I’m giving you a night call to tell you your delivery is here
There’s something to be said about a game that just throws you headfirst into a world with absolutely no backstory and just hopes for the best, and there’s even more to be said when that tactic actually works. The settings will have to be rich, the surrounds easy to navigate and inviting to explore, and the narrative engaging enough to drive things forward. Such a strategy is what was employed in Cloudpunk, but it’s a little up in the air regarding whether or not it fully delivered.
Don’t get me wrong — I love Cloudpunk. I typically try to go in as blind as possible in an effort to mitigate hype and expectations, but Cloudpunk has been on my Steam wishlist for ages. So when review codes dropped for the console versions, I snagged a PS4 copy as quick as I could just to get my hands on any copy. And while it certainly rose to the challenge in plenty of aspects, it unfortunately fell a little flat in others.
Players take on the role of Rania, a new employee of an illicit delivery service, the titular company shuttling packages to and fro in the rainy city of Nirvalis. There are few questions asked about the deliveries, which is just as well, as there are few answers offered. The city of Nirvalis is as cold on the inside as it appears on the outside, and a friendly face is as hard to come by as a lucky break. Armed with her HOVA, her dog’s consciousness uploaded into her vehicle’s AI socket, and her wits, Rania has to keep her cool in order to keep her job and survive another day in the brutal city floating in the skies.
The history of Cloudpunk’s Nirvalis can be learned through speaking with NPCs, who might spare some information if you’re persistent enough. One engineer remarks that Nirvalis was built so long ago on faulty systems and bad bureaucracy that it’s a miracle it still exists, remarking you should take extra caution as you fly amongst the impossibly high skyscrapers. Another might yield information about the sky-high number of HOVA crashes that occur on a regular basis — so much so that delivering bad news about the death of a loved one through a car crash is a legitimate profession. Yet another will discuss android/human relationships and the complications that arise within this highly stratified society. Nirvalis may be unwelcoming at first, but with enough patience it blooms soon enough.
As time passes and Rania and her dog-car make deliveries, the pair will earn some cold, hard Lims that can be used to purchase clothing, furnish your apartment, and customize your ride. Parking the HOVA and pounding the pavement will also yield items that can either be given to specific NPCs or sold to merchants for more Lims, so it’s a good idea to constantly pull over and explore the different districts of Nirvalis. The on-foot exploration process was surprisingly packed with more points of interest than I had initially anticipated, with a handful of side quests scattered amongst the random items available. The explorer types will get to know the streets of Nirvalis just as well as the skies, which is admittedly a pretty cool aspect of Cloudpunk that I wasn’t expecting.
One cool aspect of Cloudpunk that I was expecting, though? Those aesthetics. Those glorious, glorious synthwave and cyberpunk aesthetics. I’m not sure I’ve seen a voxel game used with said aesthetics, and the choice definitely paid off when it came to piloting the HOVA. It’s like watching some of the best synthwave pixel art come to life and pop out of the screen, and coupled with the soundtrack and rain sounds it made for a super chill experience that immediately lowered my blood pressure. When it comes to the style on the streets, however, I was definitely missing definition when looking at the city’s inhabitants, the voxel style leaving me wishing for more in that particular regard. Luckily, you can choose either a first person or third person view while walking around town, so choosing first person enabled me to forget that I was a blocky Lego chick for a bit. Not knocking voxel style per se, it just felt a little… less cool as an avatar in this setting.
Unfortunately, Cloudpunk was not the smoothest experience for me on my PS4. One thing that is immediately noticeable is the draw distance, which pretty much every console reviewer has mentioned thus far — because it is indeed worth mentioning. Heading over to the Steam screenshot page for Cloudpunk shows a dense city packed to the brim with skyscrapers, a dizzying metropolis that would intimidate any newcomer. Cloudpunk on console felt super sparse to the point where it definitely changed the way I played the game, feeling overly confident in what appeared to be a much smaller, emptier city. It’s not the worst thing in the world, but it definitely feels lacking when you know a better experience can be found elsewhere.
About four hours into my first shot at Cloudpunk, I do have to mention that I experienced a game-breaking bug that, although the developers have released a patch that fixed it, absolutely gutted any motivation I had to continue. I’m not sure why this happened, but after several missions, all the dialogue played back to back starting from the very beginning to that point, deducting money I’d already spent for objects I’d already purchased and leaving me with an enormous amount of debt I’d never be able to repay. With no ability to buy gas for my HOVA and no quest marker spawning to continue, the autosave trapped me in the bugged playthrough, meaning starting again with the update that addressed the issue being the only way for me to continue. I want to stress that the issue has since been fixed with the latest update (so if this sounds familiar to you, please update!), but it certainly made for a ton of turbulence.
Just thinking back on the time spent flying around the skies of Nirvalis in my HOVA is getting me all relaxed, and for that feeling alone Cloudpunk is a worthy purchase. If you have a PC I’d definitely recommend that version over any console port purely for the draw distance (it seriously makes a difference), but if that’s not an option for you just go ahead and snag it where possible. Cloudpunk is a joyride worth taking, so if you have 10 or so hours to burn and need a chill experience, be sure to sign for this delivery on the dotted line.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, XBox One, Switch, PS4 (reviewed); Publisher: Maple Whispering Limited; Developer: ION Lands; Players: 1; Released: October 15, 2020; MSRP: $24.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a copy of Cloudpunk given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.