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Wednesday, August 17, 2022

2022’s best sci-fi game just got even better

Many fantastic games have been released in 2022 so far, but one of the underappreciated standouts is the science fiction RPG Citizen Sleeper. Our review called it one of the most thoughtful and emotionally satisfying stories of the year, highlighted by its interesting world and compelling characters. Now the Game Pass title has released Flux, the first of three new expansions. Acting as the perfect companion piece to the base game, Flux gives new perspectives on life in space and the Sleeper’s place in it. With the release of this expansion, now is the perfect time for players old and new to try out Citizen Sleeper.

New in town

In the base game, you wake up on a space station struggling to keep itself together. You are a Sleeper, a digitized consciousness transferred into a robot body that your mind is constantly rejecting. You were the tool of a corporation, not human enough to qualify for anything as inconvenient to your owners as rights. But despite your body’s planned obsolescence trying to kill you, on top of the corporation sending people to do the same task quicker, you manage to survive.

This happens through the kindness of strangers, demanding work, and a lot of luck. But despite the odds, you are living a life, having carved out a space for yourself on the Eye. This is your home.

Flux begins in the Greenway, a mid- to late-game area most players unlock once they already have the hang of the balancing act it takes to survive each day. For those returning after having completed the base game, the Sleeper is a local at this point. But now, a flotilla of refugees has found their way to the Eye and is being cordoned off outside the station by the governing body.

Flux introduces new characters who have their own problems that need solving.Fellow Traveller

The Eye has a lot in common with the Sleeper, it wasn’t made to operate this long without its corporate creators. But the hodgepodge of people that make it home fight to keep the station turning. The introduction of thousands of refugees is something the station simply cannot sustain in its current operating state, so people are scared. The refugees sit stuck in their ships as they starve, and the residents of the Eye worry the newcomers will lead to the Eye’s failure.

This is when you meet Eshe and Peake.

Eshe and Peake are the central points of Flux, as they have managed to sneak onto the Eye from the refugee flotilla. Frustrated by bureaucratic bullshit, they need to get food and supplies to the flotilla before refugees start dying. Their pleading eyes see you and pray to some higher power that you will help them.

The synthetic eyes of the Sleeper fire electrical signals to your brain, and you see something familiar in Eshe and Peake. Desperation, fear, and helplessness; it is like having a mirror put in your face. Wasn’t this your life not so long ago? How hard was it to make a living on the Eye? How many people hoped you would leave this place and let the Eye remain as it was? But how many more people reached out a helping hand and brought you to where you are now? You see Eshe and Peake need this same help. This may not be their home, but with your help, it could be.

On the clock

Completing every task that needs doing in time will test even veteran players.Fellow Traveller

Citizen Sleeper’s mechanics are based around two pillars: dice and cycles. The closest thing to these systems is those found in most tabletop RPGs such as Dungeons & Dragons. Every morning you roll dice, five if you are at optimal health and less as you deteriorate, which can be used to complete tasks around the Eye. Once you have exhausted every dice available to you, you must sleep. This makes up one cycle.

Many quests in Citizen Sleeper are on a clock and will be failed if not completed in time. This balancing of dice and tasks requires players to live with their decisions in the base game, there is no going back, and you must make do with the resources available. While there are some close calls in the base game, Flux dials this time crunch to eleven.

You only have 12 cycles in Episode Flux. This translates to no more than two hours of real-time. Despite having upgraded my Sleeper over the course of a full playthrough of the base game, I found myself struggling to complete the tasks requested of me. A bad dice roll locked me out of a task for three days, and I simply couldn’t afford this type of failure. All this becomes more complicated when you meet a representative from the Eye who knows Eshe and Peake are planning to break the blockade. She begs you to reconsider as this will only make scared residents angrier at the refugees. Despite being a bureaucrat, she comes across as kind and earnest.

The Sleeper’s allegiances are tested against their moral compass.Fellow Traveller

Part of me wants to believe that she really does care. But even if she is “one of the good ones,” the system she actively participates in is broken. Neither she nor the said system helped you — it was other struggling people. For me, this hesitation was one mistake too many: My 12 cycles were up. I watched the mission unfold with a pit in my stomach, or what a Sleeper’s artificial stomach can replicate as a pit.

It failed.

Flux is only the first chapter in the story of Eshe, Peake, and the Refugee flotilla. Until the next chapter is released in October, I will have to live with my choices and mistakes. Flux works so perfectly as an addition to the base game that comments on the Sleeper’s changing status within the Eye.

For anybody looking for a stylish sci-fi game with a cool story to invest in, look no further than Citizen Sleeper.

Citizen Sleeper Episode: Flux is available on PC, Xbox Series Consoles, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Game Pass.

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