Two rules: Don't miss a delivery, and don't ask what's in the package.
Cloudpunk first appeared on my radar a while back when I stumbled across the ION LANDS account on Twitter. I’m a big fan of cyberpunk, and Cloudpunk’s voxel powered aesthetics immediately appealed to me.
The game puts you in the rain-drenched cyberpunk metropolis Nivalis. You play as Rania, who has her first night as a Cloudpunk employee. The illicit delivery company operates on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” level, and only have two rules: Don’t miss a delivery, and don’t ask what’s in the package.
Rania’s assignments take her all across Nivalis, from the gutters to the poshest districts. On the surface, Nivalis looks like a great place to live. The city is buzzing with life, and everything seems to be in order. But as Rania, a newcomer from the rural farm areas surrounding Nivalis, gets to know the people living in the city, it gradually becomes clearer that it’s not the bright, neon-lit cyberpunk metropolis utopia it first appears to be.
No, it’s a lot darker than that. Nivalis is falling apart, its residents struggling to survive. And Rania plays a involuntarily role in a city that is devouring itself.
Welcome to Nivalis
The Cloudpunk aesthetics is wonderfully cyberpunk, but not the dark Blade Runner cyberpunk we all know and love. It’s much brighter than that. Depending on your dystopia level preference, this isn’t necessarily a bad ting, but I tend to lean towards a more dystopian end of the spectrum than Cloudpunk portraits. But in Cloudpunk’s case, the bright, neon-induced setting actually works very well. There are so many bright neon lights it’s hard to spot how bad things really are before you start to look behind them, and talk to the people of Nivalis.
Nivalis is really a perfect illustration of a very possible dystopian cyberpunk future: Bright and shiny on the surface, but desperately dark below it.
Cloudpunk makes getting a proper look at Nivalis harder than it should be. When you’re cruising around in your hover craft, the HOVA, you can unlock the camera. This gives you a way to take a look around, but you’re limited to the immediate area around the HOVA. A recent patch also gave player’s the option to turn off the game’s user interface, which provides the opportunity to take some really great screenshots.
When Rania is outside of the HOVA in third-person mode, however, the camera movement can be a bit confusing. It will follow Rania around from a very long distance, making her just a few voxels in size at the worst. The viewpoint will also often change in a way that will make Rania run in a completely different direction than you intended. Unfortunately, there is no way to unlock the camera in third-person mode, so you can’t take a look around. An over-the-shoulder view probably would have been a better choice, but I’m sure there are good reasons why developer ION LANDS decided to go for the confusing camera choice instead.
What Cloudpunk really needs is a free-roam camera, where we can just roam around and enjoy the rain-drenched Nivalis.
Cloudpunk touts itself as a “story-based exploration game”, which is a rather apt description. Your exploration of Nivalis will tell a story, but it’s a story you have very little control of. There are no dialogue options, and the few choices you can make in the game doesn’t really seem to make a difference in the long run.
All the dialogue in Cloudpunk is voice acted. This is more than you’d except from an indie game, and most of the voice acting is top notch. The main character Rania’s voice acting does not impressed anyone, though. It’s flat, unmotivated, and it feels like whoever did the voice acting was unbelievably bored through the whole process. I’m not sure if this was intentional from ION LANDS’ side, or if this is just a case of an unfortunate choice of voice actor. Either way, it does not play in Cloudpunk’s favor.
The story itself also has some minor issues. At one point I met an android, who was looking for some punch cards that had been scattered across the city. Through my obsession with picking up every single collectible item in the game, I’d already found most of them. Unfortunately for the poor android, I’d also sold every single one. But the game didn’t really care about that, and happily listed the punch cards I’d sold as found.
More than once, I’ve also experienced that the dialogue I was engaged in referenced locations I wasn’t in at the time, which gives Cloudpunk a minor continuity problem.
ION LANDS have been very good at patching the game after its initial release, however. It might be that the story issues I experienced have been solved when you’re reading this.
I you, like me, gravitate towards a noir story that is wrapped in sci-fi, cyberpunk, neon lights, and sprinkled with a great soundtrack and wonderful sound design, Cloudpunk is for you. The game has some issues, like the voice acting and camera movement, but it’s nothing that will ruin the experience.
Cloudpunk has everything it needs to become an indie game success, and the Steam hive mind is a great deal more sympathetic towards Cloudpunk than I am. As of right now, the game is enjoying a “Very Positive” review rating on steam, with 86% positive reviews. So if you dig neon-cyberpunk, and don’t mind the somewhat fidgety controls, sub-par voice acting, confusing camera movements, and a story with some issues, why don’t you go ahead and give Cloudpunk a try?
This review is based on about 4 hours of gameplay. Cloudpunk offers full gamepad support, and I played with a wireless Xbox 360 controller.