April 24, 2020
ION Lands, Maple Whispering Limited
Cyberpunk video games are certainly in vogue right now. And if you’re paying attention to the indie gaming scene you’ll also notice that package delivery games are strangely prevalent. I guess that makes Cloudpunk the trendiest kid on the playground.
It’s your first day on the job as a package delivery driver in a rain-soaked metropolis above the clouds. Nivalis is a bustling and vibrant cityscape and its occupants need their packages delivered. A paying job is certainly what protagonist Rania needs right now. Too bad the job is also full of mystery, danger, and plenty of moral ambiguity.
Developer ION Lands have done a glorious job of creating the cyberpunk metropolis of Nivalis. The city is a playground of corruption and classism. It’s a beautiful yet deeply depressing place that also serves as a sandbox for the player. Taking to the skies in your HOVA car, you’ll drive around Nivalis, through its various districts, and learn more about its inhabitants with every new delivery.
The open world was beautiful and impressive although it did also come with a couple of shortcomings. The districts of Nivalis looked quite similar to one another. The variety in city layout wasn’t amazing although there were times where you’d venture into new (smaller) areas that changed things up. The loading time as you fly from one district to another isn’t insignificant either.
On your journey you’ll uncover the best and the worst of humanity. You’ll learn more about Nivalis and the crazy world you live in. You’ll also form a strong bond with your AI dog who’s personality has been uploaded into your car. Thank you Camus, no matter what form you take you’re always such a good boy.
For an indie games studio, Cloudpunk is impressively large in scope. The open world you fly through is absolutely gorgeous. The vibrancy of the neon lights is spectacular and the voxel art is magnificently unique. There’s also a surprising amount of content on offer with the game’s narrative alone taking me around 10-12 hours to complete. All dialogue is voice acted and the musical score accompanying the game is nothing short of sublime. It all ties together with some fascinating lore to make this cyberpunk world really well defined and interesting.
The visuals alone should be enough to get your attention. This is an entire city built to inspire awe as much as it inspires fear. Nivalis is a daunting place but the cyberpunk aesthetic creates so much glory. The voxel art is certainly intriguing. It doesn’t quite look as nice when you zoom in on a character model or other smaller details, but in the wide it looks magnificent.
Cloudpunk also looks great in motion. The majority of your play time will be spent in the air in your HOVA car as you go from destination to destination. The floating highways, dense traffic, interconnected walkways, lofty buildings, or even just the neon lights reflected in the many puddles – it’s all certainly worth taking in.
Perhaps even more intriguing are the concepts and themes explored in this futuristic city. This is a world driven by Artificial Intelligence, corruption, and power. Humans live alongside AI and, much like many other cyberpunk / AI media, ideas of identity, humanity, division, and equality are explored. Cloudpunk doesn’t really do anything new with these concepts per se, but the developers clearly understood the reference material and handled it with care. Cloudpunk is rooted deeply in cyberpunk ideology and it shows.
Cloudpunk also isn’t afraid to draw obvious parallels between the struggles of AI with the struggles of queer people. Perhaps the most obvious was a character called Pete who identified as a human despite being created as an AI. Pete would spend beyond his means on skin-graphs to help his outside appearance match how he feels within. Other characters would mock Pete, be confused by his desires, and refer to him as his AI name, Patchwork. The concept of gender was explored in other ways too and whilst nothing here was revolutionary or new, I’m glad these themes weren’t ignored and were treated with respect.
Whilst Cloudpunk does have some additional content such as occasional side quests and collectables, the majority of your play time will be dedicated to its narrative. You’ll be exploring the city of Nivalis with your AI dog Camus. The company you work for is a semi-legal delivery company called Cloudpunk and you’ll be primarily in contact with ‘Control’ who is a man assigning you deliveries and talking you through your first night in the new job.
The game has many different characters but by far the most compelling and meaningful are Control and Camus. Whilst the world of Nivalis is an interesting one, it’s the personal relationships and narrative surrounding protagonist Rania that I found most compelling. Control and Camus are both fantastically voice acted. They are characters who grow on you the longer you play and even if the relationship becomes complicated, they remain as likeable parts of your life. Voice acting is an interesting element of Cloudpunk because whilst most of the individual performances were really quite good, the way dialogue is stitched together leaves things feeling disconnected. There’s an obvious pause every time one character stops speaking and another begins. I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice, but the end result is a back and fourth that doesn’t feel natural. Even when a character cuts another character off mid sentence, there’s a solid pause in the dialogue that leaves things feeling very stilted. I got use to it eventually, but it was still a disappointing element to an otherwise well written and acted game.
“The game created some interesting moments but by in large the story moved at a glacial pace.”
Whilst there was a lot to love about Cloudpunk’s narrative, especially the world-building and lore, there was also some elements that didn’t work quite as well. One of my biggest complaints about this game would have to be the pace at which it moves through its narrative. The game created some interesting moments but by in large the story moved at a glacial pace. The game did a good job of creating mystery early and piquing my curiosity, but for too long I was strung along on that mystery without getting any answers or making any real progress. I was most attached to the personal relationships I was building with Camus and Control, but neither of those plot points were resolved or really changed at all until right at the end of the game.
The majority of my playtime in Cloudpunk felt like I was stalling. There was an interesting world here with clearly more going on under the surface but I wasn’t allowed to take a peak until I had completed countless deliveries. Don’t get me wrong, the deliveries themselves were actually quite fun and fascinating, but a captivating and evolving overall plot to motivate me through would have gone a long way. It’s a pacing issue. A great narrative game will build up to a climax. In Cloudpunk though there was less building and more plateauing. It made the central part of the experience rather unremarkable compared to the excitement of the beginning and the payoff at the end.
It was great to have moments of player choice within the game and it rarely ever seemed to have a right or wrong answer. I don’t believe the story changed much depending on your decisions but it was still good to have these moments of moral ambiguity to get you thinking. The writers of this game clearly were not short on ideas for bizarre or interesting delivery situations.
- Gorgeous and vibrant open world
- Intriguing themes and world-building
- Great and likeable characters
- Narrative can move at a slow pace
Flying around the detailed and beautiful city of Nivalis in your HOVA car while awesome music plays is definitely one of the most captivating aspects of Cloudpunk. I do wish I found myself more captivated by the narrative but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the experience regardless. Cloudpunk is a fascinating game with some important ideas and I’m glad I got to experience them.