19/05/2022

Citizen Sleeper review – a gentle, cerebral game of belonging and survival

It’s cool to be kind in Citizen Sleeper. A low-intensity, minimalist kind of chillhop sci-fi game, set on a half-ruined space station floating between freedom and indenture, characters here are guarded at first, before, after an investment of little more than your time, dropping walls to reveal themselves as almost unanimously gentle, considerate, warm. What really grabs you, though, is how this is reflected in the nature of Citizen Sleeper itself.

Walking it back for a second, initially, you are in a fight for survival – or, less of a two-way fight and more one-way struggle. You are a Sleeper, a corporate-owned, replicant-on-a-budget entity with a generic, robotic body and emulated mind, based on a real human but with reduced memories and even fewer rights, unsure of whether that’s enough to even count as being alive (yes, a Descartes reference comes up – but it’s a fun one). Arriving here, post escape, on the space station called the Eye, you have two key resources to manage: your condition, a bar of 20 little blocks that decreases by one each time you end a turn, sleeping at the end of a day here referred to as completing a ‘cycle’; and your energy, made up of five bars that drops by two each time.

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These dovetail nicely. Run out of energy and your condition will decrease much more rapidly; run out of condition and it’s game over (in theory – I haven’t run out just yet, touch wood) – and they connect again with your other key resource of sorts: dice. Citizen Sleeper is built on the principles of a tabletop RPG – deftly, I should say – and so depending on how full your condition bar is, you roll between one and six dice on waking up after each cycle’s nap. The higher the condition the more dice you have, and these dice are then assigned by you to… whatever you want.

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