Citizen Sleeper | game review
Don't sleep on this one.
Game summary: You are a sleeper, a digitised human consciousness in an artificial body, owned by a corporation that wants you back. Thrust amongst the unfamiliar and colourful inhabitants of the Eye, you need to build friendships, earn your keep, and navigate the factions of this strange metropolis, if you hope to survive to see the next cycle. (Xbox.com)
Despite the rave reviews and reception Citizen Sleeper received upon release, I remained somewhat sceptical having been left with a rather lukewarm impression of In Other Waters from the same developers. My biggest issue with that game was that the setting and story weren't intriguing enough for me, with the writing feeling more than a little dry - ironic considering the underwater setting.
This game doesn't have that problem though, with a world - or, more accurately, a huge space station known as The Eye - that is a hell of a lot of fun to explore and get to know better, along with all the weird and wonderful people you meet along the way. I wasn't bored for even a single second playing this game, with every cycle of events providing opportunities to advance the plot in one way or another.
And that freedom really is Citizen Sleeper's greatest strength: there are so many ways to explore this game and advance through the story that I'd imagine it's incredibly unlikely that any two playthroughs would pan out the same way for different players. Hell, there's one location that I didn't even enter until late game that I only discovered after finishing the game is where a lot of people started their stories.
That's not to say it's completely free-form, as there are time-based plot points you will have to go through, but even how those moments are dealt with is outstanding. Yes, the same beats might occur in each story, but how well your character is doing, how capable they are of dealing with the situation and their relationships to the characters involved could be entirely different for you than they were for me.
There are also multiple endings, or fates, for your character, none of which are entirely positive or negative from what I've read, with even my character's relatively happy ending still finding them being used by others for their own agenda. And looking at guides afterwards, there were entire locations, characters and stories that I either never even encountered or didn't progress far enough for them to have any effect.
I genuinely think that's an astonishing feat for a game, making me feel like I've had a complete experience with a proper character arc, yet still coming nowhere close to experiencing everything available to me - doesn't that sound just like life? The writing in Citizen Sleeper worked so much better for me than In Other Waters that I do still find it a little hard to believe that it's from the same team.
I played Citizen Sleeper on Game Pass, but I will be buying the game myself so I have a copy to play whenever I want in case it ever leaves Microsoft's subscription service because I enjoyed it so much and want to play it over and over again, especially with greater knowledge of how the game's systems work, which should make things easier.
Speaking of the game's systems, they might be what put you off, as they almost did to me. Depending on your character's condition, you will have a number of pre-rolled dice (1-6) each cycle that you can use to carry out various actions, except it's a little more complicated than that and the game isn't exactly great at welcoming new players.
Honestly, how much information is just thrown at you right away was verging on overwhelming and I can easily some people getting frustrated or struggling to cope and giving up if they feel that they've had their time wasted. I think giving up would be a mistake and you'd be missing out on a great game, and it really doesn't take long to do a few cycles, so if you do feel your first attempt has been handicapped by how long it took you to get to grips with everything, just restart and zip through those opening moments again.
If that opening had been a little better, I think Citizen Sleeper would've been an easy 10/10 for me, but I really can't justify it when that start was so much that I came close to giving up myself. I'm glad I didn't as I really did enjoy my time with this game a lot, want to play it a lot more and genuinely can't stop thinking about it even weeks after finishing it.
Maybe it could've engaged a little with the theme of identity (you'll see why I say this when you play it) rather than focusing quite so much on survival, and maybe the visuals could've been a little more animated, but those are personal feelings and nit-picks that are what I would prefer rather than any real criticism of Citizen Sleeper, which I love and would encourage to play and persist with, even if it's hard early on.
Citizen Sleeper is a truly fantastic game if you can make it past the pretty hard to absorb opening. Yes, it's not much to look at or listen to - although both the visuals and sound design more than serve their purposes - but this really does feel like a 'proper' role-playing game where you're free to follow your own path and seek your own destiny alongside lots of other really enjoyable characters to meet along the way.