There's something so appealing about cyberpunk cities. Maybe it's the super futuristic, yet familiar look of all the neon skyscrapers. Perhaps we have a macabre interest in the destitute as the corporations rising above the filth of the poor continue to abuse those less fortunate. Maybe it's the people that inhabit these cities, making you wonder what made them live in such a way. Whatever the case, that appeal is on full display in Cloudpunk. This cyberpunk, narrative-focused adventure takes place within the sprawling city of Nivalis - a city so tall, only the elite class can see the sky above. While this city is an excellent rendition of a cyberpunk environment in video games, just about everything else falls far short of expectations.
Developed by ION LANDS, Cloudpunk puts players in the role of Rania, a Nivalis newcomer. She works for the eponymous Cloudpunk, described as a semi-legal and certainly ethically dubious delivery service. Your job is to deliver packages, navigate Nivalis in your hovering vehicle called a HOVA, and listen to the narrative unfold.
The City and Atmosphere of Cloudpunk
Cloudpunk has one good thing going for it, and that's its visual design. Cloudpunk uses a voxel art style, making everything blocky in appearance. Buildings are built block by block, while the car you drive and all the other inhabitants of Nivalis have a similar cubic shape. Many associate this technique with Minecraft, and it can be hard to set yourself apart. Nevertheless, ION LANDS has crafted a marvel to behold.
Nivalis is definitely one of the finest cities I've ever seen in a video game. Although the occasional loading screen brakes up your travels, Nivalis is exceptionally large and the scale always feels present. Buildings are covered head-to-toe with neon signs advertising services and adding character to the concrete.
Speaking of character, I mentioned the different sections of the city. Each area feels individualized, which is important for navigation. Without these unique touches, it'd be easy to get lost as you wind your way around the entirety of the city several times over. My favorite is a Chinatown-like area with futuristic pagoda buildings. Of course, you have your fair share of destitute slums, which are appropriately more drab than the commerce-heavy, brightly lit corporate areas.
You have the ability to explore every nook and cranny of Nivalis, both on foot and in your HOVA. You'll spend most of your time in your HOVA, a simple hovercar with a snazzy name. While you can fly anywhere you want, the fastest way to get around is on the floating roads. These are brightly lit byways that streamline and organize traffic much in the same way that they do on the ground.
Driving along roads increases your speed as you progress throughout the city, but you'll have to contend with other drivers in traffic. Traveling this way feels like a scene from Coruscant, a vibrant floating highway congested with tons of flying cars. ION LANDS did an excellent job creating a buzzing city of immense proportion. On-foot sections are also pretty, giving you the ability to explore the buildings up close and personal as well as interact with some of Nivalis' many citizens.
Poor Driving and Walking in Cloudpunk
Unfortunately, Cloudpunk's fully realized urban jungle can only take things so far. Yes, driving can be entertaining if you enjoy watching the city. However, after a few minutes, you've experienced just about everything Cloudpunk has to offer. The driving mechanics are as barebones as humanly possible. There's the ability to accelerate, slow down, turn, and hover up and down. There's also a boost that doesn't break up the monotony of driving. There are no traffic laws to adhere to or police to avoid - despite being a "semi-legal" delivery service - and barely any consequence to dinging up your vehicle at all, other than having to repair it from time to time. The stakes couldn't be any lower.
While driving takes up a sizable sum of Cloudpunk, you occasionally have to go out walking in order to move packages and talk with various NPCs. There are what seem to be a dozen on-foot areas, some of which can be quite large. These are worse than the driving sections. First and foremost, the city planners seemed to have created very few parking lots, and you can only get out on foot by first parking. Parking lots feel awkwardly placed far away from your actual objective. The developers seemingly want you to stop and smell the roses, but they aren't worth the effort.
Traversing on-foot is incredibly inconvenient. There's no way to run faster, despite the time-sensitive nature of your job. Cloudpunk’s most egregious design choice involves sections where maze-like level design leads to camera angles reminiscent of the PS1’s greatest hits. Cloudpunk, however, doesn't allow players to move the camera at all. You'll be turning a corner, and the camera will awkwardly adjust itself, requiring you to quickly change the position you're walking in order to accommodate for the new camera angle.You will have to contend with this for the entire game, so get used to it.
Cloudpunk's Cyberpunk Story
The gameplay isn't that fun, so why should you stick around? Cloudpunk is story-based, and you listen to dialogue for the full eight-hour campaign. Dialogue between your player character Rania and various other characters you meet, including your automaton dog companion Camus, is a constant factor. All of the dialogue is fully-voiced as well, so one would hope that the voice acting is worth its salt. That, unfortunately, is another major area where Cloudpunk falls flat.
The voice acting is mediocre at best. There are dozens of voice actors according to the credits, but only a handful are any good. Rania - the character you'll hear the most - has zero emotional range. When Rania should sound happy, upset, or surprised, the acting remains static and one-dimensional. It's unfortunate because Rania had the potential to be an interesting character were it not for the incredibly poor voice performance. The only standout performance was Control, the individual that directs Rania to pick up and deliver packages. He's got this gruff, seasoned voice that is actually great to listen to. Thankfully, he's a very present character throughout the story, although that's about the only performance worth mentioning.
Otherwise, the story is OK. I appreciate some effort in worldbuilding. It definitely feels cyberpunk: corporations push workers to literally work all night, automatons falling apart or taking jobs humans don't want, AI going awry and all that. It's tropey but it works. I believe that Cloudpunk takes a few hours too long to conclude its story thanks to a lot of filler content and an unfortunately abrupt finale.
Lastly, dialogue plays out much longer than the gameplay. In other words, you're tasked with delivering a package, and on the way to your destination a sequence of dialogue plays out. You will often find yourself waiting for several minutes before you can actually deliver said package because the conversations need to play out before you can continue. On some occasions, you'll sit in a spot for upwards of ten minutes waiting for all the talking to be over with and assigned your next objective, unless you choose to skip the dialogue.
Cloudpunk Review | Final Thoughts
Cloudpunk is full of wasted potential. The city of Nivalis is excellent, and I loved exploring it. Learning the stories of various NPCs found throughout the city is genuinely entertaining at times and brings Nivalis to live. This wonderful city deserves so much more than what we got in the final product.
The voice acting in Cloudpunk is awful, so the story isn't as good as it can be. Gameplay becomes incredibly boring as you'll just be driving from place to place with an unbearable simple driving system. Let us not forget the ground sequences, which are burdensome and strangely manipulate the camera angles for you. Unless you're looking for a cool city to explore for your cyberpunk fix and somewhat interesting story, you're better off waiting for an alternative.
TechRaptor reviewed Cloudpunk on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher. It will also be available on the Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and Nintendo Switch later this year.
- Beautiful Art Design
- Story Has Some Interesting Aspects
- Terrible Voice Acting
- Dull Driving Mechanics
- Tedious Walking Sections
- Overly Long Dialogue Sequences