Gaming reviews are what happens when you take a game, pass it through a reviewer’s biases and get an opinion out of the other end. Everyone’s biases are different so everyone’s opinions are different which is where, for all their flaws, review aggregators like MetaCritic and OpenCritic come in. Take enough reviews and average the scores out and you should get a somewhat objective view of the quality of the game. No matter what a reviewer says, no review will ever be completely objective. I know that you, dear reader, understand that so, when writing a review, I don’t feel the need to outright tell you that I’m biased. However, on this occasion, in the interest of framing this review in some context, I’m going to make an exception and state my biases up front.
CryoFall, named after what happens when you trip and stumble into an industrial freezer, is a multiplayer survival game. I don’t like multiplayer games and I don’t like survival games. My experience of survival games is that they are 90% spending your precious and limited free time toiling away for resources using quite dull mechanics in order to build the thing you need to progress to the next bit of dull resource gathering, and 10% monitoring half a dozen survival metrics to ensure your character drinks every 5 real-world minutes. I don’t find either of those activities particularly compelling as they’re a bit too close to real life and gaming, in my opinion, should be an escape. In terms of multiplayer games, well, I don’t like other people and they’re unfortunately integral to the multiplayer experience.
With all of that said, I’d like to start on a surprisingly positive note. I rather enjoyed my time with CryoFall. I did play the game in the single-player mode which is in beta and not entirely recommended but I found it completely playable and didn’t see any flaws. This neatly covered off my dislike of multiplayer games from the off. And, in terms of my dislike of survival mechanics, CryoFall does a lot of things I approve of to mitigate my problems with the genre and keep the gameplay compelling and enjoyable.
The game does have a lot of the standard survival gameplay, which is obviously the thing that you’re looking for if you’re a fan of survival games or, if you’re me, it’s a necessary concession to the genre the game is part of. It has your mining/gathering, crafting, health, stamina, hunger and thirst meters and mobs to fight. We’ll get to the meat of the mine/crafting in a moment but I’ll add here that the hunger and thirst meters are quite harsh, they drain relatively quickly and the items you can get/make in the early game do not refill those meters very much at all. I also found the mobs unnecessarily hard when you’re starting out. My first death was to a weird lobster thing which, when accidentally aggroed by getting a little too close, hunted me to the end of the earth, moving at the same speed as me, without giving up and attacking me for very significant damage at a point in the game where I hadn’t yet been tutorialsed on how to build or use weapons to defend myself. It felt like an unavoidable death which was quite aggravating so early in the game.
So far, so generic survival game. But now we’re getting into the good stuff, the late-season redemption arc of CryoFall, if you will.
The game has two separate crafting mechanics. It has ‘crafting’ for making basic tools and complex resources which are used as ingredients for other recipes, then it has ‘building’ for making objects in the world like walls, workbenches and resource gatherers. These two systems are relatively complex and are tied into a technology tree that gets me very excited. This shifts the emphasis from the mining side of a survival game to the crafting side as there are an awful lot of things you’re able to make and the game really wants to show that off and give you access to them. You don’t have to mine that much at all (although when you do it is quite slow) and I found myself building quite a few things before running out of a resource and then only needing to spend a couple of minutes mining and gathering to be back in the black.
As mentioned, the tech tree is spectacular, taking you from the absolute basics of unlocking a sleeping bag and walls through to agriculture and all the way to exotic weapons. I find this compelling as it’s a clear and emphasised route of progression through the game. The tutorial is also fantastic, holding your hand through the early game and showing you what to build and in what order to make a nice starter base. The tutorial ties nicely into the tech tree, guiding you through unlocking and using some of the early branches. The combination of the guidance from the tutorial and the obvious possibilities on display in the tech tree hooked me into the game in a way that no other survival game that I’ve tried has. Only having two survival meters also endeared me to the game. I understand they have to be in there for the genre and I’m incredibly grateful the developers had the restraint to stop at just hunger and thirst.
All in all, these aspects come together in a way that reminds me of two excellent games. The aesthetic of CryoFall is very similar to Prison Architect, a brilliant creative management game that I’d almost call definitive. If you look at screenshots of the two games you’ll see the similarity, particularly with the blocky appearance of buildings. The other game that CryoFall reminds me of is Factorio, a construction game that looked at Minecraft, said ‘That looks boring, let’s automate all the stuff we don’t want to do’ and did exactly that. It focuses on building resource extractors, conveyors and assemblers to automate the whole mining and crafting process, an idea that CryoFall leans into a little with the objects it allows you to build and the detailed tech tree. A combination of those two games is an interesting idea and something I’m not going to pass up the opportunity to play. Someone gave CryoFall the secret to making a game specifically for me and if I ever find out who revealed that weakness to my greatest enemy, a survival game, there will be hell to pay.
So I think it’s fair to say that I enjoyed CryoFall a surprisingly large amount. Has it sold me on survival games? No, absolutely not. But I do think CryoFall is the exception to prove the rule. It was designed for me, with the ability to completely disable multiplayer and some fun mechanics to mitigate most of my frustrations with survival games. No matter where you sit on the spectrum from Minecraft-iac to Don’t Starve detester, I think CryoFall has something to please. I commend the developers for achieving such a difficult thing. Even better, in an awesome consumer-friendly move from the people over at CryoFall HQ, there is a free trial available on Steam that is the whole game, just limited to 8 hours of gameplay, for you to check out and see what you think before parting ways with your hard-earned cheddar.