(CLOUDPUNK is out now for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows. Distributor provided review copy.)
Ever since I saw THE FIFTH ELEMENT, I’ve always wanted a flying car of my own. CLOUDPUNK, with its beautiful art design and vivid soundscape, comes close to bringing this dream alive. While somewhat let down by a ho-hum gameplay loop, it’s remarkable how far mood and style can carry.
Set in the city of Nivalis, the titular CLOUDPUNK delivery service operates on the wrong side of the law, which you join as a new recruit. As the endless rainy days stretch out ahead, you make deliveries to both the highest and lowest places in the city. All the while observing the lives of everyone stuck in the grind.
It’s easy to see what the selling point for CLOUDPUNK is going to be from the outset. This is a gorgeous, stylized experience, made complete by a superb soundtrack and audio design. Every bit of Nivalis oozes with character, even if the technical side sometimes struggles to keep up. The retro style, complete with blocky and stylized people, is endearing and oddly menacing. Nivalis is a wheezy heart of a future dystopia, complete with narrow roads like arteries. It feels like a living entity that one day stopped moving.
Soaring through the neon highways is a thrill, even after you realize that there’s very little to do in the game. The vast majority of the gameplay involves picking up packages and driving them to the next destination. Rare occasions require minor puzzle-solving, usually finding targets, but the emphasis is not on a “gaming” experience. Instead, CLOUDPUNK serves up a classic cyberpunk thriller storyline, one that is, at times, so beholden to the genre tropes that certain twists are visible coming a mile away.
But where it shines is in the small details: fixing your car on a stormy night with the last bit of credits you have left, braving the slums for an easy job, or finding comfort in a friend you haven’t seen in years. CLOUDPUNK captures the monotony of gig work and transplants it wholesale into a vision of the future that suddenly doesn’t feel farfetched. At its core, CLOUDPUNK captures the best parts of sci-fi in that it tells a story about us in the present with shinier trappings.
It’s also thanks to the endearing characters and mostly good acting that the story captivates. Andrea Petrille and Mike Berlak are particularly impressive as Rania and Control, respectively. Cory Herndon sounds an awful lot like Pathfinder from APEX LEGENDS, but the AI dog companion’s character is so heartwarming that I ended up not caring.
CLOUDPUNK is not a long game, which surprisingly makes the experience better. You’ll probably plow through it in a few nights if playing casually, and others will easily complete it in a single sitting. But length is hardly the point. CLOUDPUNK is almost a visual novel, something you go along for the ride, where the experience of soaking in the mood is as important as the narrative itself. While occasionally tripping up in the way it delivers the big picture, with everything else, CLOUDPUNK scores big.
Even with reservations, CLOUDPUNK is the kind of indie game that I can wholeheartedly recommend. It’s a work of singular vision doing precisely what it wants to do, even at the cost of driving away some audience portions. But for those who are willing to go along for the ride, pacing issues, and all, CLOUDPUNK delivers a moody, enchanting experience that lingers long after the credits roll.