First time I heard about Cloudpunk during its announcement, I instantly imagined playing a GTA style game in its unique graphical style. What I got to play in the end, however, proved to be much much better than that, as Cloudpunk is now among the best games that I’ve completed this year.
In it, you play as Rania, a young woman with a propensity for curiosity who just recently moved to the perpetually raining neon-drenched city of Nivalis from the far East and is now on her first day of a new job under Cloudpunk, an underground delivery company who’s up for any job as long as the pay is good. She eventually gets tangled in a complex web of intrigue involving her deliveries and the megacorps that control the city, which ends up taking her all over the city in the search of truth.
Nivalis is a brilliantly put together city that borrows the blocky Minecraft look and takes it to an entirely other level by providing one of the most gripping locales I’ve ever seen in an indie game. The city’s flashing advertisement, constant rain, and traffic work as the perfect backdrop to your comings and goings throughout the game.
Piloting Rania’s dinky HOVA from pickup to delivery is very easy, and even though you do take damage whenever you crash into anything and are forced to repair it from time to time, as well as refuel it, getting from point A to B isn’t where the weight of Cloudpunk finds itself. That falls to its writing, which is great. As basically a cab driver in such a cool setting, Rania runs across all manner of people in her travels, be them human, android, or anything in between, and they all have something interesting to share. It deals with subjects such as transhumanism, gentrification, gender identity, and mortality expertly, something that the game writers should be lauded for.
Be them terrible folks exploiting the less fortunate atop their ivory skyscrapers or people just trying to survive somewhere under the superstructure holding the city together, the vast majority of clients that come into contact with the agency have something for Rania to deliver, and at times, it even falls to her (read: you) to decide what to do with whatever falls onto your lap. Moral decisions are nothing new to modern games, granted, but Cloudpunk, much to its name, clouds things up in that regard just enough to make you feel uneasy every time you go through with whatever path you end up going with. Such is the case for one job, for example, that has Rania helping a fallen starlet — do you help her escape her fate, basically banishing her from society, or do you help her blow the whistle on a huge scandal for your own greedy motives?
It might be extremely cliché to say this, and I completely admit to falling for this trap, but Nivalis is also a character in and of itself, thanks to a tremendously excellent art direction given to the game, which makes use of voxel-y visuals combining them with lots of neon lighting and popping effects whose closest (and easiest) comparison is Blade Runner and its sequel, Blade Runner 2049, but I also felt like Back to the Future Part II also had a hand in influencing, be it in the vehicle design department to how roads (or lack them there of) work in the vision of the future the game has going for it.
If you come to Cloudpunk looking for an action game or one that demands a lot of skill from you in order to complete it, you’ll be disappointed, as the main gameplay mechanic doesn’t rely on any violence whatsoever, so you won’t ever run the risk of dying, nor is it particularly difficult to finish. There are a couple of speed related achievements thrown in for some very specific sections of the game, but outside of that, you won’t find anything purposefully challenging here — even the many collectibles scattered in the world are clearly marked on the map.
Cloudpunk clocked in over 11 hours for me, and a lot of that time was spent exploring the city to its fullest, which provided me with basically the entirety of what it has to over in regards to characters developing their unique story beats, whether they were tied to the main story or in optional content. There’s plenty of side content to get through in this game, surely, but if you end up beelining through the story, it’ll take you a little less than it took me, since funnily enough, a healthy amount of that optional content is tied to listening to dialogue and not doing a lot of playing.
That’s not a knock in any way against Cloudpunk, not playing it for a chunk of its running time as you listen to characters speaking to each other, since as mentioned before it’s pretty much all extremely enjoyable to get through thanks to the overall quality of the game’s script. The only real issue I found playing was its locked pulled away camera perspectives as Rania stepped off her HOVA to the streets, and how they shift angles and change directional controls as they do that.
Luckily for me, that’s a problem that’s soon to be remedied by an upcoming patch as announced by the devs at Ion Lands. Having a closer to shoulder view point is going to be fun to put to use and it’ll definitely work to the game’s benefit, helping provide a whole lot more atmosphere, as early test footage released already showed. No date has been given to this patch, so I’ll be keeping an eye for when it’s dropped so I can come back to the game and check it out from a new angle.
I can’t overstate how much I enjoyed my time playing Cloudpunk. It was one of the rare videogames that I’ve managed to finish in a few sittings and didn’t feel like I was compulsively playing it just for the sake of completing it in time for a review. I truly had a great time getting through it, so much that I didn’t want to stop and pick it up later. That’s something that’s ever rarer these days, as the writing backlog grows and embargoes grow shorter. This is just the kind of game that’ll grab you and won’t let go until you are done with it, and hopefully you’ll have as wonderful of a time with it as I had playing it for coverage.