Cloudpunk is a voxel-based narrative game developed by Ion Lands and published by Maple Whispering Limited that released on Steam on April 24, 2020. This is a game I’ve had my eye on for some time as I was immediately attracted to the very first images showcasing a vehicle hovering through a dark neon-filled city. It straight away reminded me of Blade Runner and Fifth Element, especially with the image of the yellow taxi in the game’s logo. When I jumped into the game for the first time, I felt like I was Korben Dallas driving my taxi around.
You play as Rania, a musician originally from the Eatern Peninsula and it’s your first night working for Cloudpunk, a delivery company based in the city of Nivalis. Your designated callsign is 14FC and you interact with Control through the car’s comms systems. Your job is simple – deliver packages and don’t ask what’s in them, and the game plays out over a single rain-soaked night shift. The game consists of two major gameplay elements. The first is driving your vehicle from point A to point B along highways and through the skies of the city. Once you park your vehicle at your destination, you then control Rania on foot as you walk to the specific shop, vendor or npc to complete the delivery/drop off.
You will meet all kinds of people in the game, from humans to androids to AI within machines, even a talking dog called Camus. The story is a slow burn which may be too slow for players looking for action, though this suits me well. I love a good story and Cloudpunk does this well showcasing the various sides of this dystopian future, with majority of the story interactions and emotions conveyed through Rania and Camus. There’s the upper class and wealthy humans ruling the roost and you’ll visit bars and clubs with great music. There are numerous androids, as well as some very way-out-there characters which are to be expected in this setting.
A lot of these npcs you meet in Cloudpunk are literally just for one-off backstory conversations though you do earn an achievement. Occasionally you’ll get some side quests to complete, either more deliveries or to find particular items. If you’re thorough with your item looting, you will often already have the required item on hand, but they’re generally not too far from the npc. There was only one quest asking me to collect 20 punchcards which wasnt too difficult initially. However when the same npc asked for another 20 more, it got a little laborious. Then there are parts of the game where you go down into the slums and witness the sometimes horrifying life they live down there. It was comparable the those that live in Coruscant and Nar Shadaa within the Star Wars universe. The state of society improves the higher up you go within the sky, our in this case clouds.
I can’t get enough of driving around in Cloudpunk, it’s my favourite part of the game. There are huge advertising billboards, neon signs on buildings and it’s just a joy to fly through. I don’t mind if the delivery point is several screens away, it just means I get to drive around this world as much as I can. There are several map zones to navigate, each with major highways designated with blue “skyroads” and your vehicle travels at a faster rate when over these blue roads. There are designated roadways with crossroads and corners, however at any point you can veer off the road and hover through the skies, travelling as close as you like to the tall and hulking city buildings. Everything looks crisp, neon and futuristic when in your vehicle.
Once you get close to your destination you’ll need to locate an available parking space, designated with a big blue ‘P’ parking sign. Once on the ground, things get a little blocky which is where the voxel-based graphics come into play. The camera angle zooms out a fair way when on foot, and sometimes it’s hard to make out the numerous wandering npcs around featuring humans and androids. The city certainly feels alive with random npc comments popping up occasionally. Any npcs or shops/vendors that can be interacted with have their name’s on screen for easy location. When talking with an NPC, a picture of their avatar’s face is shown and it is fully voice acted. On rare occasions I felt the voice was the complete opposite of what I expected by looking at the avatar’s face, but generally the voice matched their image. I did feel that Rania’s voice acting felt disjointed at times in the random non-story quest interactions, however improved vastly when the story intensified.
Running around these streets is sometimes challenging, particularly when on the edge of the camera’s range. One minute you will be running right, then the camera angle changes and you need to run left as the orientation has changed. If you’re not quick enough, sometimes you get yourself into a camera-changing whirlwind. It’s not hard to get used to, and I’m not sure how to suggest improving this, but you get used to hesitating if the camera changes. You quickly forget the slight inconvenience as you find the NPC or loot item you were looking for, and then the story takes over your thoughts.
Also in these ground areas are loot items designated on the map. You can pick up things like punch cards, used batteries, coolant, electrical parts, broken android parts and numerous other things. Some of these items, such as electrical parts and coolant, are used to repair broken lifts throughout the game so it’s worth hanging onto them. Others can be sold to vendors for cash. Cash in the game is used to purchase food/drink, though there’s no hunger or thirst like in survival games. It’s more the fact that the story says you should be hungry, so go eat. Other items like CorpSec flyers are used to bypass security points. There’s no limit to your inventory so I held onto everything unless there was a vehicle or apartment upgrade I wanted.
You can upgrade your vehicle with several parts, some cosmetic and some increase the performance. There is a speed boost upgrade that you press ‘E’ to activate when driving, and can also get upgrades to improve your vertical movement. Other items like antennas and flare colours are just cosmetic. You get an opportunity about halfway through the game to obtain a new one vehicle from of a choice of 6 variations. Given my love of Fifth Element, I chose the one that most resembles a yellow New York taxi. There are also items you can purchase to upgrade the visuals of your apartment. Though with the voxel design of the apartment interior, many of these items are hardly noticeable, or so small there’s almost no point getting them. I only bought all vehicle and apartment upgrades purely to get those achievements.
Overall I gave the game an 8/10. Cloudpunk is everything I wanted it to be. From flying around in my HOVA through the neon-filled night sky, to interacting with all sorts of humans, androids and AI characters. It really captured the feel of being in the Blade Runner or Fifth Element universes, whilst carving it’s own niche into the cyberpunk theme. The story was slowly revealed to you and gives you time to think about it whilst driving around Nivalis. The camera angles when on foot were occasionally hard to deal with, but those moments were quickly forgotten after talking with some colourful characters and jumping back into your taxi, souring through the skyscapes.
This review utilised a Steam key provided by Kris WB at Future Friends Games. Cloudpunk is available now on Steam for AUD28.95.
Written by: @ChrisJInglis