REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

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REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

Cloudpunk offers a wonderful city to explore, but sadly, there’s not much to explore there once you delve deeper.

It’s a bit strange at first. Nivalus – the city stretched out for miles beneath the jets of your HOVA vehicle – is huge and unwelcoming, a disorientating complex of expressways and highrises winking neon below the clouds. The flashy lights of the signboards and displays – in select hues of blue, yellow, white, orange – bounce off concrete walls without ever softening the city’s razor-sharp blades. There’s a nagging feeling that wherever you are, someone, someplace, is spying. Maybe it’s the endless stream of unknown vehicles that chunder behind you. Maybe it’s the unblinking stare of a million panes staring out at you.

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

It never ceases drizzling here. You’d think that, high up in the clouds, you’d be beyond the sympathy of such humdrum difficulties, but the rain is continuous. You can’t assist but wonder how diverse Nivalus’ seedy world – this battered, torn cloudscape that’s permanently shrouded in dark – might look beneath the hard, cold light of day. 

Despite the dark and constant rain, the city is nevertheless very lively, bustling with the kind of folk that only venture out at night. Some will need to speak to you; many more will not. Even fewer will have a significant influence on your story. These figures won’t help pack meat onto the bones of the tale of Rania, our secret hero, but they will add colour and spice to the world she’s got herself in.

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

Simply put, Cloudpunk is a stunningly beautiful game. Nivalis is built out of voxels, big chunky blocks of solid colour that give the city landscape the feeling of an immense, elaborate Lego diorama. Tremendous use is made of contrast and illumination. Skyscrapers almost drop into negative space, their facades made of hundreds of tiny crates of light, varying in lurid pinks, yellows and blues. When you’re travelling through the city in your hovercar, each turn passes a spectacular scenery, each ascension over a row of high-rises welcomed with a dazzling neon-drenched vista. 

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

It’s even more enjoyable when you get out of your hovercar and traverse the city on foot. Here, the camera is locked to a certain view, typically giving a side-on vantage that gets in the street you’re running along, with your character often rendered with no more than a small handful of voxels in the centre. At first, the lack of camera handle appears restrictive, but soon the intended purpose becomes clear. Relying on a predefined camera viewpoint means every shot is created to the best exhibition the frequently jaw-dropping scene, with the scale working hand in hand to make you feel even more in awe of it all hovering over you. Seldom the camera zooms in, normally when you venture down a tight alley, thus replicating the claustrophobic strain of the surrounding structures. Other times it’ll drop to ground level and tilt up to cinematically frame an event happening in the distance or maybe just to point out–once again–how amazing the city resembles. Cloudpunk is constantly tapping you on the shoulder to say, hey, check this out, and at least in terms of postcard material it never fails to deceive.

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

Cloudpunk is at its weakest when entering knowing allusions to modern culture–Rania’s encounter with a “Debate Me” dude has its spirit in the right place, but it’s solely too on-the-nose and fails to find anything related or exciting to say beyond the fact that “Debate Me” dudes suck. The best-written side role is sadly also the one whose questline growth is locked behind the baffling incorporation of collectables. On balance, though, the ideal outweighs the evil here, and the real failure is that it’s such a close call.

REVIEW : Cloudpunk (PC)

If the erratic writing hints that Cloudpunk isn’t completely sure what sort of narrative encounter it requires to be, then the addition of a light economic layer betrays a lack of confidence. Money made from successful jobs must be spent on the odd trip to the gas pumps to refuel, and can also be put towards several non-essential handling upgrades and superficial tweaks to the hovercar. Food and drink can be bought and consumed to give Rania a slight momentum boost while a handful of drugs can be bought to make the screen go blurry and little else. There’s even a thin trading game where you can purchase low and sell high between merchants to maximise profits. But it’s all so irrelevant, the impact of any portion of this economy so minute that you’re left doubtful as to why it’s there at all. It doesn’t actively harm the experience, but it’s a distraction you’re much better off ignoring completely.

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review-cloudpunk-pcCloudpunk is a game with a single core strength so powerful it alone is enough to make it an easy game to advise. Thanks to the rare beauty and rich environment of its voxel-driven cityscape, Cloudpunk is a constant joy to explore. Whether gliding through the neon-plastered clouds or darting across vertiginous walkways dangling a hundred storeys in the air, the desire to keep pushing forward because the next view might be even better. And it usually is. It's not a straightforward case of style over substance, because in Rania and much of the narrative there's no lack of substance, but it can feel that way when the style is so disproportionately stellar.

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