way to heat up the place. As you do, the ice melts, the blue hue sort of goes away and a reddish tone sets the mood. It's a pretty neat effect, specially on the first hours of the game.
Dying aboard the icebreaker was the cause of anguish and unrest. Part of the crew turned into zombies armed with melee and firearms, bent on taking you down. Combat is slow, just as the exploration, as most firearms take a long time to reload and your almost frozen, heavily coated character is not nimble at all. Don't expect to run and gun in this game.
A few crew members were also distressed by their demise but rather than becoming undead, they're trapped in their dead bodies, waiting for you to help them. When you touch one of those bodies, you'll experience the last moments of that person's life and have to act in such a way as to prevent him from dying. The environment changes a lot, you're no longer in a frozen, broken ship but on a working vessel. The actions required to succeed vary a lot, from interacting with the environment (activating switches and opening doors) and finding a safe route through hazards (fire and explosions) to combat and exploration. Should you die, you're taken back to the present time and can jump into the past right away. Should you succeed, the story is rewritten as if that person hasn't died. So, engineers might have lived long enough to prevent the generators from failing or a reactor from exploding, previously locked doors are now opened and lost items are again available. A few key characters and events also trigger a movie that will help you understand the events that led to the incident.
The graphics and the sound are top notch and the voice acting and the storytelling is really good. Some people complain that the combat is slow and cumbersome but I think it fits the mood. The graphics engine is heavy and I got repeated crashes before disabling high textures and vertical sync, even though my computer meets the requirements for an optimal experience. Cryostasis was criticised due to long loading times and heavy engine but on todays computers its no longer an issue if you're willing to tweak the settings a bit.
It's a game focused on telling a good story in a rather uncommon way. One will spend most of the time exploring the ship, shielding from the deadly bone chilling atmosphere and trying to find some source of heat to survive. The eerie setting and storytelling are more than enough for me to recommend to any horror game fan.