Cloudpunk is a testament to the power of simplistic graphics to convey complicated and evocative worlds. This cyberpunk hover-car-delivery-service driving game takes place in a rainy, dark, sci-fi world created entirely out of millions of small cubes. Get too close to anything and you can see it’s constructed out of a bunch of blocks. Yet Cloudpunk manages to pull off a better Blade Runner impression than almost any game I’ve ever played. For my first few hours with this game I was absorbed in its beautiful aesthetic.
You play as Rania, a delivery driver starting her first night on the job in the city of Nivalis. As a member of Cloudpunk, she is tasked with picking up deliveries and bringing them to designated locations around the city. To get around, she drives a HOVA, a flying car straight out of any number of cyberpunk stories.
Nivalis is broken up into sectors, and each sector has scattered landing zones where you can park and get out of your HOVA. Most of the time this will be to get a delivery to the last leg of the journey, but you can also explore, collect items, and talk to random characters you stumble upon.
Flying around in your HOVA doesn’t feel amazing, but it is fun enough in the beginning. You can buy upgrades to increase top speed and lateral movement, making getting around a bit faster, but the controls and world design aren’t enough to keep fetch quests interesting for more than a few hours.
Out of your HOVA, the game offers various camera angles to explore the city in. The default is a sort of side-scroller viewpoint reminiscent of Streets of Rage without combat. Press the camera button and you can swap to a third-person behind-the-back viewpoint which offers more control to look around. Lastly, a zoom in-and-out allows you to bring the camera all the way to a first-person view. I found this perspective to be the most immersive and I ended up doing most of my on-foot exploration from this view.
As you make deliveries around the city, the story and cast of characters expands, and a main thread begins to unfold. It’s impressive just how much story Cloudpunk has, especially since it’s fully voice acted. That said, the voice acting is really hit-and-miss, with main characters and side characters alike that took me completely out of the vibe of the world. A lot of the characters and writing felt overly precious or silly to me, and despite a dark, serious plot, I was never entirely sure what kind of tone the game was going for.
Ultimately, it’s these core missteps—unrefined controls, poor voice acting, awkward storytelling—not to mention some general performance issues and excessive loading on Xbox One X that made finishing Cloudpunk a total chore. I was really excited about this game in the first few hours, and I think those hours justify putting some time into it. That said, it really wears out its welcome very quickly, and then goes on for about 6 hours too many.
The core gameplay loop of Cloudpunk is essentially the part in Grand Theft Auto where you drive to a mission. When you get there, instead of getting into a gunfight or doing some new activity, you simply turn around and drive to the next waypoint. That’s all there is here, and it would be fine if it were much, much shorter.
It’s a real shame that the balance of presentation, gameplay, story, and pacing isn’t there with Cloudpunk. It’s a game that won me over immediately and it’s simply beautiful to look at. In my first hours with it, I thought I’d never want to leave. It’s wild to see how quickly that attitude can shift when the balance of ingredients aren’t in the right place.