If atmosphere and story are what you seek first and foremost in a game, Cryostasis delivers.
This has commonly been referred too as the Russian take on "Bioshock". I can agree with that statement as Cryostasis does a lot of the same things well, and it's story tends to wax philosophical. You play as Alexander Nesterov, a meteorologist, sent to investigate a trapped nuclear ice-breaker known as the "North Wind". Upon entering the ship it doesn't take long to see that the crew's gone insane. Thanks to your unique ability to witness people's last moments (Mental Echo) you dig deeper hoping to uncover what went wrong and if you can fix it.
The story gives you a lot of questions. There's nothing wrong with questions, but Cryostasis takes far too long to answer them. Early on you'll be rather bored, and it's easy to become disinterested. By the time answers start to appear, it takes are turn for the weird, even incorporating a bit of mythology. In the end though, the game has a pretty solid story, even if I didn't agree with all the points it tried to make.
As I mentioned earlier one of the coolest features in the game is Mental Echo. This appears to be some sort of physic ability Alex has to "possess" the dead in their last moments before their demise. You'll then have the chance to correct their mistakes, and in doing so save their life. That's not all though, as the practical benefits of saving someone are also apparent. For example saving one man's life, while successfully activating a pump, means back in the present the path is no longer iced over. It's a interesting addition though it's mandatory nature undermines it's moral impact.
There are other problems with Mental Echo. While early on it's makes a lot of sense, towards the end some things seem ridiculous. Like throwing PETA a bone and not butchering the cows keeps the Butcher from being crushed somehow. Yeah...Whatever. Firstly, he would've had to have been an idiot to have gotten killed that way. Secondly, they would've needed the meat to survive. Finally, releasing the cows into the arctic circle would've surely caused them to freeze to death. Technically, you didn't save anyone or thing. Other times the positions of the dead have no relation to their "echo", which can make it difficult to understand their relation to your present. It feels like they got a sloppy towards the end.
Cryostasis has plenty of other great features, including the heat as health mechanic. Given that it's the Arctic Circle it's not exactly sunshine and beaches. There's external heat, and internal heat. If the external heat is lower than your internal heat then you'll slowly lose warmth. The game does a great job of creating an atmosphere of cold and you'll rush to heat sources when you see them. This dependence on heat is used against you as there are even a few parts in the game where an enemy will start a heat source to lure you in for an ambush (trust me, you'll fall for it). This is probably the best and most innovative feature in Cryostasis.
In terms of the actual gunplay, Cryostasis could at best be described as "heavy", at worst "clunky", it all depends on your outlook. For me I somewhere in between. Alexander doesn't move very quickly (you wouldn't either if you were that bundled up) and his turning feels sluggish. Obviously this makes sense, but it takes some getting used to. Weapons also have some immense recoil, and reload very slowly encouraging you to make each shot count. If you screw it up it will be a while until you can fire again. Now imagine doing that while being attacked, low on heat, and no source in sight. It creates some beautiful tension, and in those moments you're completely immersed, thinking only of the game itself.
As has been said the environments are a rather boring mix of metal rooms, and tight corridors. This is to be expected given the game's setting, and while only a few of the game's locations are memorable, the atmosphere goes a long way to carrying the game. Everything is iced over, and snow accumulates through broken windows. As you grow colder, fog covers the edges of you're screen, slowly encroaching in, warning you of the inevitable. Feverish blizzards rage in the few parts outside, and you're clothing, weapon, and screen accumulate copious amounts of snow. Sound goes a great way to creating this atmosphere as well. Storms sound fierce, breath slows as the cold increases, and the crunch beneath your feet is spot on.
Cryostasis; however, really starts to shine when it all melts.Ice turns to water, and streams off of the walls. Icicles break off and clatter to the ground. Once the transition is complete, the world feels warm...and abit wet. Every time you turn on a generator you'll stop to watch the room transform. I swear these are some of the best effects in a game.
The sound design also works well with the visual presentation. As I said before, footsteps are pitch-perfect with the environments. Enemies sound pretty crazed and frightening. When caught outside the snowstorms are fierce and involving. I also thought the voice-acting to be suburb, though I did hear some repeat acting from a few characters. The only problem is that the sound was pretty glitchy. The sound would commonly cut out or crackle and pop, strangely only when outside or near a window that looked outside. Updating my sound drivers did not help much, but I doubt everyone will have this problem.
The game also had some performance issues on my rather expensive (2000$) rig. If you care to know the specifications, Core i7, 8GB of RAM, x2 5870's in Crossfire. The game commonly chugged really badly on my PC and dropping settings didn't help much. Only by lowering my resolution from 1920x1080 to 1440x900 gave playable performance, even then it wasn't great. Unless you have a rig that surpasses the recommended specs by a lot, you might want to stay away. My theory is that it has something to do with my ATI Hardware (the 5870's).
Finally it's worth noting that bugs still persist , even with the 1.1 patch. I encountered the famous no clipping bug, but managed to fix it by reloading the level. I also had a strange graphics glitch where the depth of field became reversed, making normal view blurry, but aim down the sights clear. After about two chapters, the problem went away on it's own. I also had two crashes to desktop, nothing extreme, but it's worth mentioning. I guess I'm just unlucky.
In the End Cryostasis's slow combat, pacing, and technical issues keep me from wholeheartedly recommending it. Still if Atmosphere and Story are the most important thing to you, and you're willing to endure the game's problems (like I did) to experience a rather unique and innovative game, I can recommend that you look into it. If you like S.T.A.L.K.E.R., Bioshock, Metro 2033, or any other game with similar story and atmosphere, then you'll like Cryostasis. It's just a shame that it's missing that little bit of polish that makes games like these exceptional.