Remember that scene in The Matrix Reloaded where Agent Smith jumps from car to car on a highway while other vehicles swerved out of control and exploded behind him. Not only was that the only good part of The Matrix Reloaded, but it also happens to translate into a novel idea - what if you had a game all about jumping across a horde of out of control vehicles? This is the concept that gets TinyBuild and Landfall Games' Clustertruck's motor revving, and for the most part, the execution is just as wonderfully goofy as you'd expect.
There is no story to speak of in Clustertruck, only the mutual understanding between the game and the player that you have to get to the level's end at any cost. You repeat this a hundred times, with every ten levels signaling a new world - and a new host of challenges and unique obstacles along with it. These worlds are varied enough both mechanically and aesthetically to always keep the game fresh, even if you're just jumping on the same, flatly-textured trucks for the entirety of the game.
As to be expected from a platformer, your main way of traversing the landscape is jumping from the back of one truck to the other, but skilled players can get way more adventurous if the scenario calls for it. A personal favorite tactic of mine was to hold down jump after hitting the backside of a truck, using it as a stepping stone to propel my invisible avatar into the air. While it certainly is cool - and perhaps the most useful tactic in the game - it did reveal just how much the placement of some sort of shadow would improve the game, because there's nothing worse than hitting the instakill floor because you were couldn't tell that you were a few inches off base.
Thankfully, risky play pays off in the form of points, which you can redeem for special abilities that are assigned to the left and right mouse buttons. These range from reasonable (The ability to slow down time, double jumps) to hilariously broken (SUPERHOT-esque trucks only move when you move, teleportation), but all of them work to make Clustertruck even sillier and more chaotic than it already was.
Even with solid mechanics in place, Clustertruck's unique 'floor is lava' approach has a few notable downsides, mostly dealing with the game's strange choice of what constitutes a game over. While hitting the ground will always end your run, only certain obstacles will disqualify you, and there doesn't seem to be much rhyme or reason as to why hitting some result in a loss and others don't. Why does a swinging hammer just knock you around, while flying rocks disqualify you? Why can you crash into certain walls and structures, but not others? This could easily be fixed with the addition of a visual cue such as color coding or highlights, but as it stands, the game's internal logic just makes no sense.
What makes even less sense is the fact that while the game is certainly chaotic, a good chunk of levels seem to be designed with boring, slow play in mind. Special mention goes to any level which features a tunnel, where attempting to get some sort of crazy jump going will result in you colliding with the ceiling and having a game over. While restraint is usually best, the fact of the matter is that when Clustertruck tries to take it slow, you can practically see the charm just melt right off to reveal a frustrating interior.
Still, when Clustertruck works, it really works. As mentioned above, Clustertruck is at its best when at its most chaotic, throwing as many obstacles as possible into a swarm of trucks and watching them swerve around the stage, launching yourself from mid-air truck to mid-air truck and observing the carnage below. I'm not ashamed to admit that when Clustertruck really cut loose and showed just how crazy it could be, I was having the time of my life. You don't know true joy until you have flung yourself off the side of a truck being flung into the air by a missile, and then use the momentum to soar across a stretch of highway before bounding off another vehicle spinning out of control.
Clustertruck is certainly a flawed game, there's no getting around it. The obstacles are seemingly random, the physics can be a bit wonky, and the level design isn't always the best. In spite of all those flaws, Clustertruck found a way to consistently bring me pure joy, and in a game like this, that's all I could ask for.
Clustertruck was reviewed on the PC via Steam with a key provided by the publisher. It is also available DRM-Free from GOG (Affiliate)
While Clustertruck may hit some speed bumps here and there, there's nothing quite like it when it cuts loose.(Review Policy)
- The Crazier it Gets, the More Fun it Becomes
- Constantly Has Varied Challenges
- Doesn't Have Any Unnecessary Fluff
- Occasionally Hard to Position Yourself
- Some Levels Seem Designed for a Slower Game
- Suffers from Spotty Internal Logic