Citizen Sleeper Review (Switch)
Don’t worry Sleeper, we’ll survive somehow.
Publisher: Fellow Traveller
Time to wake up Sleeper. You basically play as yourself, or well an emulation of yourself. Before starting your playthrough, you get to choose between three different character classes: Extractor, Operator, and Machinist. Each one brings in part of your backstory as well as what you’re good and bad at, which shows in your modifiers (but more on that later). Extractors are confident and strong, Operators works with drones and highly precise machines, and Machinists are of course engineers. And if you just want to choose on modifiers there’s even some more you can gleam as well. Extractors approach problems with their strength (+Endure), but don’t exactly have awareness (-Intuit); Operators may not be strong (-Endure), but they excel in interfacing (+Interface); and Machinists of course are engineers that find comfort in working with machines and their tools (+Engineer), but avoid approaching anything head on unless they have to (-Engage).
Anyway, once you choose your character class, you come to and get to learn why you’re in the situation you’re in. You wake up mostly frozen in some container after shutting down all of your nonessential systems. This may be concerning in any other situation, and okay it still is, but you are in a robot body who people refer to as Sleepers. It turns out that you sold yourself off to a corporation named Essen-Corp, which took ownership of your original body and put an emulation of your mind into an artificial body for you to work. Except instead of doing that, one day you and some others couldn’t stand it anymore and decided to escape or die trying. You were one of the lucky ones to make it out, and even luckier to survive long enough to make it somewhere. You arrived on a detached, rotating station called the Erlin’s Eye (or just The Eye) and a salvager named Dragos is the first face you see. However, you aren’t off the hook, not exactly. You still belong to Essen-Corp even if you managed to run away and they put in some countermeasures. Not only do you have a tracker so bounty hunters can track you, but your body can only survive with stabilizers provided by them. Plus you still have to eat. So if you want to survive longer than a handful of cycles (or days), you have to figure out how to get the stabilizers and money (or chits) to pay for everything you need.
Life on The Eye was hard starting out. I was an Operator with nothing to my name. Luckily, Dragos, the salvager that found me, was kind enough to not turn me in. Giving me a job, that would be temporary but hopefully will get me on my feet, and a place to stay in an empty container. Of course, I wasn’t at all great at Endure actions and it seemed like everything I wanted or had to do required it. This is an exaggeration of course, being an Operator came in handy like when accessing the Data Cloud or *cough* gambling. Though I was definitely in a pickle when I pissed Dragos off and had to quickly find another job.
Every day (or Cycle as they call it here) lasts as long as you have actions to do, which of course you’re limited on, and ends when you rest. I would say sleep, but Sleepers can’t really sleep. Every cycle when you wake up, you have a maximum on five action dice that is rolled (of course being between 1-6). These dice are pretty self explanatory, they are used to perform actions and the outcome is based on the number it rolled on. There are negative, neutral, and positive outcomes and the higher the dice you put in, the more likely you’ll get a positive outcome. This is also where your modifiers come in, either giving you an easier time or a harder time. It depends on what action you’re doing, but the outcomes can involve money or completing Clocks.
There are also Clocks, which some run on cycles and some on your action outcomes. Cycle Clocks will, of course, progress with each passing cycle which will usually be tied towards just having to wait, while some are how much time you have left (which are colored red). While other Clocks are filled by your actions, as some actions will have outcomes that progress say…until a machine is fixed or how well you explored a hub.
However, you need to keep an eye on your Energy and Condition. Energy basically serves as your hunger bar and it depletes by two bars each cycle (and there’s only five so that’s pretty bad) so you have to make sure to eat or do an action that replenishes Energy before you are starving. Condition is equally important as this is the state of your body. Your condition goes down by one each cycle (there are a lot more bars here this time) and can even go down if you’re starving or on certain actions if you fail. Your condition also has a nasty side effect of determining how many action dice is rolled, which is not good if you have a lot to do. The only way you can restore it is by getting stabilizers, which are not cheap, or finding a way to restore it another way. Not to mention you break down if your condition reaches 0. Causing you to make sure you make enough to afford a stabilizer, on top on food, and when you should use it as you may survive longer even if it means having less action dice now.
As you’re trying to survive and exploring The Eye, you’ll meet people that live here or just visiting for the meantime. You’ll get to have a nice conversation with them and they’ll give you questlines, or drives, that you’ll be able to do. Once you complete drives, it will give you upgrade points to upgrade yourself, which can be a modifier for your dice on that action or a skill that will help you greatly. Like being able to reroll once per cycle.
I did notice some people not realizing some drives were time limited, but I didn’t really have this problem. Most of the time the Clock is around where you are and the characters tell you that it’s time sensitive. Though, some do move and there is one main drive where you’re notified of it when you wake up so I understand in those situations. Plus there were a few that seemed it would be urgent, but wasn’t really (though some were due to it being a main drive point-of-no-return kind of deal). Maybe if you had the option to see the Clock for time sensitive drives when looking at your drive log?
Between Cycles 50-60 I was sitting pretty. I wasn’t struggling anymore and really could just sit back and do nothing for a good long while if I wanted to. Where I was barely getting enough chits to have enough for food, hopefully enough for a stabilizer when I needed it, and struggling to save up a measily 60 chit to access a new part of The Eye; I had the max amount of chits (999) mainly due to my amazing gambling skills. Where I only had one way to get stabilizers and one place to buy food, I not only lowered the cost, but found multiple different sources to get stabilizers, different places to buy food, and even actions that replenished them if I wanted to spend dice instead. The disadvantage I had starting out went away and I even got up to its second skill. I also went from feeling like six dice was not enough to not really knowing what else to do as I wasn’t struggling with money anymore. I was able to do anything I wanted to do without worry, even if it was something as small as feeding the stray cat that hangs around one of the places I call home.
I went from wanting to get off The Eye as soon as I can to not really minding if I ended up staying. This wasn’t not only due to how I was doing, but also the people I met and helped along the way. While some hate seeing a Sleeper roaming around, many people on The Eye don’t mind you and even opens up to you as you help them and they help you. I enjoyed hearing their stories and trying to help them as best as I could. I even would love to just hang out with them and I hope that feeling was mutual.
I didn’t run into any bugs throughout my playthrough with really only one mistake in its script and two instances where I’m pretty sure the wrong character art popped up, but I do have two complaints. Navigation on a controller did bring in some slight annoyance. It’s fine, but you will have to get used to moving the camera to get your cursor over the group of nodes you want to get into. Selecting the specific node you want with the directional pad was no problem though, apart from The Hub where it’s defaulted into a slanted camera angle. I also did have the problem where it would lose which layer I was on when I was exiting a node while in the Data Cloud, making me exit and re-enter the Data Cloud to get it back. I also had some situations where it exited the Drives when I was looking at them and somehow going to my upgrade menu.
Since I was playing on the Switch, I did feel having the option for touch controls would have helped in that aspect (as I’m sure on PC you can just click on the nodes), but I found that pressing “A” did help realign it to the right layer towards the end of my playthrough (though only when the game thought you were on the physical layer instead of the Data Cloud layer). I also wished the game told you the point of no return, or at least created a separate save, as I would have been devastated reaching an ending prematurely. Luckily I found a guide that pointed them out when I was confused on where to get a specific item.
I ended up leaving The Eye with the two people I ended up caring for. Caring for enough to not only give them a chance to leave, but to leave with them. Not only did I bond with them, but they bonded with me as well. I like to think I bought and made as many stabilizers I could and scrap so I could survive as long as I could. There was no way of knowing if there was going to be ways to repair my condition after departure, but I sure as hell gave myself plenty of time before it became a problem. I’d also like to think I brought the stray cat I was feeding with me even though we didn’t get past occasionally petting.
With the nature of you going down one outcome for ticking Clocks or just for dialogue, there is some replayability here if you want to see what dialogue you would have gotten or what would have happened in you went a different path. And even if you didn’t manage to do all the side-drives (you can do all of them before finishing a main drive, but you’ll run into a situation like I did where you don’t have to worry anymore) or want to get the different endings. Though, this is a more of a “one and done” kind of deal.
I had my reservations about Citizen Sleeper when I started out, but as more cycles passed and I got to meet and learn more about the people living on The Eye I found myself playing until I had to charge my Switch or was too tired to stay awake. If you love narrative games, like how in incorporated the dice, and want to see how well you’d do in this situation, you’ll most likely someone that will enjoy this game.
Citizen Sleeper isn’t going to be a game for everyone, but you’re in for a great game if you happen to like and enjoy these types of games.