Cloudpunk – Review

After a long day at work, sometimes there’s nothing better than loading DOOM and shooting demons in the face. Other times, you just want to play something chill and let your mind wander. Take in the atmosphere and the story as the characters grow before you in a world that comes to life. Cloudpunk, the new game from ION LANDS which recently released on Steam certainly falls into the latter category.  A cyberpunk vision of a future that is not as bright as the neon lights that litter the city.

Gameplay

You play as Rania, a girl who recently moved to Nivalis from the Eastern Peninsula. To settle into Nivalis life, she takes a job as a delivery driver at Cloudpunk, a not-so-reputable courier service. This forms the basis of the gameplay loop. You deliver various packages, and people, around the city using your HOVA vehicle or on foot. The mission structure is quite freeform. For the most part, the delivery path you choose is up to you. Likewise, most missions allow you to take your time. This really adds to the relaxed atmosphere, while giving a nice contrast to more urgent portions of the game.

It’s a simple gameplay loop, deepened by the interactions with people you meet whilst making deliveries. The game is about listening and making decisions based on your conversations, rather than focusing on action. Because the game is more decision-based, this may not be for everyone. However, if you’re looking for a slower-paced game with interesting, quirky characters then you cannot go far wrong here.

Flying around the gorgeous-looking city in your HOVA is a fun experience. It handles brilliantly, whether you stick to predefined routes or going off-track. Weaving through the neon-soaked buildings to try get to your destination just feels great. You must stop periodically to refuel your HOVA, but this is infrequent, so it doesn’t become a burden.

The game also offers HOVA upgrades and cosmetics to buy with your delivery earnings. There’s not a lot of these, but they’re unlocked steadily throughout the game. As well as flying, there are pedestrian areas where you can talk to people, purchase items from vendors and pick up various items that can be sold or used in side missions.

Unfortunately, this does not live up to the flying, with movement feeling a little floaty. The main issue with these sections is the camera, however. There is no free camera movement meaning the game must auto adjust the camera’s perspective which can be jarring. Walking around a corner for the camera to suddenly change direction is off-putting. Likewise, these camera changes can confuse the controls, which is a bit immersion breaking and often frustrating. Whilst it does allow for more open areas this could have been handled differently. It is worth noting that the game feels at home on a gamepad, however keyboard is an option.

Story

As you start to make your deliveries, you will get to know Control, your Cloudpunk controller who will give you your jobs and some sound advice for someone new to the city. You also have your AI companion, Camus, along for the ride. These characters are well voiced for the most part. Particularly Rania herself.

It’s impressive that the main characters feel like they grow over the course of a game which takes place over only one night. I enjoyed getting to know Rania, feeling compassion towards her situation. Voice acting overall is more of a mixed bag unfortunately, with some very questionable accents. The characters you meet over the ten-hour story are nice and quirky. However, the voice acting is a little overboard at times, which can be quite a big distraction sometimes. For example, one of the street vendors has the most bizarre Birmingham accent I’ve ever heard. Indeed, most of the game’s story is formed around your interactions with these characters, as well as Control and Camus who are with you for the journey.

On foot you can, and should, to talk to various NPCs, some of whom offer short side missions. These are not particularly inventive though; usually a simple fetch mission. However, the short stories you will hear from these NPCs adds to the world building of Cloudpunk. Examples such as gangs on the run from the law for building new parks and playgrounds and androids asking for human skin really give you a feel for the type of place Nivalis is. Hearing their trials and tribulations really increased my appreciation of the world ION LANDS have built.

The main story thread is a slow burner and does not hit the heights it perhaps should have. The story didn’t feel like it was building towards the climax. Because of this, the ending felt abrupt; I was very surprised when I reached the end. However, the story remains interesting throughout. The fascinating characters you meet really add to the stories intrigue, Likewise, you make some big decisions along your journey. Some of these play out later in the game, while some have more immediate consequences. These decisions are never black and white, letting you weigh up the outcomes of what Rania was about to do.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND

The undoubted star of the show is the city itself. The use of lighting in Cloudpunk is some of the best I’ve seen. From the reflections in the puddles and never-ending rain, to the neon lights plastered over the walls. Everything adds to the atmosphere. I often found myself stopping my HOVA just to pan the camera and take in the atmosphere.

The UI is simple and clean but functional. Conveniently, this can be turned off with a simple click of a button. Useful for the all the screenshots you will undoubtedly take. It would have been nice to have more interactive features on the map, such as custom waypoints and being able to resize the mini map, but it works.

The map splits into various levels, which sees you flying through a portal to move between levels. Essentially a loading screen. There is some much-appreciated aesthetic variety between these areas. The brown hued Hollows feel considerably different to the more upmarket less smoggy areas above. However, this variety does not extend to the walking areas.

This is exacerbated by merchants and vendors looking the same, regardless of the area you’re in. Some variety here would have added to atmosphere of each area. However, I did appreciate the dynamic events in the background such as a police chase speeding past or a building collapsing. They really stresses that this is not a city you want to be living in.

The voxel art style is not as commonly used these days as other methods, but ION LANDS has used them perfectly here; from the tall buildings to the vehicles zipping around them. It really adds to the uniqueness that Cloudpunk has. It is difficult to notice that the game’s made up of small blocks.

Coudpunks sounds also plays an important role in the overall ambience of the game. The humming of the HOVA engines, the soft, synth tracks in the background and the situational tonal shift of the music is expertly done.

PERFORMANCE

The game ran very nicely on my machine (I7 6700K, GTX 1080 Ti, 24GB DDR4, M.2 NVME). Frame sabilitity was excellent, seldom dropping below 100fps at 1440p resolution and top graphical settings, with no noticeable issues. There were no crashes or obvious bugs that I came across whilst playing. Cloudpunk is very well put together.

Likewise, ION LANDS seem to be listening to feedback and have added more options to what was a very bare menu at launch. Other than resolution and vsync options there was not much else to tinker with. Since launch ION LANDS have added more options to tweak. It is good to see such a swift response from the developers and hopefully it bodes well for the future of the game.

Achievement hunters should know that some of the 79 available do require you to play in a certain way. Given that the game only has auto-save, some achievements could be missed. This could cause some frustration.

SUMMARY

I genuinely enjoyed my time with Cloudpunk. The slower pace may not be for everyone, but I would encourage everyone to give it a try. The ambience of the city, coupled with the quirkiness of the characters and the fun of flying around, far outweighs the criticisms of the game such as the walking camera. Whilst the main story may struggle with some pacing issues it was still interesting enough to enjoy. So, go on, give Cloudpunk a try and leave those faces alone for the time being.

Verdict: Buy it

Cloudpunk is available on Steam now, with a PS4, Xbox One & Nintendo Switch release coming later in 2020


Enjoyed what you’ve read? Check out our Fallout 76 preview!
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Co-owner and senior editor at CountrCultur.com. Follow Rich on Twitter to learn all about the virtues of Shenmue.

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