Aside from the original Star Wars Trilogy, one of my all-time favorite movies is The Fifth Element, a story that takes place in a dystopian future and follows a lowly cab driver as he reluctantly becomes the hero. There are flying cars, bright neon signs, a city falling apart, and above all, a society that really doesn’t care. Everyone is expendable if it means making money.
Developed by Ion Lands, and published by Maple Whispering, Cloudpunk is set in a very similar world, complete with the aforementioned neon lights and flying cars. Players will explore the bright lights of Nivalus, a city that takes inspiration from a variety of science fiction locations including Coruscant from Star Wars and Los Angeles from Blade Runner. Leaving behind her life on the beautiful Eastern Peninsula, Rania, known by her employer as 14FC, has left her life as a musician and decided that for whatever reason, working for a less-than-legitimate delivery company known as Cloudpunk is a good way to make an honest income. Her employer has two rules; deliver the packages, and don’t ask questions.
Cloudpunk is very much an explorative game, focusing heavily on checking out the sights and getting to know the world’s characters as Rania climbs her way up the corporate ladder. A significant portion of the game is taken up by driving from location A to location B, and players are rewarded with the in-game currency, Lims, as they discover new locations and complete deliveries, though players will often have to leave their HOVA and make the drops on foot. A few little fun features have been included, such as upgrading your car with cosmetic accessories, fixing it up when you inevitably drift into oncoming traffic and making sure you have enough fuel to make your next drop. A number of merchants will sell various goods, from Vegan Ramen to recreational drugs, and you’ll find yourself a comfortable little apartment that sports a number of purchasable upgrades, such as a monthly subscription to pizza. Aside from fuel and repairs, there really isn’t all that much you’ll actually need to spend your money on really.
Everything about Cloudpunk is created with voxels, in that you could recreate the world in games such as Minecraft, assuming you had the patience. Every little detail has been faithfully created using nothing but tiny cubes, and Cloudpunk offers a vast amount of detail considering the simplicity of this shape. The sense of scale the buildings provide, complete with the variety of other flying cars that zoom about the world, and the citizens that roam the streets, this blocky world really feels like it is alive. Whether you’re zooming past floating neon advertisements or slumming it with the lower echelons of society on foot, Cloudpunk is filled with detail that will have you wanting to keep exploring.
As you might expect from a futuristic dystopian setting, the music featured is very synthetic in its sounds, and quite often features sinister tones, leaving you feeling like danger is right around the corner. Coupled with the constant patter of rain, loud footsteps on concrete surfaces, and a near consistent stream of police sirens, it feels like something will go wrong at any moment, but it doesn’t. Short of plowing into a building or bumping into too many other drivers, you’re never really in any danger. In a near 180 degree turn, the voice acting is somewhat all over the place. Some characters feel like they really enjoyed their lines, while others felt like they were just phoning it in. This, unfortunately, left us with some rather awkward conversations that just droned on unnecessarily, which is a real shame because all of the other sound effects used really help sell the fact that this world is all about making money.
As I was playing this on Xbox, I was of course using a controller, and like many other driving games, this works really well. Given you’re driving a car that is basically flying, you can expect a little drifting as you turn, but otherwise, the controls are nice and responsive. Walking around on the other hand does feel a little floaty, especially when you’re making use of the “fixed” camera positions. While you’re on foot, you can swap between a fixed camera position, which is more along the lines of a rail-guided camera, 3rd person mode, which is what we’re all mostly used to thanks to games such as Mafia or Grand Theft Auto, and first-person, which is probably the easiest way to control Rania, though I did find turning the character in first or 3rd person to be a little on the slow side, so there were times I would switch back to rail-cam.
I did unfortunately run into a number of issues while playing, and one of these was particularly game-breaking. The first issue I stumbled upon was when I had accidentally pressed a button that removed my HUD. This in itself wasn’t an issue, but when I attempted to access the game’s options to work out what I needed to press to get it back, I was quickly dash-boarded. Luckily and with thanks to the autosave feature, I was back where I was and the HUD had returned. Happy days. The game-breaking issue, unfortunately, involved my in-game money. After making my way to my apartment, the game started going back through previous conversations and looping missions.
One such conversation involves involuntarily spending 1500 Lims on uploading Rania’s personal assistant, Camus, into the HOVA. This wasn’t so bad when it happened the first time, as I still had some money left over, but the second loop left me negative 853 Lims, and the third put me even further behind. Restarting the game, unfortunately, left me dropping in just before the second loop, so the vicious cycle just continued. Even starting a whole new save resulted in the same problem, so I was left feeling very sour about an otherwise enjoyable experience.
While the graphics aren’t incredible by today’s harsh standards, Cloudpunk holds a tremendous amount of detail in a world that genuinely feels alive. The music perfectly sets the tone while the sounds create a truly immersive atmosphere, and the simple gameplay works well with an equally simple story. The responsive vehicle controls are let down by janky character controls, and the whole experience was damaged by a bug that really liked to repeat itself. I really enjoyed just flying around and exploring such a beautiful world, but with a bank account a couple of thousand Lims in the negative, it’d be hard to keep the HOVA in the air.
- Beautifully immersive sounds
- Amazingly detailed voxel-graphics
- Fun mechanics in upgrading and keeping your HOVA running
- Easy to pick up and play
- Character controls felt very janky
- I encountered a horrible bug that spent my Lims repeatedly
- No real sense of danger