Cloudpunk is a game of many conflicting feelings for me. The story is powerful and has you in tears while being subtle with it all. Its gameplay is absolutely the opposite of that, a mess of a city where you are directionless, the minimap being your only guide through subpar driving mechanics. The city of Nivalis, like the game itself, is clunky and awful to look at up close, but a gorgeous vista when the whole thing is seen from the top of it all. It is a beautiful story trapped in bad game design, and I can’t tell whether I hate or love it.
I want to start by looking at the weakest link here, the gameplay itself. If you are looking for a game that has plenty to offer on the gameplay engagement, this will not be your game. It is a simple system: Go to a place, go to another place, maybe make a choice on what to do there. Repeat for 6 hours until the story plays out. I honestly struggled finishing this game as by 4 hours I was close to done with the lackluster, uncontrollable HOVA that you drive. It swerves in a manner that makes it feel like the whole floating city is on ice.
At least the city of Nivalis looks nice, right? Well, kind of. Cloudpunk is built in a blocky style reminiscent of a slightly more detailed Minecraft with a better lighting system. From a distance, everything looks pretty good. The skybox is dynamic, the constant rain looks nice, and you could call it Blade Runner-esque. Until you go up close. The people are the stuff of nightmares and when you are walking towards an objective out of your car, you can tell everything is made of blocks. That knowledge is not a good thing as it makes everything look incredibly fake outside the car. Despite this knowledge however, there are moments where the game’s style doesn’t impede the look of Nivalis and you can almost see a shiny, messy, gorgeous city as you look at it.
Navigating Nivalis, the massive city setting of Cloudpunk, is nigh impossible without your map. There are no landmarks to navigate you, just points on your mini map to lead you to your objectives. The city also loads in chunks instead of being one massive world, making every transition to a new district jarring and time consuming. I had no feeling of being in a large vibrant city thanks to this bizarre system of loading in the city, which really sucked away a lot of the game’s potential. You could tell the developers wanted to create a fantastic futuristic city for you to play in, but it just ends up feeling empty and fake. Whether this was due to technical restraints or a flawed design choice, the important thing is it destroys any chance Nivalis had to feel like it’s own thing.
The music is fine. It didn’t stand out to me, but it was clearly competent enough that it didn’t jar me. While I am glad the music of Cloudpunk is competent, I think having better music would have saved me from boredom as I drove around in silence. Which you do a lot of. Sound design is also equally benign, with the sounds of the city and your vehicle definitely there to distract from the numbing boredom. It just feels like a shame they weren’t something more unique and engaging.
The real star of the show in Cloudpunk, and the reason I recommend getting it, is its story. Told to you through (mostly) competent voice acting, you follow the adventures of Rania, a new citizen of Nivalis working her first night at Cloudpunk, an illicit delivery service. On the way, you meet a colourful cast of characters while aided by your dog/A.I Camus. I found myself less concerned with driving and moreso focused on the story being told. I don’t wish to spoil it, which is a shame given that the story is the primary motivator to get the game, so it is hard to tell you why you should play it when telling you would ruin the experience.
So where does that leave me with recommending this game? If you are interested in a story that feels quite organic and unique while also feeling familiar to most cyberpunk fans, then I recommend Cloudpunk when it is on sale. If you however are a fan of anything else in a game and want a more full package, steer clear of this one. The tale told is all Cloudpunk has, and without it I would call it a total waste of money. In the state it is in however, it does have one saving grace that may make it worthwhile to some people. The saving grace that is the story can be more than enough for some, but it is also the only thing saving it from total mediocrity. It’s a subpar game with an above average plot, and that’s me being generous with it if I am being honest.