And here’s the video’s script:
It is a talented studio that can create a seamless experience out of Citizen Sleeper’s several divergent elements. On the one side, I’m faced with this absolutely adorable character art by Guillaume Singelin–dare I call it cutesy? It’s lo-fi art, the kind you expect to see when you open up a really good study playlist on YouTube. You know the type. Wholesome art, calm lo-fi beats, the kind of music you put on if you’re doing research into the night. The OST itself embraces that lo-fi sci-fi ambience, often straddling the line between serenity and an underlying tension–capturing my mood as I dug deeper into Citizen Sleeper’s fictional world. It’s an unusual aesthetic for a narrative whose subjects are cyberpunk through and through. This title stands out, refusing to fit into the mould of your expectations.
What about the gameplay? Every day, the game rolls a set of dice, their number dependent on how well I’ve maintained my silicon-based cybernetic frame. Each die represents enough energy to take up an activity during a given cycle; you can have as many as six or as few as one. Trust me, you don’t want to go with fewer than three–the only time I felt any tension about my fate as a Sleeper was when my body eroded so badly that I only had access to two dice. Options that you might take for granted otherwise are suddenly out of the question, and the struggle to survive is suddenly real and pressing and overpowering anything else. Survival, food, survival, food–and the money to buy sustenance is not always easy to come by, yet alone to get the pill necessary to recover the dice lost by your continuous deterioration. Time is an enemy for the better half of the game. Yet once the myriad questlines begin to resolve and the Eye becomes more familiar, less daunting, events take a turn for the better. For my citizen to make a home of this space station, to set up roots across its complex environment, demands a lengthy process of adaptation. Once this process comes to an end, there is a real sense of accomplishment–the Eye is no longer unnerving, its locations familiar even if not every single one of them is what I would call cozy.
A big part of what sets up the narrative tension is the central conceit that defines the protagonist: a ‘Sleeper’ in the game’s terminology is an imprint of a human mind onto a cyberorganism. Sleepers aren’t free but owned by the corporation that built them, and the humans whose consciousness they bear have signed away their rights to freedom. With this come a bunch of engaging themes waiting to be unpacked, the main ones having to do with what constitutes the human, with questions of law versus justice. How can a conscious being be considered property, whatever a digital signature or the law says? It’s a prism through which to engage with real-world issues, important and uncomfortable ones. I write this text in the shadow of the Qatar World Cup, already infamous for the monstrous exploitation of migrant workers in preparation for the tournament–thousands, perhaps even tens of thousands of these migrant workers have most likely died while creating the infrastructure necessary to host the tournament. Any piece of media that can help shine a perspective on real-world problems of such significance is nothing less than art. To any nay-sayers who think games have nothing to say about the world we live in–keep your eyes on the ball.
In effect, the game is dealing with some heavy topics, but never in a way that overwhelms. Whether I’m helping a single father and his foundling child, going all in to open up shop with a fellow mechanic, or investigating the hidden power relations between the decrepit space station’s corrupt local police-adjacent organization and far-off corporate entities, hope and despair often come crashing down against one another. Hope is more often the victor, even if some quest lines demand an amount of perseverance that pushes more than one character to the edge of despair.
A few thoughts on the writing; it is, after all, the driving engine behind the story. It’s good writing, this, but I am convinced it could have used another editing round or two. Minor mistakes can be found now and then, but that’s not my biggest gripe; no, the issue I have is that some exchanges had a stilted quality about them, where a sentence or two might feel out of place, and so break what is otherwise a powerful sense of immersion. Not many occasions, but some. Enough to take notice, to be drawn out of the artifice that sets the excellent cyberpunk-ish mood of a space station left behind by the devastations of late-stage capitalism.
Citizen Sleeper is not a done tale just yet; its overall arc is to conclude with the release of two free DLC episodes (one has already been released). What note it ends on, I do not know…but I can’t wait to find out. That said, the game has multiple endings–you can choose to embrace any of them and hold onto a head-canon as to the fate of your Sleeper. My choice was to embrace a life with a family looking for a better future for themselves aboard a seed-ship; it was a bitter-sweet ending, but it was mine. Why don’t you go make an ending your own?