In Citizen Sleeper, you don’t remember much before you locked yourself in a shipping container to be sent into space. What you do know is that you are a digitized consciousness escaped in an artificial body called the Sleeper, owned by a company that desperately wants you to come back.
So you’re in a pretty dire situation, but luckily your shipping container has washed up on an abandoned space station named Erlin’s Eye, a lawless interstellar society living on the edge of civilization in the far reaches of the galaxy. Citizen Sleeper is all about starting your new life as a runaway in this strange, sometimes hostile city.
You experience the world of the space station almost entirely through text, with your AI character describing the sights, smells and sounds of the animated space station around you. The writing is incredibly vivid and Gareth Damian Martin’s words leave such a striking impression. Martin’s ability to create a detailed world from a few lines of text was something I liked about their previous game. In other waters.
Visually you only see the exterior of the ship – a giant loop in constant motion – but the handwriting as well as the detailed character art of Guillaume Singelin of scrap pickers, engineers, street medics and salesmen. de rue give your imagination everything it needs to put together the unruly and chaotic world of L ‘Eyeil.
But, even in the most desperate places, kindness still survives. The residents of Eyeil are a compassionate group, given each other’s circumstances. My Sleeper was hungry after they woke up with no money to buy food, but luckily the tattooed, beefy food vendor Emphis was kind enough to offer a free meal. An alley doctor named Sabine offers to help her get the right stabilizers that keep the sleeper’s body alive, which is incredibly difficult to obtain since the company that owns you is the sole producer. No one has to help you, but there is a strong sense of community. Everyone has a silent understanding for those whose lives lead them to this backwater spaceship.
Charity can only get you so far. In the hope of surviving each day, called a ‘cycle’, you will have to find odd jobs for money, like smashing piles of junk in junkyards, repairing a mercenary’s ship, or getting into the wild. trade in resources. Citizen Sleeper is heavily inspired by TTRPGs, and the outcome of these jobs is determined by a dice system. At the start of each cycle, you roll a game of dice and then assign them to the tasks and events available on the station. The higher the dice, the better the outcome of the activity.
More than a number
This is something that is easily overlooked, but a detail I love about the dice mechanics is that in order to assign one to an activity, you have to manually click on it and drag it into the event box, in inserting it satisfactorily, as you would if you dice it on a real TTRPG board.
On my first day I needed to earn some money or risk starving myself and decided to take a manual sorting job in metal salvage. I got a five at the start of the day and decided to assign it to the activity. The result was positive which means my Sleeper did a great job and got paid for their work. Even if you receive a full fist of one’s and two’s, there’s still something useful to use them on. Being an AI means you can hack the ship’s mainframe to find secrets, and these events are the safest way to spend your low dice risk-free.
Every day triggers new story events, and learning how to assign your dice wisely is at the heart of Citizen Sleeper. At the start of the game, you choose between three different RPG-like classes, each of which gives you bonuses for certain activities. I chose the “machinist” class, which meant that I could add a bonus to my assigned dice which involved anything to do with machines and physical tools, so sorting the junk became one of my jobs. daily.
I say a of my jobs because you will have as much work as possible in Citizen Sleeper. Getting a job is a vital part of your sleeper life, and making ends meet is only part of survival. It’s a subject that hardly seems out of place in a fantasy sci-fi world, but in a game whose setting is “the ruins of interplanetary capitalism,” it seems completely grounded. It also has to do with the idea that the decision to escape the society that owns you should mean certain death, but, through community and working together, the Sleeper finds a way to live a life of its own. For now anyway.
However, life on IT isn’t limited to work. Part of your time on the ship is learning its secrets and how you ended up here in the first place, but getting answers means taking on riskier challenges. Events repeat themselves every day, but if you fail multiple times, something incredibly bad could happen. One event asked me to steal a set of dock plans, which risked putting me on the ship’s safety watch list. Not great for someone who is supposed to be hiding from an almighty mega-corporation.
So far, I’ve been completely entranced by the sci-fi world of Citizen Sleeper and have only scratched the surface. I’d almost call it cyberpunk, but it’s a far cry from the shiny, neon-infused, Japanese-infused worlds the genre has embraced in recent years. Rather, the story of Citizen Sleeper is described as a gritty, rambling science fiction based on the importance of community and the difficult lives of people trying to live on the fringes of an intergalactic capitalist society.
There are also so many mysteries to be solved. I need to know why the Sleeper is risking his life by running away and why the evil mega-corporation is stalking them. Unfortunately, answers will have to wait, as the game’s current release date will be 2022.