The platformer we never knew we wanted has arrived.
I sat down to review Clustertruck as a self-professed member of the admittedly strange class of gamers known as “simulator junkies.” Two years ago, I looked at games like Euro Truck Simulator (and its American counterpart) and laughed at the thought of truck-driving as a viable genre of entertainment. Then I bought Euro Truck Simulator 2 and actually played it. I quickly realized the error in my dismissiveness. These games are fun, and above all, they are a great way to unwind after a long day at work. From that point on, I’ve never questioned the legitimacy of semi-trailers in video games.
Clustertruck is certainly not aiming to help you relax, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a recent indie title that offers more in the vein of pure adrenaline-fueled excitement. Landfall Games’ newest PC release is described as “a chaotic, physics-based truckformer,” with an obvious nod to its platforming brethren. Jumping is the name of the game in Clustertruck. You’ll be doing a lot of it, so you’ll need to keep that A-button thumb wide awake. Your objective remains the same from level to level: reach the end of the stage without touching the floor or any other non-truck obstacle. The trucks are plentiful in number and driven by some rather reckless individuals. I wasn’t able to verify this personally, but I’d be surprised if any of these drivers ever got their CDL’s.
But no big deal! You’ve got the power of speed on your side. Landing a standard jump is reason enough to pat yourself on the back, but where Clustertruck really excels is in its unscripted moments—vaulting off a vehicle mid-explosion, for example, sends the player high into the air, well beyond the reach of falling rocks or a sadistic wheel of death. With enough practice, you’ll find yourself exercising control over this chaos, as you swiftly bounce your way through the goal marker. Once a level has been conquered, points are awarded based on the time it took to finish, as well as bonuses for air time, vaulting off airborne trucks, or just plain showing off. Like any good platformer, replayability is a huge focus in Clustertruck.
Once you’ve added up enough points, it’s time to level the playing field a bit. Upgrades ranging from a double-jump ability to a well-timed hyper dash give the player more flexibility to tackle what might initially seem to be an impossible series of landings. There’s even an option, in emergency situations, to spawn a ghost truck underneath yourself. I had a lot of fun challenging myself to complete mid-game and later levels by avoiding the urge to rely on my power-ups. Sure, it didn’t help my time, but I got a pat on the back from my wife, so it was all worth it.
Performance is another area where the game shines. Semi-trucks are, by their nature, boxy and uncomplicated to render, so unless your machine is really in sore need of an upgrade, you shouldn’t have any problems achieving that magic 60-frames per second threshold. The simplicity of Landfall’s design also allows for many of these things to be on screen at once. It may seem like an obvious point to make, but in a game about jumping on trucks, you won’t ever find yourself thinking, “Gee, I wish there were more trucks in this game.”
My issues with Clustertruck are small in number, but they’re not insignificant. For one, it’s a little difficult early on to determine just how large your hitbox is. And it seems to change depending on which obstacle you’re trying to clear. For example, leaping over wood planks and high-powered lasers gave me the impression that I could avoid death by squeezing through tight spaces. But later on, you’re expected to clear plumes of fire. At first, I attempted to subvert the flame traps by horizontally darting around what I believed to be their maximum reach. But I was still greeted with the “level failed” screen every time. So I figured jumping over them might make it easier. It did, but not entirely. Unless I cleared the fire by what felt like five or six feet, I ended up the same as before: burnt to a crisp.
I also took issue with what, exactly, constituted a landing. The game treats every point of impact, even those where you’re touching only the vertical sides of the truck, as a non-death scenario. In some cases, this benefits the player, as the subsequent jump after grabbing onto the side tends to send you soaring even higher. Think of it like Superman flinging himself upward using the strength of his arms. But the downside to this mechanic is that it’s rather inconsistent. More often than not, a landing on the side or back led to death, at least for me. I found that I couldn’t really rely on the grab-and-vault approach, and when it did work out for me, I hardly ever got the impression that I personally had orchestrated the move.
Overall, though, as a lover of both difficult platformers and the aforementioned trucks-in-games philosophy, I found myself smiling wide about what Clustertruck does right. It’s a no-nonsense, no-frills approach to skill-based gaming, and conquering even one of its many themed worlds is sure to make you feel comfortable with your purchase. I rate Clustertruck four out of five. It’s a game I would recommend to almost anyone.
Final Verdict: 4/5
Available on: PC (reviewed), Mac, Linux, PS4 ; Publisher: tinyBuild ; Developer: Landfall Games ; Players: 1 ; Released: September 24, 2016 ; ESRB: E for Everyone ; MSRP: $14.99
Full disclosure: This review is based on a review copy of Clustertruck given to HeyPoorPlayer by the game’s publisher.