Have you ever watched Blade Runner or Altered Carbon? Apart from being downright fantastic, they did pop straight into my head when I first sat down with Cryogear. Trust me, it’s no bad thing.
Anyway, in Cryogear you assume the role of G.3.4.R, who is a freshly repurposed clone who is only just starting to get to grips with the fascinating but dangerous world it finds itself in. But wherever G.3.4.R turns, the mysterious Emperor AI is present, seemingly hiding plenty of secrets just begging to be revealed.
Cryogear chucks you straight into the adventure proper, with a brief opportunity to learn how G.3.4.R controls. You move with the left thumbstick, use A to jump, and B (or RB) to activate your psi shield, which is used to absorb enemy blasts. You can press X to sprint, and push up on the left thumbstick to access terminals to read messages, recover HP and more. To pick up items, press down with the left thumbstick as you stand over them. You can assign items to the D-Pad, and to use them quickly hold LB and press the direction needed.
When you acquire a weapon, RT is used to fire/swing. As you defeat enemies you’ll collect energy, which in turn allows you to level up. As you get stronger, you’ll boost your stats as well as learn new abilities on the way. More on that later.
Your HUD is pretty tidy, which works well. The blue bar shows your remaining psi, and the red bar does the same for health. Your psi bar drains when you use your weapons, and runs out fairly quickly. It will then need a short time to recharge, leaving you vulnerable to attack. Your health won’t last long either, especially as you’ll only have a pipe to defend yourself with early on in the game. Evasion is definitely the most sensible strategy to begin with. You may be tempted to try and grind through enemies to level up but you won’t be able to take every killer bot on.
It’s not all bad news however; before long you’ll acquire your blaster which may be weaker than your melee weapon but allows you to attack from a safer distance. You can switch between weapons with Y, and you will most likely need to as the blaster needs to be reloaded extremely frequently.
Cloud backup stations act as checkpoints which save your progress just in case you die. If you do die, you’ll drop some energy which you can go back and collect. However, if you die again before you have the chance to grab that gear, it will be lost.
Unfortunately, dying can sometimes feel cheap in Cryogear. The main culprits are innocent-looking loot boxes that instead decide to take a bite out of you, killing you instantly. They look identical to the genuine ones as well, so avoiding them is down to dumb luck. Otherwise you will most certainly want to keep an eye out for crushers, which will catch you out more often than you may think.
As with any Metroidvania-esque adventure, the game world found in Cryogear is a sprawling dungeon-styled environment designed to reward exploration. There are switches dotted about which will unlock new areas, as well as loot to find for those fully committed to hunting down each area’s secrets. You’ll also come across teleporters which will help save time, allowing fast travel around certain areas of the level.
Before you can progress, you will have to activate a certain amount of uplinks. Trying to find them all, instead of the minimum amount, will see you improve your stats much more quickly. However, you can hunt the uplinks in each level in pretty much any order you wish, due to the “open world” nature of the game design. Sure, it’s not exactly Red Dead Redemption, but having a choice in how you go about your business is always welcome.
Not long after this, the game opens up properly, allowing you to choose which area to move to next as opposed to there only being one way out, and thus only one area to move to. Despite this, Cryogear still manages to feel fairly linear as you won’t get lost often. Each area is pretty small too, meaning they are easy to navigate.
Cryogear does do better with level variation however. There is a pleasing range of styles and settings – one level even sees you hopping between moving vehicles. There are also “VR spaces” which provide a brief side challenge in a virtual reality plane which, when completed, activate a way forward in the real world. It’s more ambitious than your bog-standard dungeon crawler, that’s for sure.
Sadly, the enemies you encounter aren’t as diverse, and they all seem to be heavily influenced by Robocop, Cyclops or both (you’ll see what I mean pretty early on). However, you will come across guardians (bosses) to fight which require you to think a little more tactically. They are fun, if brief, passages of play.
As you make your way through Cryogear you will earn skill points, which can then be used to unlock new abilities and perks (bet you thought I’d forgotten). Some of these will allow you to access new areas. The first of these you’ll unlock is the extremely handy double jump. Again, exploring is always worthwhile as there are several crates stuffed with goodies waiting to be found, but only when you have the right skills.
The view button will open up your fairly comprehensive menu screen. Here you can take a peek at your inventory, skills, map and items available for crafting. As you collect items your backpack will fill up, and fast. As luck would have it there are storage containers available to stash items in for a later date. And what’s even better is that if you drop items out of your backpack directly from the inventory menu, they will automatically get backed up to storage. Technology, eh?
As I’ve touched on already, skills will offer all sorts of buffs for your character such as increased damage and accuracy of weapons, better armour and a chance to heal when picking up items, amongst many others. Craftable items will prove crucial in your adventure, and give you the chance to create unique weapons and assist drones. In Cryogear you can switch between your vast array of abilities and weapons as you grow your skill set to best match the situation you find yourself in.
Finally, your map is, well… not really a map. It shows each area and those connected, but chiefly acts as a fast travel mechanic, offering little detail. This feature is only unlocked when you find and power up the main teleporter, located a few levels into the game. This will then allow you to backtrack to hunt down missed and previously unreachable items and uplinks.
Cryogear’s pixel art style works really well. Using a fairly limited colour palette, it realises a bleak, machine-dominated world. This is all backed with a soundtrack abundant in gentle guitar riffs, accompanied by some subtle nonsensical ramblings in the background. It certainly creates a foreboding and tense atmosphere, where you never quite feel safe.
Cryogear on Xbox One is a stylish throwback which packs enough content to keep players entertained for hours. Despite not being the most challenging of its ilk, it’s a solid action-RPG platformer that more than deserves a look.