At the start of Citizen Sleeper, I will freely admit to having no idea what was going on. There is a lot of reading in the game and when you first begin, a lot of jargon and unfamiliar words. Citizen Sleeper plunges you headfirst into a strange world, even going so far as not explaining exactly what you are. From the art on the character creation screen and the opening scenes, it is clear that you are something other than human, an artificial construct of some sort who has escaped from their corporate masters and arrived, alone and uncertain, on a decaying space station in an out of the way sector of space.
The fact is, that’s probably enough information to be getting on with. It isn’t necessary to understand all the nuances of Citizen Sleeper’s world immediately and the game does a tremendous job of doling out information naturally and at a pace that will answer all of your questions in time but not in a giant rush of exposition that’s difficult to take in. Thankfully this is not a game awash with dozens of lengthy codex entries that unlock within ten minutes of you starting to play.
Instead what you get is a well-paced, considered and pretty relaxing introduction to Erlin’s Eye, the station you have arrived on, and the varied characters and situations therein. The gameplay of Citizen Sleeper is split into two main modes. The first comes through dialogue scenes with the various characters you meet around the station that come with choices to be made. Some of these are superficial and don’t affect anything outside the conversation but there are also big choices to be made that will affect your situation and that of the people you meet.
There are no mechanics to this gameplay, however. For that you have to turn to the other main mechanic; choosing how to spend your day (or “cycle” as it is known in the game). There are plenty of areas of the station to explore and the vast majority will present opportunities for gain or loss. Every day you roll a number of dice related to your physical condition and can allocate those dice as you see fit across a number of tasks. Generally, the higher the roll on the die the better chance of a positive outcome, but your skills affect this, plus there are some types of interactions that actually require low dice to succeed.
The mechanics of this are pretty simple but make for effective, meaningful choices. Your time is limited and there are a number of things that cry out for attention. Do you work to earn some money or food? Do you strip ships for scrap, explore the station to unlock new opportunities, search for a way out of your current predicament? Or do you try and help out some of the people you meet along the way? You don’t have the time or resources to do all of it and many of these opportunities are on a clock, causing them to change or disappear after a set number of cycles.
It’s all very light-touch but it perfectly walks the line between being meaty enough to actually ensure that Citizen Sleeper is a game, not a visual novel, but not too much to distract. You won’t want to be distracted in Citizen Sleeper because it provides maximum opportunity for immersion; between the excellent music and sound design and wonderfully crafted characters and story, Erlin’s Eye is an engrossing place to visit and really draws you in. My only slight criticism on this front is that I found the anime-style design of the characters to be somewhat jarring and out of place, but that is really a matter of personal taste and not something that detracts from the game in any meaningful way. If you’re a fan of narrative-driven games and cyberpunk themes then Citizen Sleeper is about as good as you will find in the marketplace today.