Futuristic cityscapes are quite a sight to behold aren’t they? The 80’s pulsing neon lighting up the night skies in Cloudpunk are inspired and unforgettable. Riding through holographic tunnels and marvelling at giant billboards invite the eyes to peer at attractions, igniting the cities with a metropolitan glow similar to the Las Vegas strip just without the casinos. This is the magnetic appeal of Cloudpunk, it looks so breath-taking that it is easy to forget there is a videogame in here to partake in. Can Cloudpunk offer more than electronic eye-candy or is it all show and no go?
Cloudpunk takes place in a skyward metropolitan city known as Nivalis, where you play as a woman named Rania who takes up a night gig for a quasi-illegal delivery company known as Cloudpunk – think a rogue Amazon delivery service in the sky and you’re pretty close to what Cloudpunk is, without the uniforms. Rania has to deliver packages without asking about what they contain or finding out for herself what’s inside, bringing an air of mystery into play that hangs over the game before you start peeling away at the game’s epidermis and learning what’s going on underneath the surface.
Cloudpunk does a lovely job of reigning players into its world and its cast of diverse and strange characters. New faces will be met regularly and learning about how the characters are impacted by their surroundings is a consistent source of intrigue. Themes of social destitution, poverty and class divisions are rife and the feeling of being submerged in the struggles of the citizens is palpable. Dialogue exchanges are plentiful and humorous banter is in healthy supply, so much so that the allure of listening in to conversations is heightened because some of the characters are memorable and eccentric, but others can be bland and forgettable too.
As a delivery driver, Rania is tasked with using her floating HOVA vehicle to travel and collect/deliver packages at specified destinations. Missions often start when you are contacted by an illusive figure called Control, who dishes out the jobs to Rania and she subsequently goes out and collects packages and then drops them off to a client. A dog AI companion named Camus also keeps contact with Rania and doles out waypoints so that Rania knows where she is going and can navigate the interconnected sprawl of Nivalis.
Missions are timed but you don’t need to pay attention to the time limits unless you encounter an urgent part of the story, so for the most part you can leisurely take in the sights and the stories without the pressure and frustrations of being forced to conform with constraints. Yes the repetition of roving around and through these skyward cities does catch on pretty quickly, but landing down and exploring these bergs up close as well as gazing at their majesty from a distance will make up for any feelings of monotony.
As for the “up-close” portion of the gameplay experience, you can indeed hop off your HOVA and walk the streets of the cities at your leisure. After finding a convenient parking spot for the HOVA, the player can engage in the world as Rania in third and first person, as well view from a side-on perspective with a fixed camera. Switching perspectives is peculiar because you’re given the means to pull the camera in and out for the optimal viewpoint. Interacting with the world is easy enough as you can speak with NPCs you find, buy items from merchants and complete your deliveries and pick up packages where you need to. An inventory screen is accessible, allowing players to pick items up and store them for use when required but the system could’ve used some tidying as any items can be dumped in your inventory. Much of what you pick up in the world is tat anyway, such as Punch Cards; you’ll need to accrue a copious amount of these as part of a particular quest as well as junk electrical items that you can give to NPC’s if they require them. Rania has an apartment she can upgrade with amenities but there isn’t much you can do with her abode outside of cosmetically enhancing it.
Riding around in the HOVA vehicle is quite pleasant. You can use the right stick to ascend and descend and roving feels nice with a satisfying level of weight distribution. Be mindful of how much fuel you have remaining though or you’ll gas out, but Camus can remind you to fuel up when the need arises and you can find stations on the map represented as a red fuel can. Similarly damaging your HOVA will require repairs and there is a yellow wrench on the map to indicate where you can go to get your flying machine fixed, though it will cost you.
Although Cloudpunk is awesome to behold there are some major kinks that weaken the game’s immersion. Load times can be excessive as you travel between regions. Once loaded up Cloudpunk’s framerate takes several seconds to get going, almost like it’s going to freeze up on you. On this reviewer’s initial run serious bugs including AI not showing up on the map, the HOVA getting damaged despite no collisions being made and generally no way to progress almost jeopardised the entire experience. Thankfully restarting the game from the beginning eliminated these problems entirely and Cloudpunk was allowed to show itself in the way that it was intended to be shown.
Cloudpunk may not be a technical showcase but it sure is a visual one. Cloudpunk’s cyberpunk cities are nothing short of breath-taking and is a significant reason why the game is so inviting to begin with. The lights and the grandeur of a metropolis in the skies will not stop leaving an impression on players throughout their experience. The character models however look like they take inspiration from Minecraft, which whilst not a bad thing make them look like expressionless slabs were it not for the dialogue boxes with their pictures beside it. Audio isn’t as impressive as the visuals but there are some pleasing synth arrangements to be heard and characters are appealingly voiced, and their personalities are diverse and quirky enough to stand out.
Writing off Cloudpunk as nothing but a visual attraction will be doing it a great disservice. Sure the splendour of the cyberpunk voxels and the glitz of all that billboard electricity is magnetic, but there’s also a great undercurrent of mystique that you will be spending time peeling away at that Cloudpunk becomes much more than eye candy. The unchallenging basicness may be off-putting, and coupled with stymieing technical issues Cloudpunk can be a bit of a mess that you may fail to forgive. Stick with it though and there is a tasty and indulgent piece of cyberpunk intrigue in here that will please those thirsty for something futuristic and adorned with lights in the night sky. Flawed but fascinating, Cloudpunk is short and straightforward but its elegance and its world should be enough to suck you in for as long as it lasts.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.