- Release Date (NA): May 5, 2022
- Release Date (EU): May 5, 2022
- Publisher: Fellow Traveller
- Developer: Jump Over The Age
- Genres: Adventure, RPG
- Also For: Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Life on Erlin’s Eye - an abandoned station drifting across space - is chaotic; a number of factions and alliances keep things running while the inhabitants, new and old, take on odd jobs to earn their keep. It’s the perfect place for a fresh start for someone like you: a Sleeper, an artificial body owned by the Essen-Arp corporation to host a digitised human consciousness.
And you are no ordinary Sleeper as you’re a fugitive who has escaped from the exploitative nature of Essen-Arp and landed on The Eye. What will this new life on the station hold for you? Only one way to find out: live to see the next cycle and repeat.
Citizen Sleeper gets the cyberpunk tone right. Its universe is an ultra-capitalist one set in our space-faring future. People, artificial bodies and AI systems are commonplace in the floating metropolis that you call your new home where money, and often luck, determines if you’ll sleep hungry or not.
Erlin’s Eye is depicted from a top-down perspective with the occasional flying car whooshing past. You can navigate across the station and interact at accessible nodes. There you can get to know other dwellers of The Eye depicted intricately through still character arts designed by Guillaume Singelin.
Yes, Citizen Sleeper isn’t going for the fancy visuals of AAA games and if you’re looking for that, you should look elsewhere as visuals aren’t the focus in this title. That said, even with its minimalist portrayal, Citizen Sleeper does pack an interesting aesthetic.
What Citizen Sleeper lacks in terms of visuals and animation is compensated by the very eloquent and descriptive text. Playing through almost feels like reading a novel (so a visual novel comparison wouldn’t be too far off). Simple scenes like a street food vendor preparing his meal or the description when you come across a new structure are depicted in such evocative ways that it feels engrossing. This extensive narration somewhat characterises Jump Over The Age’s developer Gareth Damian Martin following their previous title In Other Waters; and I’m here for it. Having played and loved their first game, I was looking forward to playing their new game and Citizen Sleeper was worth the wait as an aficionado of narrative-driven games.
Citizen Sleeper brings back In Other Water’s Amos Roddy for the game’s soundtrack and Roddy hits the sweet spot again. Ranging from upbeat to more mellow tracks, Citizen Sleeper’s score adds to the atmosphere and Roddy has become one of my favourite video game soundtrack composers already.
As such, even if Citizen Sleeper is devoid of fancy visuals, its presentation is fleshed out with the narrative design and unique soundscape.
Beyond the presentation, this title also stands out through its mechanics which is inspired by TTRPG with dice rolls, timed events and upgradeable skills. Every time you wake up to start a new cycle (day), you have 5 die that are rolled to output an outcome ranging from 1-6. These can be slotted to perform tasks across Erlin’s Eye ranging from scaling a tower to discover a new area to helping a commune.
However, the chance of successfully performing a task will depend on the dice roll that you slot in prior to performing the task (you can choose which dice result to input for each task). For example, if you use a dice with a 6 rolled, you’ll have a 100% chance of a positive outcome, while if you use one with a result of 4, you might have 25%, 50% and 25% chances of positive, neutral and negative outcomes respectively.
But not every task will require you to use the highest dice roll. This is particularly the case for Data Actions where you scavenge The Eye’s networks to extract data. For these cases, you’ll need to match your dice to the one required for the action to complete. The value for these can be 1 or 5, so your low value rolls aren’t that useless. It’s an interesting mechanic to allow you to make effective use of your current set of dice.
Given that your dice rolls are set at the beginning of every cycle, it adds a layer of welcome challenge to the gameplay. Some cycles you’ll be luckier than others, where you’ll have three 6s which you can use to work at a bar to make some cryo (money) or perform drives (quests) that are labelled as ‘danger’ or ‘risky’ and take less chances of negative outcomes. But you might not be this lucky all the time and you’ll have to take chances and attempt to progress some tasks anyway as these often require a gauge to be filled in order to complete. Filling these gauges requires successfully completing the associated task and you might not always have enough die to complete them in one cycle, let alone two. Once you’ve run of dice to use, you’ll need to call it a day and chip away at your drives again the next day.
Before hitting the bed, you might want to consider refilling your Energy gauge by eating at a food stall. Your Energy depletes the next time you start a cycle but can also be consumed by certain tasks you carry out. If you don’t refill your Energy gauge, you might end up starving which will impact on your other gauge, the Condition gauge, causing the latter to deplete faster. Your Condition, representing your artificial body’s status , is proportional to the number of dice you have accessible. The worse your Condition is, the fewer the number of dice that are accessible, hence the fewer actions you can take in a cycle. You can refill your Condition with the pricey Stabilizers from underground sources.
This can make things feel a bit rough during the opening segments as you’ll need to juggle having a good Condition to have enough dice while also managing your Energy level while being low on cryo to buy food supplies or stabilizers.
There’s a learning curve to it and the mechanics can feel daunting at first and it is. But the challenge and the need to juggle with several needs feels fitting for the cyberpunk dystopia setting. Money rules everything but it’s hard to come by even if it’s crucial for your survival. You’ll live day by day, trying to survive, forcing you to look around and talk to fellow dwellers of The Eye who might give you that odd job to earn those coveted cryo.
But things ease up later on. As you explore and uncover new areas on the station, you’ll find more jobs that pay better, a safe commune that helps you restore energy without spending money and gain upgrade points to boost your Sleeper’s stats. These can unlock new skills and perks to assist you in your survival such as re-rolling your dice once every cycle or having the ability to restore Energy in your home. You start off with some skills being favoured over the other based on the character class you choose but you’ll have the opportunity to boost others more as you gain more skill upgrade points.
Exploring further and taking on drives from NPCs also helps flesh out the universe of Citizen Sleeper. You’ll learn more about each of the colorful characters you come across ranging from corporate agents tracking you down through hackers who can help you disable your tracker to rogue AIs guarding the station’s network. Jump Over The Age’s narration further helps bring life to those encounters.
Moreover, tasks can be tackled in an open-ended fashion. You can, for example, complete drives that can help you disable your tracker or decide not to and face the agent sent after you. Some approaches can be more risky than others but they are each interesting on their own. Having different approaches also lets you have different endings based on the missions you prioritise and complete.
There’s a cyclic nature to the gameplay where you’ll have to take on tasks, refill your vital gauges, sleep and repeat. However, these are masked fairly well as the way you perform them is well immersed in the game’s universe. Missions are well paced too, with some requiring you to wait such as when growing mushrooms, so you can focus on other tasks.
Nevertheless, the learning curve to Citizen Sleeper’s mechanic can feel intimidating and it took getting through some cycles for me to really get the ropes. But it would help if you could consult the gameplay mechanics again during your playthrough but it’s only presented at the start of the game, with no means to head back.
There are also some repeating tasks like the need to buy or build a ‘shipmind’ recurs. In addition, the cyclic and repetitive nature of the gameplay might not sit well with everyone.
But if you decide to stick with it, you’ll find in Citizen Sleeper a title with a gameplay that’s original and refreshing with a well fleshed-out universe that might just grow on you.
Citizen Sleeper - Launch Trailer
- Original gameplay mechanics
- Intricately fleshed out universe through narration
- Open-ended approach to completing tasks
- Mesmerising soundtrack
- Learning curve to the mechanics
- Some repetitive aspects