Cloudpunk Review: Cyberpunk Genre Gets Lyfted

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Cyberpunk is a genre and setting you would expect to be far more prevalent in video games than it is. Cities consisting of needlessly massive super structures reaching into the sky, the potential complexity and variation of NPCs one could interact with, all the elevators to hide load times strewn everywhere: it just makes so much sense.

This fall is an exciting time for fans of the genre as three cyberpunk games are being released. With Ghost Runner having recently been  released on consoles and Cyberpunk 2077 coming out in December, there’s plenty in which to indulge. Part of this trifecta of gloomy hyper-techno future is Cloudpunk: an ambitious freshman outing for indie studio Ion Lands out of Germany. This review will focus on the console edition since the PC version came out back in April. Can it stand up next to the two cousins it has in the genre as well as on its own merits? Let’s talk about it in our Cloudpunk review.

Point A to Point B and the Sky in Between

Let’s start with the game’s feature that provides the most striking initial impression: The visuals. This game uses voxel art (if you’re unfamiliar, think three-dimensional pixel art made of small cubes rather than other shapes of polygons). It has a real sense of place and age. It isn’t perfect of course, there are a couple of areas where you can clearly watch far off buildings slowly grow into existence as you fly closer, but in the moment to moment it’s truly impressive. I found myself wondering what all the little voxel stick-figures behind the lights in the windows were doing, whether they were working late or if they just ran out to keep their HOVA (this games version of hover cars) from getting towed and forgot to catch the lights on the way out. It’s the same feeling I’ve had seeing downtown Denver lit up after dark. The setting and atmosphere here are strong enough that I wanted to care about the inhabitants based on the strength of the world alone.

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The game is essentially a delivery sim, you fly your HOVA to a spot on the map, land it at a parking spot, and walk around platforms of various sizes and complexity until you find what you’re looking for. Typically an NPC, and engage them in a short conversation. During conversation the voxel person you’re speaking with appears in a highly detailed, mildly surrealistic portrait on the bottom of the screen with the spoken dialogue subtitled next to it. Then you disengage with them and are almost immediately contacted by either your HOVA’s on board AI named Camus, a software designed to act like a beloved dog, or one of another2-3 quest givers you meet along the way.

Conversation and character dialogue are nearly constant if you’re actively pursuing the main story objectives. In fact I would go so far as to say that this entire game plays out like the Rockstar Games style walk-and-talk sections. There aren’t any cinematics, but it is still clear that story was the main focus of development. The story is good, if not somewhat predictable at times, and I found myself caring about the constantly talking pictures that were floating on the bottom of the screen. The story is the second best part of the game so I don’t want to spoil anything. I will say that while it deals with common Cyberpunk themes: the value of the individual, the evil of uncaring corporate feudalism, transhumanism, the way our luck and money changes how we see the world, etc. It tackles all of these themes well and it never struck me as condescending. The voice acting is solid with only a couple odd portrait/vocal matchings. This goes for the story characters as well as the side characters. Plenty of those one off conversations or side mission stories are pretty enjoyable too.

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On foot sections can be played from this distant third person view as well as a behind the back 3rd person, and 1st person perspectives. You’re going to want to stick to this more distant view in most circumstances though. You can breathe in the scenery easier, and the camera controls are better.

Not All Clouds Have Rainbows

It’s a shame then that with all the solid background elements and features in the game, that the gameplay itself is lacking. As mentioned before, the whole game feels like a walk-and-talk. You fly to an objective listening to the dialogue, land, walk around picking up collectibles, most of which didn’t appear to do much other than fill up an inventory that I never had to open. I did a couple of times on accident and found that I had a smorgasbord of random things that never ended up having a purpose in my 13 hours of play time. In fact, between the dark color pallet and Synth-ambient music, I found myself struggling to stay awake while playing on a number of occasions once Raina’s com went quiet. 

The HOVA itself flies slow enough that it is maneuverable but doesn’t ever get a particular sense of speed when driving it around. The walking sections are common but not the focus. For the most part you’re just slowly flying a hover car listening to people talk. On occasion, I found myself wondering why this wasn’t just made a voiced motion comic, or even a Podcast. But then I’d see the clouds billowing overhead and laugh at another one of Camus’ jokes and I’d keep going.

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It took an act of will to keep me from just making this review a gallery of screenshots.

Suffice after saying all that, to say that if you were expecting Need for Speed: Bladerunner or Crazy Taxi 9000, this isn’t it(if anyone knows someone at Capcom to try and make that happen please let me know). If you care about story and atmosphere more than anything, then this is likely worth your time. If the gameplay and interactive portion is your primary concern, it’s harder to recommend.

End of Shift

Cloudpunk is a game I’m glad exists. It’s a game I hope people see. It is definitely not for everyone, possibly even most people. But it leaves me very much hoping that Ion Lands gets to keep making games and gets to do so with a bigger budget as I suspect most of the issues I had with Cloudpunk would have been at least a little alleviated with a bigger budget. It is encouraging to see that the developers are still adding features and I’ll be following their work in the future.

SCORE: 6.5/10

PROS:

  • Excellent art direction and world building
  • Solid story and voice acting

CONS:

  • Slow repetitive gameplay
  • Unused or shallow mechanics
  • Maybe should have been a motion comic if not for the positives

Cloudpunk review code provided by the publisher. Game tested on the Xbox One. You can read SP1st and MP1st’s review and scoring policy right here.

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