Cloudpunk was a breath of fresh air when it came out last year, its pixel visuals and genuinely intriguing characters shining through the murky sights of the city. Even if the gameplay got boring, its writing provided a nice accompaniment to the late-night radio of crime and mystery the game serves you. Cloudpunk City of Ghosts is more of the same and that comes with all the same qualities. If you loved the game, this is a must-play. If you weren't convinced the first time, this probably isn't for you.
City of Ghosts places you into its story almost instantly, through the eyes of Hayse, a dangerous, unsure antihero. As you go to get into your car, you are stopped by Morpho, a robot cadet who wants to arrest him in the morning as his training finishes. Fitting with his character, Hayse takes the robot drinking and gets caught up in the night. This is where you meet Rania, a returning character and our second playable character. City of Ghosts is the story of these two characters and a whole host of others as they make their way through the city. Both driven by their need to make deliveries, the story is told through small interactions you have from place to place.
Its visuals almost work like a collage. When zoomed in, you see the pixels, the low-resolution textures, but when you zoom out you get something greater. You get a dark, cyber city, you get smoke, buildings, a flawed and filled world. It plays with its own limitations to make a genuinely lovely-looking game. The way this minimalism plays against the bustling city around you works to great effect. To see cars on the horizon, only to zoom in and see pixels — emphasizing how genuinely tiny you are in the cyberpunk world around you. There’s this great atmosphere to driving through the clouds that feels so wholly unique. It can be rather nice to lose track of time and just fade out as the music sways and characters chat.
Not every part of the game works this well, unfortunately. When it connects, the experience is a rhythmic enchanting romp through a bustling futuristic city, when it doesn’t you’re left bored and wishing for that feeling you had just twenty minutes prior. Occasionally, quests can fill a little too similar, contrasting sharply against some of the best moments. It helps that the writing is weird and interesting, feeling somewhere between old GTA and a modern RPG. Listening to characters converse and stories reveal themselves is worth the wait, even when City of Ghosts has a down moment.
The gameplay is pretty much what you’d expect from playing the base game. You hop out of your car, pick up a new package, get back in and deliver it to the new location. There’s nothing new or extraordinary about this but the monotony of it all adds to the central narrative in interesting ways. It flips stories on its head, having some edgy-sounding missions go totally smoothly and some easy-sounding missions sending you hurtling into the wrong territory. It starts simple and builds from there. There are plenty of little distractions with collectible items and unique side quests. These allow some of the best assets of City of Ghosts to shine — the visuals and the writing. Where the gameplay can get boring and the sights can become a bit stale, the writing is pretty consistently interesting, sending you down strange paths.
You don’t always want to follow those paths. With systems to monitor your vehicle's fuel and integrity, you don’t always want to risk a particularly dark part of town. It’s not a combat-driven game, your biggest enemy to your vehicles is yourself — and the game’s, admittedly, mediocre controls. City of Ghosts is an encapsulation of so many great ideas, layered on top of a shaky foundation. If that doesn’t crumble while you play, you will likely have a fantastic time but it isn’t consistent enough to avoid it. Sometimes, that crumbling foundation can hold a little of the creator behind it but other times, you’re just left with dust.
Cloudpunk City of Ghosts | Verdict
Playing the original Cloudpunk is like that moment when something good comes on in the car as you finish the trip. You pause, fade out and just envelop yourself in everything around you — it just gives you a little time to do nothing for a while, pointedly. That moment is meaningful in how meaningless it actually is, an excuse to do something different. When that song turns off, you catch yourself, kind of glad it was just one song, and move on. Cloudpunk City of Ghosts is that moment at the end. You enjoyed the experience but you don’t really know if you want much more. It’s time to move on but you’re glad you stuck around to see it through.
TechRaptor reviewed Cloudpunk City of Ghosts on PC using a copy provided by the publisher.
- Great Visuals
- Genuinely Charming Writing
- Nice Atmosphere
- Gameplay is Mediocre
- Inconsistent Fun