**DISCLAIMER: Review code provided by ION LANDS**
There are a lot of games coming out, especially as we enter the next generation, but the ones that always seem overlooked are those that take the peaceful approach to an otherworldly experience. That’s where ION LANDS’ Cloudpunk comes into play. This new voxel-like adventure game is beautiful and simply a nice peaceful time. Akin to a walking simulator, Cloudpunk puts you behind the wheel of a flying car, set in the future and lets you explore a hyper futuristic city as a delivery driver. There’s no action, just driving and walking around Nivalis interacting with its colorful cast of characters. While there’s nothing too crazy in this game, it’s still nice to take a breather and relax, and I suggest you try Cloudpunk when you’re in the mood for that type of game. Let’s delve in to why.
Throughout the 7-8 hour experience, you play as Rania, a new girl from the eastern countryside forced to move to the big city. Along with her trusty dog automata (basically an AI) companion Camus, Rania is hired at Cloudpunk. Nivalis is a vast city, and Cloudpunk is used as an underground delivery company. Whatever you need delivered, Cloudpunk will deliver it no questions asked. Thankfully, Rania doesn’t care about the job and is only doing it to make some money so she can get some semblance of her life back again. What’s surprising about the main story of Cloudpunk is that it only covers Rania’s first shift as a delivery driver. The entire game technically takes place over about a day, and that’s when the game hurts itself in the grand scheme of things. The story feels oddly paced. It’s a weird mix of a growing relationship between Rania, Camus, and her dispatcher who goes by Control, as well as getting to know the citizens of Nivalis. When the game reminds you of the timeline, it feels extremely rushed and unbelievable.
Rania meets a wide range of characters during her first shift, from an ultra rich couple trying to move, to a Private Investigator who sounds like he’s a Noir Detective that can only speak in the third person. While the amount of different characters is impressive, they tend to get stale quickly. You deliver and drive around the same people at least 2-3 times, and have further calls with them that just cement their lack of change as you experience Rania’s growth. It’s hard to pinpoint why these characters feel stale. It could be, as mentioned before, the lack of growth by these people you interact with, or it could be tied to the gameplay that while is relaxing to play, tends to get mundane after longer sessions. It isn’t until an interesting conspiracy starts to come into play that the game's story and primary cast of characters begin to ramp up. While dealing with mundane citizens tend to get dull quickly, it’s the flourishing relationship Rania has with Control, Camus, and another character that I don’t want to spoil, that helps breath fresh life into the game.
The gameplay can be broken down to two parts. The first, and primary part, is the driving. You drive around a HOVA, which is basically a flying car. This is your only mode of transportation around the greater Nivalis. The controls feel sticky, but that is explained away in the story. You have an old HOVA that isn’t powerful. While it is explained via story elements, a lot of other controls just aren’t. I spent a good 5 minutes driving around my first objective until I realized I had to park. Cloudpunk doesn’t really hold your hand, but it also isn’t the most friendly to the player. There are ways to upgrade the HOVA so it can go faster, have a boost, and control better, but those upgrades don’t show up for a while. Also, while the game looks stunning with its unique art style, it feels very same-y. You are flying around a lot of areas that just look very similar except for a change in billboards. The only way to tell them apart is by looking at the map and seeing the layout differences. This wouldn’t be an issue if the game didn’t have you go through several loading screens to get to an objective. On the One X, each loading screen takes about 15-20 seconds which does add up when you’re just driving through several areas to get to your objective.
However, the game isn’t only driving a flying car around the city. Whenever you get to an area, you park your car and then take control of Rania and walk around that small patch of city. The areas you get to explore on foot range from being a small patch of land to a larger downtown area that requires lifts to reach certain parts. It’s a little weird at first because the screen starts out in a far away third person view with Rania in the middle. Thankfully, you can change the view and I cannot recommend it enough. Playing first person here is honestly the way to go. Being able to take a closer look at the streets, find collectibles, and chat face to face with different NPCs makes this portion of the game feel more personal and engaging. There’s also a tiny bit of puzzle solving elements here, what with trying to find certain collectibles and brainstorm difficult decisions. The map tends to get a little confusing and you may find yourself getting lost when trying to find the right lift and Rania isn’t the fastest person on foot. That’s OK, as this game is about you taking your time until it isn’t.
There are several points in the game where you have to either make a tough decision, like depositing a suspect package in a receptacle or you can dispose of it. If you chose the latter like I did, then an explosion occurs and Rania begins to question what she actually did and if working for Cloudpunk is worth it. These happen occasionally but tend to not have too much payoff. Occasionally there is some follow-up with an affected NPC but that tends to go nowhere beyond that. All your choices change is one interaction with a specific character instead of actually changing the path of the game. Other times in the game, you’re given a time limit to complete a task. There is little warning and if you happen to put the controller down before the timer starts, you will probably mess up. The timer is unrelenting and there is no do-over. If you mess up, you have to start the whole game over again. These issues tend to not affect the overall story. There is a clear path that the story takes and any choice rarely cause deviations from it.
Cloudpunk is a nice break from the high octane action of other games that are currently out. The issues like meaningless choices with little payoff, clunky controls, and not great voice acting do add up and take a toll on the overall experience. However Cloudpunk does have heart and will make you care for some of the characters. Some of the stories told about the growing relationships between Rania and Camus or Rania and Control did make me feel and hope for a good outcome between them. At the end of the day, I can only recommend this game to you if you are specifically in the mood for a chill story driven game that will help burn a couple hours or if you need to wind down from a busy day with something that won’t get your heart racing.