Cloudpunk Review – A Night in Nivalis
Cloudpunk is a game centered around traversal, an idea that hasn’t always worked out. Some people find the idea of just going from place to place, and the gameplay being that for the next several hours, boring. But when it works, it can turn out great. Games like Death Stranding managed to maintain an interest in the player, while only asking of them to take this package to the destination, through a mix of complex mechanics and beautiful visuals. So, when trying out Cloudpunk, I wondered how they would manage to win me over?
Cloudpunk is an atmospheric adventure simulation game developed and published by ION LANDS and co-published by Maple Whispering Limited. Cloudpunk sets out to take the concept of cyberpunk and mold it into an engaging gameplay loop with an intriguing story.
The Graveyard Shift
Cloudpunk takes place thousands of years in the future, where the ice caps have melted and major portions of the world are submerged beneath the ocean. While some land still exists, humanity is forced to build cities upon the water. In the city of Nivalis, a newcomer named Rania is hired by the not-so-legal delivery service Cloudpunk to be their newest delivery driver. On her first night, things don’t exactly go as expected in the city that shines neon.
The story itself is pretty good and well written, though some of the voice cast can be pretty hit or miss with delivery. It has many of the themes associated with cyberpunk: androids finding themselves, corporations taking control, civil unrest; and they all fit in well. None of it feels too forced just because it’s a cyberpunk story. The world building is well done, and only sometimes does it feel a bit expository, even if your character is a fish out of water.
My only problem with it is that, in between major plot points, it can feel a bit aimless and stretched to make the game longer, including segments where you’re doing nothing but talking to someone with no real objective to go towards. One time there was actually a moment where you are forced to listen to people talk while trapped in a tiny area.
There are decisions you can make throughout Cloudpunk, like who to deliver a person’s final belongings to. What they affect don’t seem to be major, but rather minor, like previous choices causing future conversations or maybe a little hiccup in the road.
While the story is good, it pales in comparison to the city it takes place in.
A City Where The Sun Doesn’t Shine
The first thing you notice as you start up Cloudpunk is the visuals. While the game is made up in a completely 3D pixel art style, that doesn’t stop the game from looking absolutely gorgeous, in part due to the lighting. Holographic displays and neon lights paint a beautiful picture no matter what angle you look at, and they give plenty of angles. There is always something to look at in every district, whether it be the creative graffiti or the magnificent neon displays.
Yet, beneath it all, lies a layer of rot. In a city controlled by corporations that live above the clouds, you can tell they don’t care what goes on beneath them. As you explore the city, whether it be in your vehicle or on foot, you’ll find problems hiding beneath the surface. In the background, buildings will tip over and fall apart, holographic screens will start to malfunction. The city is telling a story by crumbling under its own infrastructure.
A Night on the Town
The people that live in this city also have a story to tell. Cloudpunk boasts a wide variety of interesting characters to come across, from the dime-novel detective android Huxley to the illegal street racer Never-Slow-Joe, there is a bounty of interesting personalities to meet across the world of Cloudpunk, even if you only know some for a matter of minutes.
The map in Cloudpunk is vast and strangely confusing at times. It’s a large city broken up into segments, each segment having about four to five districts per, and each district correlating to a few places that you can get out of your vehicle and walk around.
New Package to Pick Up
The gameplay is split up into vehicle and on-foot. While in your vehicle, also known as a HOVA, you traverse the city, finding the best routes to get to and fro destinations, all the while trying to maneuver through the hectic traffic in the highways, which make you go faster as long as you’re in the designated area.
The HOVA is something you should take care of. It needs gas and repairs just like any other vehicle. It controls well and feels smooth, my one problem is that when it ascends, it will lower itself a bit instead of staying at the height I want it to. Other than that, it will improve, as throughout the campaign you’ll get access to more parts, like cosmetics and upgrades such as speed boost and bumpers, which can be put on at auto-shops. I do wish there were more customization options for your HOVA though, like paint jobs and such, because I haven’t come across anything like that.
Throughout the map are several places you can park and continue on foot. In these segments, you can explore, shop, talk to people, learn stories, get side missions, and find items to pick up. These items mostly get sold off, but if you hang on to a few, you can use them on specific objects to get access to other parts of the area, or make navigation easier, if only a little.
Lost in Nivalis
Though, as I said, it’s strangely confusing. Navigation can boil down to finding actual openings in the messy city areas and looking for the correct elevator, since in multiple cases I would accidentally take the elevator that takes me from the first floor to the third floor, not the one that takes me from the first floor to the second floor, which is an entirely separate elevator. Not to mention that some openings shown on the map aren’t actually there.
What makes matters worse is the fact that camera transitions between angles can be jarring. Not very frequently have I encountered many smooth transitions, and more often than I wanted (read: more than zero) have I encountered truly neck-breaking camera transitions that discombobulate my very being.
What brings me back in, however, is the sound design. This is an amazing sounding game, as it should be. The rushing trains, pounding rain, cop HOVAs flying overhead or the intercom announcing that jazz is punishable by death without proper licensing; it all does a magnificent job immersing you in this world.
And, of course, what is good sound design without a stellar score? Cloudpunk has the usual cyberpunk synth soundtrack, but made to perfectly fit the nightlife of the city, as well as the job Rania is taking on. Sometimes it’s a smooth track that follows you through walks on the town, and other times it’s a rhythmic beat in tune with the rush of traffic.
Over the course of my nine hour playthrough, I felt like I was playing a quality video game. The problems only become apparent in situations where the story feels like it drags on too long, but otherwise, it’s quite the enjoyable experience.
If atmospheric, story driven cyberpunk adventures interest you, I believe Cloudpunk would be a perfect fit in your catalog.
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Reviewed by Freelance7 on PC. Game provided by ION LANDS.