The recent delay of Cyberpunk 2077 is almost a blessing for Cloudpunk. While each game is very different, they both present players with a fantastic cyberpunk setting to explore at their leisure.
Cloudpunk may not have the astounding graphics and RPG elements of its bigger brother, but it lacks in technicality it more than makes up for in personality and world-building. If you’re even remotely interested in cyberpunk themes, you don’t want to give this game a miss.
Developer: Ion Lands
Publisher: Merge Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Release Date: April 28, 2020 (Windows PC), October 15, 2020 (Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One)
Cloudpunk‘s trailers and opening may deceive you into thinking that it’s a futuristic delivery driver simulator. I went in thinking that I’d be delivering packages to various locations throughout the world, never leaving my vehicle.
I also assumed that I’d be restricted to the beautifully lit but very restrictive, fast-paced highways for HOVA, the game’s version of hover-cars. I am so pleased to say that I was extremely wrong, and this game blew me away within the prologue.
You take on the role of Rania, a delivery driver on her first night-shift with Cloudpunk. The company is an illicit delivery service in the sprawling mega-city that covers most of the world, Nivalis.
Her job is to pick packages up from one client, deliver them to their intended recipient, and ask no questions about either them or what she’s delivering. People pay for Cloudpunk‘s discretion, and any nosy drivers seem to find their way to the grave pretty quickly.
The moment that destroyed my assumptions about the game was the first time you pick up a package. As Rania stepped onto the platform, I came to understand that every location in the game is fully-realized. There are dozens of tiny towns floating around Nivalis, each with their own characters, collectibles, and vendors to explore and chat with.
You can explore them in third-person, first-person, or from a viewpoint that makes each platform look like a diorama of a futuristic city district. It’s not until you step out of the HOVA that you see just how detailed the world is.
Every neon sign has been carefully crafted to be viewed from a certain angle on each platform. Every NPC has dialogue that builds the world around the player without specifically showing them anything.
For example, one radio advert told me to get my children vaccinated for all sorts of computer viruses as I walked across a bridge. Revealing to me that augments are so widespread that computer viruses are a true threat to everyone.
That is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this game. I can honestly say that I got way too stuck into exploring each platform. There are hundreds of lines of dialogue to listen to, none of which advance the core story but all of which are fascinating. I loved learning more about the world of Nivalis through the troubled lives of its inhabitants.
It really does feel like you’re living through an explorative experience of some alien world. The sad reality is, of course, that this is just life for these people.
I think that the characters alone are enough to make this game a must-play, but it’s the beautiful yet grimy city that has also been constructed that makes it so engrossing. Every building looks like a filing cabinet packed with people. Every poster is trying to sell you something. Around every corner is another way in which someone is trying to take advantage of someone else.
The game also does a fantastic job of subverting your expectations. While in most cyberpunk worlds you have gangs that are ready to kill whoever they need to in order to earn a little cash, Cloudpunk has gangs who are working to make the world a better place.
Corporations rule over Nivalis, and any sign of human decency is either monetized or criminalized. The first criminal I met was a gem of man, but in the world he occupies, he’s the worst of the worst.
Characters really are at the heart of Cloudpunk. The voice-acting is superb, which is part of why the world feels so real. From the android who believes that being a cleaner in a swanky hotel makes him a celebrity, to the obscenely rich couple who throw a family out of their home just to move into it, every encounter with this world’s occupants leaves its mark on you.
That brings to Rania, the protagonist. Throughout the story, you can make some moral choices as her, and you can even customize her HOVA and apartment, but that’s as deep as customization goes. However, I don’t see this as a bad thing.
Every character is rendered in a blocky, almost Minecraft art style. Everyone looks the same, which reflects just how savagely this world breaks down individuals. No one has an identity, they’re all just part of the corporate machine, and they wear it on their faces.
Overall Cloudpunk is an auditory treat. The ambient music that plays as you drive is a cyberpunk playlist straight from a dystopian future. You could close your eyes and believe that you’re watching Bladerunner. There were no moments when the sound was an issue, no vehicles moving without making a noise, and no story points that suddenly went silent. The game’s audio is extremely well put together.
This is also true of the gameplay. You can upgrade your HOVA over the course of the story, and it’s not until then that you realize just how precise the driving controls are.
You’re in a deliberately slow and hard to control vehicle to start with, but by the end of the game, you’re in a real delivery machine, faster than anyone else on the “road.” Walking around is just as easy and natural, though I would have preferred movement on foot to be slightly faster.
I have no complaints about Cloudpunk. It’s low-fi sci-fi visuals are a treat for the eyes. I drove around for a good hour, just exploring to see what I could find. I’m pleased to report that there are nooks and crannies worth looking for everywhere.
No corner of Nivalis is bare. This is a city that takes inspiration from every sci-fi game and series ever, combining all of their ideas to create something truly unique. This isn’t a big-budget game, but you could spend just as much time in it as you will in Cyberpunk 2077.
The one bug I noticed in the game was three police HOVA spawning in, and I’m not even sure it was a bug. I was looking in the opposite direction to which the game expects you to be, because I play games like an erratic 3-year-old.
I can’t see any reason that those HOVA would spawn unless the developer was confident that I wouldn’t see it. If anything, I think I broke the game because everything else was perfect up until that point.
If you’re even remotely into cyberpunk worlds, Cloudpunk is a game for you. It’s cheap, but the production value is through the roof. I would happily have paid double what this game retails for and still say it’s worth it. Don’t let the screenshots fool you. The world is massive, and the story is all-consuming.
There’s a beauty in this game that I can’t quite name. It’s that feeling that you get between seeing a beautiful painting and hearing a gorgeous piece of music. It’s sort of sad, hooking your heartstrings and tugging at them mercilessly; but it also reassures you that everything’s alright. This is a game to be experienced, and I recommend that everyone reading this review does so.
Cloudpunk was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a review code provided by Merge Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.