STAFF REVIEW of Citizen Sleeper (Xbox One)

Tuesday, May 3, 2022.
by Adam Dileva

Citizen Sleeper Box art While I’ve always been a fan of Tabletop Roleplaying Games (TTRPG), I’ve never really had a group of local likeminded friends to get together with and play on the weekends with a few drinks and snacks in hand. Tabletop games can be difficult to transition into a game format, as there’s nothing quite like rolling some dice and moving your pieces along the board. Citizen Sleeper, developed by Jump Over The Age, looks to recreate that tabletop experience with the inclusion of dice and numerous quests, but gives the player the control to experience the game as they wish, letting you choose your own path and make your own decisions. I’ll admit, the screenshots initially didn’t do much to excite me, but after well over one hundred cycles later, I wish it didn’t end.

Once you get a grasp of everything going on, the setting and characters, Citizen Sleeper becomes a wonderful narrative based RPG. Set aboard the ringed space station Erlin’s Eye, The Eye for short, you are what they call a sleeper, a digitized human consciousness placed within an artificial body. You’re also simply a disposable asset to Essen-Arp, a corporation that owns and controls you. Did you volunteer to be put in this artificial body? Did you die? Who controls you? Who is Essen-Arp? Why are you on this ship among others? You’re going to have dozens of questions, though by the end you should have your answers.

While not derelict, it’s clear that The Eye isn’t the best place to find yourself in the galaxy, as you’re amongst thousands of other citizens simply trying to get by and survive. Some want to leave and go elsewhere, but what do you want? Do you have your own thoughts or are you simply programmed this way? As it turns out, it seems you’re actually on the run from the corporation that built you, by why, and are they trying to get you back or destroy you?

Given that you just awoke aboard this ship, unaware of not only where you are, but what you are, you’re going to need to build some relationships if you not only want to find answers, but maybe form some friendships that will help you survive to the next cycle as well. Who actually runs The Eye though, as there seems to be a number of different conflicting factions and fragile alliances, though maybe if you can find some common ground you’ll find a way to not only survive, but thrive.

You’ll meet a wide cast of characters, each with their own intriguing backgrounds and motivations, from mechanics to bartenders, assassins and more. Who you decide to help and side with is completely up to you, there’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ perse, but remember, choices and actions could have ramifications and consequences, intentional or not. There’s a commonality of almost everyone being against the corporations though, so maybe you can use that to your advantage in certain situations.

While I’m purposely being vague and general about the overall themes and tones of the narrative, Citizen Sleeper excels in telling these smaller personal stories. There’s an encompassing story at play, but who you decide to interact with and their stories is what truly excels here, as every character I met and interacted with along the way was quite memorable, written well and had deep backstories that made me care about them one way or another.

You begin your adventure by being awoken by a mechanic that finds you, explaining where you are. Nothing really makes sense at first, so you decide to trust them, as I agreed to work some odd jobs to pay off my debt for being given a place to rest my head and recharge at the end of each cycle (essentially a day). It becomes apparent quite quickly that you’re going to need to figure out a way to survive, not only with your life, but finding a way to earn credits to pay for food as well. Each cycle you awake, you’re able to spend your time however you like. Want to spend your first few cycles working some small jobs to earn some credits, go ahead, or maybe you’ll encounter some interesting characters that may ask you for help in other ways.

Given that Citizen Sleeper is meant to emulate a TTRPG, your actions and what you can do is actually decided by the dice that are rolled for you each cycle, letting you use those dice as ‘turns’ for whatever Drive (quests) you want. You have a few different meters to monitor and keep track of since you’re artificial, remember, so when you’re healthy you’ll be given a maximum of six dice to use. When you start to deplete energy slowly each cycle, depending on how full one of your meters are, you’ll have less dice as cycles go on.

This is where juggling many things at a time comes into play, and if I’m honest, will be quite confusing in the beginning, not knowing what to focus on at first. Do you work on saving credits for some medical supplies to refill your overall health to get more dice and thus do ‘more’ each cycle, or do you give in to your hunger and spend credits on food or repaying a debt? Each action you want to take will require one of your dice, so there’s a lot of justifying what you think the best course of action is each cycle and in the long run.

In the beginning there will only be a few activities to partake in, but as you meet more people and characters and unlock new areas of The Eye, you’ll have many more opportunities open up along the way. Higher rolls of your dice will make a successful or neutral outcome to each event more of a possibility, where using your die with a “1” on a critical event may not be the best idea when it has a high chance of failure. Certain events will need a number of different interactions to complete as well. For example, maybe the local bartender needs help restoring her rundown place, so you offer to help, but doing so requires a half dozen successful rolls of your die.

Do you use all six of your dice to finish that ‘quest’ right away if you manage to get successful rolls, negating the fact that maybe you won’t be able to do a side job for some credits and eat? Where it becomes tricky to balance is when certain events will have time limits, so figuring out what 'best' to do each cycle with your dice are what you’ll constantly be balancing and figuring out. Remember though, like any good RPG, who you decide to help, or not, will have certain outcomes. You’re not only trying to survive for yourself, but do you turn down a father asking for help trying to protect their own child for your own good?

The rolls of your die when you awake each cycle are going to play a large part of your strategy. If you have a lot of ‘1’ and ‘2’ die rolls, only having a 25% chance to be successful in a certain event is quite a risk. Though if you get lucky and have some ‘5’ or ‘6’ die rolls, they are generally a guarantee of being successful in whichever task you place it into. While you’re tied to some randomness of your die rolls in the beginning of each cycle, you could possibly get a skill later on that allows a single reroll of your remaining dice once per cycle, which became invaluable later on.

Knowing what dice to use, when and in which specific events is where a lot of your strategy will come into play. This took me probably a good few dozen cycles to really grasp, but once you do it becomes much more exciting when you ‘know’ the best flow of how you should spend each cycle. Many story elements and events utilize a clock-based timer with either beginning or ending after a set amount of cycles. At first this is going to feel very overwhelming, as there’s no possible way to do everything before timers end, so you’ll need to decide who to help and when, and even if you can given the luck of your dice at the start of each cycle. Who you decide to help or side with will have a longer lasting impact overall.

While it may take a moment to get used to calling quests Drives, this is how you can track certain missions and which node they are at on the ship. More importantly are your skills. At the beginning of your adventure you’ll choose a specific character, almost like a class, with each one having a bonus to one stat and a negative to another. You won’t know how each of these will affect your experience until much later, but completing certain drives along the way or fulfilling objectives will give you skill points to use. You can improve one of five skills tied to Interface, Endure, Engineer, Engage and Intuit, and these play an important role when using your dice on certain nodes per cycle, because they will either give your dice a bonus or a negative.

For example, let’s say one of the missions has you helping a sentient vending machine, no, I’m not even joking, and you want to work on this drive, so you decide to use one of your dice to try and be successful and fill the completion meter. Let’s say this specific mission is tied to the Engineer skill, so if you have that skill and its bonus, using your ‘3’ die will actually get a bonus and make it a ‘4’, upping the chance to be successful. The negative holds true as well, so there’s a lot of strategy of what dice to use on specific missions and when. Once you start unlocking the bonuses for skills and even the higher tiers that take two skill points, this is where Citizen Sleeper really starts to shine. By the end of my first playthrough I was able to completely refill my health, ensuring I always had six dice per cycle, I had enough credits to never worry about food and was able to do hacking missions much easier when certain ones force you to use a ‘1’ die, but now allowed me to use other dice as well.

Citizen Sleeper has a ton of dialogue and a cast of characters that you’ll meet along the way. It’s difficult to not only choose who to help, but who not to when you simply don’t have enough dice to forward progress on a Drive or knowing that your 25% chance of a positive outcome is very risky. Each character has a deep backstory and I actually became quite attached and intrigued with some of their stories, always wanting to do ‘one more cycle’ to see how it progresses. With how dialogue heavy Citizen Sleeper is, it was a bit of a letdown that there was no voice acting to go along with it. In fact, there is some low key beats that take place and are great when they do kick in, but it’s a very quiet space station, so you might want to have your own music going on in the background. The artwork for the cast you meet along the way is very well done, but nothing is animated, so it’s like reading a storyboard whenever you interact with people.

While Citizen Sleeper may not be much to look at aside the station itself and some character drawings, it conveys the vastness of space and how you’re stuck on this station in the corner of nowhere. It will take a good handful of cycles for you grasp all of its mechanics and how to play Citizen Sleeper strategically, but once it clicks, it becomes very difficult to put down when you become invested in the numerous storylines of people you meet on The Eye due to the incredible writing and choices. Wake up sleeper.

**Citizen Sleeper was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 8.0 / 10
Gameplay: 9.5 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 6.0 / 10


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