UPDATE: Since writing this, Cloudpunk has received several updates that address some of the dialogue issues that were present at launch.
Cloudpunk is a blend of two of my favorite elements in games: Cyberpunk aesthetics and a mundane profession which in this case is being a delivery driver. Sprinkle in an engaging yet slowly unfolding story with interesting and sometimes genuinely funny characters and you’ve got yourself the recipe for a game that is one-hundred percent up my alley.
In Cloudpunk, you play as a young woman who just moved to the big cyberpunk city and has taken up a job with the titular delivery company, Cloudpunk, as a courier. The majority of the game seems to take place in your hover-car, driving around the neon soaked, voxelly city of Nivalis.
Piloting my floating jalopy was easy to do, and had a nice sense of weight to it that made banking around corners at high speeds not only very satisfying, but extremely dangerous as your momentum will have you drifting around the skies and probably into traffic. The weird thing about driving the car is that you have no camera control whatsoever. Instead, the right analog stick is used to dictate your height, a mechanic that the characters in the game felt the need to justify by explaining it within the first few minutes of playing. Ultimately, money and fuel seem to be the primary plates you’ll be spinning in Cloudpunk, neither of which have been a real obstacle in the early goings of the game.
Once you get your package to the vague area it needs to go, you’ll have to find a parking spot for your hover-car, then hop out and finish the delivery on foot. It seems pretty superfluous at first, offering little more than other angles to admire the artwork from, until you realize there are NPCs you can talk to and shops you can interact with. It’s shallow at first, but within the first hour of playing it starts to become an integral part of the story.
Unsurprisingly, the things that really stuck out to me in Cloudpunk are its visual style, and synth-heavy soundtrack. If you had told me that this was a licensed Blade Runner game, based solely on its presentation, I’d believe you. The ambient light that pours over the rain-soaked streets of Nivalis, make the floating city feel appropriately grimy and futuristic. Cloudpunk nails the cyberpunk aesthetic from lighting, to mechanics, to the soundtrack and even down to its characters.
Speaking of characters, there is one very special character in this game that needs special attention. In Cloudpunk, the story is told to you through radio chatter from your bosses, customers and your ship’s AI. The ship AI however, is the implanted consciousness of your character’s dog. This dog, Camus, is a great inclusion not just because dogs are great, but because he is so innocent and pure that he acts as your moral compass when you have to make decisions in the game, questioning you when you make strange choices.
An early example of that is when Rania picks up an unmarked package under suspicious circumstances from her boss, that once inside of the car begins ticking. Her boss tells her to keep quiet and get the job done providing no further explanation or context. Camus will question this saying something to the effect of, “I don’t feel good about the situation.” It was then I was presented with the choice of delivering the package, or throwing it in a dump somewhere. I went ahead and delivered the package to another location, where Camus also raised further questions about my actions. Up to and after what you might expect to happen with a ticking package happening, Camus gently reminded me that we didn’t do a good thing, which hurt me more than any human’s word could.
While I love Camus and his voice acting, the rest of the game fluctuates in that department. Rania herself feels a little flat in places, never feeling overwhelmingly offensive or bad, but just a little bland. That could be a symptom of the voice acting itself, or the actual writing in the game, which also feels unnatural in spots. It’s never too jarring which is a relief because there’s a lot of it.
What is infuriating is how unskippable the dialogue can be in most scenarios. This is a story-focused game and I understand that, but the decision to make me hover in the air in my car without a way point or objective for a minute or two so a conversation can wrap up, is infuriating. I want to absorb the story and hear what the players are talking about, but could we do that on the way to my objective? I can’t just drive around aimlessly while I’m waiting for a way point to pop because I’ve got fuel limitations. It’s a weird decision that just leads to a lot of idling in a game with a pretty intriguing story.
The list of things I like about Cloudpunk so far easily outnumbers my issues with it, but I’m still really early into the game and anything could change. There’s a bunch of mechanics that are largely unexplained thus far as well, like the fact that I have an inventory. It makes me think there might be some sort of adventure game aspect that hasn’t been revealed just yet, but I’m excited to see it pan out.
I really like Cloudpunk and it’s brand of mixing the cyberpunk aesthetic, with the seemingly mundane job of being a courier. It makes you feel appropriately small in this sprawling metropolis, before slowly uncovering the main character’s role and importance as you progress. It’s got some rough edges for sure, but as an adventure game, it’s certainly scratching an itch.