Citizen Sleeper (2022)
Developer: Jump Over the Age
Citizen Sleeper was one of the most talked about indie games of 2022, and it's been one that I've been wanting to pick up for quite a while. Thankfully, I had a chance to play through most of it before Tears of the Kingdom released, and even took a short break from Zelda to finish up my play through of it. Citizen Sleeper is a roleplaying game set in an a lawless, capitalist space station society. Citizen Sleeper has a really unique and in-depth roleplay system that's fun to learn, but it lacks and a little randomness and a little more visuals to feel integrated and invested in the world and characters.
Citizen Sleeper is the story of the protagonist, the unnamed "Sleeper" - someone who was once a human but escaped their circumstances by having their consciousness put inside a an artificial body. You wake up in this body to a new life on the station called the Eye, trying your best to survive in a completely unfamiliar world. It's not always easy to stay alive when your body needs an expensive serum just to stay functioning, you don't have money to eat, and you're being hunted by the company who "owns" your artificial body. You work hard at the first job you're given, and take the rest of the time to try to make connections with people who can give you better jobs or who you can trust to help you out. A lot of this time, this means putting in a lot of effort to please people who may or may not give you what they promised. It's a game that really makes you decide how you want to interpret the world and the people around you, as you only have limited time each cycle you can spend towards a goal. Will you merely survive, will you escape the Eye, or will you finally find a community that accepts you?
Even before playing the game, I really liked what I had seen of Citizen Sleeper's character art. It's definitely the best that the visuals have to offer in the game. Most of the game's art consists of the top-down still view of a large, dark metallic space station city that you explore. I do wish the game had done more with this really detailed character art style, like showing a special graphic or drawing corresponding to the ending they get. There's a lot of different endings you can find in this game, but they feel a little less exciting when you only get some text to describe how it plays out before the credits roll. The overworld would've been a litte bit boring had it not been for the excellent music. The soundtrack for Citizen Sleeper is cool and mesmerizing, with its eerie, synth-y sounds. I will likely pick it up soon as it's a perfect one to listen to on its own.
Citizen Sleeper uses dice, clocks, and drives - aspects drawn from tabletop roleplaying games. I haven't done any tabletop gaming myself, but from listening to an actual play tabletop podcast (shout-out to Eidolon: Become Your Best Self), I can really appreciate how the format allows players to improvise and add their own touch to the story. Citizen Sleeper aims to give the player this kind of freedom, and I think it succeeds in some ways and fails in others. Sure, you get to roll dice, but there's less randomness involved as you can choose to only use your high-number dice rolls on important actions, and your low-number rolls on safe actions. There's many choices in the game that impact the way your story plays out, but not all of them do and sometimes it's hard to tell whether what you're doing is affecting the course of events. The game allows you to upgrade your skills after you complete a drive (basically a goal), allowing you to have better dice rolls and added abilities. It does makes it worthwhile to complete drive quests that may not be as interesting to you. Your choices in the early game have a lot of importance, but in late game you have a money and some amount of freedom, which allows you to play more haphazardly if you like. I spent time pursuing different endings,some of which I thought were really satisfying, but I do wish the endings gave you a little more of a reward for seeing them through, rather than just an achievement.
Citizen Sleeper takes place in a a cold, dog-eat-dog world where you can't trust everyone you meet. Despite there being a lot of very interesting characters, there's only few that I felt really attached to. Lem and Mina, a dad and his daughter, felt like the only people who were unconditionally nice to you, rather than others who only respected you after you worked towards their needs. I think it makes sense in the state of this interplanetary capitalism, but it was hard for me to feel engaged in storylines where the characters didn't care about you or treat you like a person. It made me feel on guard around new people, but I also enjoyed seeing twists play out when characters did something I didn't expect from them. After trying a few endings, I went ahead and started playing through the DLC storyline, which I'm actually enjoying quite a bit. I feel it adds more dimension and humanity to the game, so I am looking forward to continuing on that.
Citizen Sleeper is a really ambitious, unique type of roleplaying game with various branching endings depending on how you choose to spend your time. It's not the first of its kind (and it's probably tough to get it compared to something like Disco Elysium), but regardless I think it made some really interesting and bold choices in how it adapted tabletop gaming to a video game format. Despite being very futuristic and dystopian, I think its depiction of late-stage capitalism is not far-off. It's not too hard to imagine a world where greedy companies own the very bodies we inhabit or where they make false promises of a new life in space. I recommend this game if you like roleplaying games, both tabletop and video game form, and if you'd enjoy a dark sci-fi story that subtly touches on what it means to be human.
Citizen Sleeper is available on PC, Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, PS5, and Mac
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Last Played: 5/23/2023
Playtime: 14 hrs