In 1982 a certain film was released to mixed reviews and a low box office take. It told the story of a private detective going on the hunt for a bunch of rogue replicants in a near-future LA. Of course, I’m talking about the classic film, Bladerunner; a film which has now seen its visuals, storytelling, characters and synth soundtrack become a major influence for decades. Without Bladerunner, I don’t think we would be holding out for the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077. But more importantly, we probably wouldn’t have the new indie beauty of the game Cloudpunk, either. Are you ready to enter the dystopian future?
Cloudpunk is an adventure driving game set in the future of a fictional city called Nivalis. This city is the star of the show, borrowing heavily from the Bladerunner aesthetic by creating an original world full of neon and darkness. The story involves the main character – Rania – who is fresh from the countryside, coming into the city to work as a delivery driver for the illegal firm Cloudpunk. She is an ex-musician, and on her first night shift for the company she is given missions by an old man – her delivery controller. From there, it is off she goes into the night. Soon she finds herself taking on more troublesome assignments than she signed up for… and who is the mysterious online presence Cora everyone keeps mentioning? When she is summoned to an old console in an abandoned part of the city, she starts to get some answers.
The gameplay consists of you driving your HOVA, which is basically a flying car hovering above and in between the city landscapes. There are loads of different HOVAs around you, all running along a motorway system that is in place to follow; failing that you can just fly around anywhere you like. You get given a sat-nav destination for a job or mission, and it’s up to you how you get there, working through the city in the process. The HOVA needs fueling – which costs money – and that is where the highway gas stations come into play, along with the chance to visit additional garages and mechanics. Here you repair your vehicle from bangs and scrapes, as well as have the opportunity to purchase upgrades like speed boosts or cosmetic changes, amending the color of the vapor trails coming from your exhaust pipes, for instance.
The other part of the Cloudpunk experience consists of you parking your HOVA at your specified destination and then walking about on the street level. Here you can choose to view things either in the third or first person, exploring to your heart’s content. On the street, you can meet different characters, like street vendors, drug dealers, and strangers that might have requests for you. There are objectives focused around finding them items, seeking out people or the delivery of something. You also can pick up some food or drink if you like, even though they have no gaming value regarding health or hunger needs. Finding objects scattered around the world to sell or collect is another part of the deal. But the main purpose of these levels is to go and deliver your package to the location, or pick something up in return. You receive money for each job, and then use this cash to spend on your HOVA. Alternatively you can make your life a nicer one by sprucing up your apartment, by buying all manner of goods; furniture, a TV or even a bonsai tree.
Throughout the eight hours or so running time, Cloudpunk is a hugely enjoyable affair. But there’s a but, and if you’re not into the story, dialogue or just driving around a city going from point to point, then there is going to be not much for you in this game. It really does consist of driving from one location to a sat-nav point, on to another and listening in to a bunch of dialogue and narrative. There are major choices to make in the tale, choices that decide the course of the story, but that’s about it regarding dialogue choices. It’s all maybe a bit too drawn out, and towards the end I could have done with a change of pace. Thankfully, there’s a big draw to keep you interested. And that is found in the city itself.
Visually and the development team at ION Lands have designed a wonderful neon-noir city, complete with super special voxel graphics that I found deeply beautiful and iconic. It sort of comes across as if Minecraft made Bladerunner – and that is great in my book. The voxel effect is made up of pixel-based characters and world creation, but all with its own amazing lighting and architecture. The city is astounding and the more I drove around it, the more it drew me in; every bit is highly imaginative with not a cut and paste job in sight. Futuristic adverts, diners with pixelated couples sitting in them, abandoned theatres, and a tower that goes above the polluted world and into the stars are just some of the many highlights of this amazing world.
The soundtrack has also clearly been heavily influenced by the Vangelis original soundtrack from Bladerunner, but it still weaves its own path and does this wonderfully throughout. The story is fully voice acted and these performers do the excellent writing justice, with a whole range of funny, nuanced, and exciting roles. It gives the game emotional depth at times, with a couple of particular favorite voices of mine being that of an android PI who speaks in the third person, and the dog/AI called Camus – as adorable as he is hilarious.
Cloudpunk on Xbox One is something I have loved spending time with, mostly thanks to the beautifully designed future city. It’s a big old journey for an indie game, however if you’re not particularly a fan of narrative and story, needing more action in your games, then I don’t think this is going to be for you. Even if you are happy to take in a ton of lore, there are still times when it needs some pace injections, and I could have done with more to involve myself after the main focus finishes. But if you want to get lost in a cyber world then you can’t go wrong by delivering some packages with Cloudpunk.