One of the problems with Indie games is that you may never hear of them. Big publisher’s have the resources to conjure up hype months in advance. Three days ago I had never heard of Cloudpunk, a neo-noir story set in the metropolis of Nivalis. This was kind of the same with Firewatch and Zachtronics games such as Exapunks. Only a chance encounter introduced me to those games. In the case of Cloudpunk it was a 22-minute release day walkthrough video. After watching that I just had to have the game. It pushed all the right notes: cyberpunk, flying cars, film-noir story and more than a hint of the 2004 game Scrapland.
So far I have spent about 5 hour with the game. There is plenty that is good, but also some bad. In bad I don’t mean buggy or frustrating. Its just that this game might not be what some people are expecting. The 22-minute trailer you can view on YouTube is set at the beginning of the game and introduces us to the player character Raina. She is just new to Nivalis and decides to work for an illicit delivery company called Cloudpunk. Its a gig – just to deliver parcels from one destination of to another.
Sadly, what the trailer does not reveal but could be hinted at is that is pretty much the entire game. Just as with games such as G-police and Scrapland you have full control over your vehicle and you can fly to any destination you want. There is just no shooting, there is just driving around an otherwise very beautifully realized cyberpunk-landscaped city. As you deliver parcels you will set off game checkpoints that will further the story. In essence you are playing a graphic novel.
More than just driving around
I don’t mind that. I purchased Cloudpunk guessing that is what it would be, but some people might hope it is a flying car shooter. Instead the flying is very conventional. You can upgrade your car, called a HOVA, in a limited way. They take damage which needs repairing and you need to fill up the tank once in a while. Despite the obvious inspiration from other games the developer has strongly de-emphasized combat. There are also sections on foot set at areas where you can land.
The map is strewn with such areas that can be quite expansive and require you to do a lot do a lot of walking. The developers have opted for a pseudo side-scrolling view in these sections, they need some getting used to. In these walking areas are also resources you pick up to further your progress, but you are never really limited in a way to hamper your progression through the story. It is not that kind of game. If anything, everything is subservient to the story.
Cloudpunk – the story
So what about the story? There is plenty of mystery to unravel. Raina only just arrived at Nivalis, under a cloud as they say. Her life outside of the city was ruined by debtors and she lost her remaining family. Only her dog Camus is left, and he is now an A.I. – also referred to as an automata. Raina interacts with Cloudpunk through an operator known as Control, he gives her the jobs and some tips on how to survive.
Through her travels the player learns more of the backstory, such as about the mysterious CORA – an ancient A.I. that is either running Nivalis or is made to do so. The world of Cloudpunk is otherwise bleak and filled with contradictions. The wealthy live in the top of the city – off-limits to even HOVAs while the poor live below. They are forced into survival on a daily basis. The story thus covers familiar tropes, but it is very engaging. In some ways it reminds me of Total Recall 2070 – a series from the late 90s. ION LANDS did a wonderful job integrating the story with the esthetics of Nivalis. The wacky characters, the witty dialogue and moral conundrums all made me smile.
My final impression of Cloudpunk
And so that is what you get. A story-driven package delivery simulator. Yet Cloudpunk is quite good, the story and the dark humor rewarding. If you like games such as this. However there a number of issues. Even with 5 hours into the game I had a hard time travelling around the map. In fact, it took me by accident to rediscover my apartment. That should be improved. Also, the checkpoints to further the story can be set a little bit better.
The developers have created a good system, but sometimes the dialogue lasts for minutes before I get a marker on my map. Meanwhile I did not sit idle and instead drove around aimlessly. Overall ION LANDS did a fantastic job with creating a esthetically pleasing world and an intriguing story. It feels as if the developers aspired to do much more but also knew that it wasn’t possible without more resources. They made choices and compromised. Well, let me tell you, they made the right choices. I expect a developer such as ION LANDS to do great things in the future.
Cloudpunk is available for all platforms including Nintendo Switch from Steam. It is on offer for 17.99 euros or 24.99 euros with the soundtrack included. As I enjoyed the synth music from the trailer I went with that package.