Cloudpunk – Review

In Cloudpunk, we run possibly shady deliveries in the bowels of a rainy cyberpunk city. Does it deliver? Here’s what we think.

A very long time ago, I played the demo to a visionary PC game called Crime Cities. I played it for an evening, and then mostly forgot about it for years. I was reminded of its dingy, crime-infested world and flying cars when I first read about Cloudpunk. Crime Cities did feature dogfights and action, whereas Cloudpunk is a strictly peaceful affair, but that’s all the better: that’s what the appeal was for me, anyway.

In Cloudpunk, you play as Rania, a newly-signed-on delivery driver for the illicit service known only in whispers as Cloudpunk. The jobs you get from this agency aren’t strictly legal, and your rules are simple: you don’t miss deliveries, and you don’t ask what’s in the package.

Like Rania, you are new to the city of Nivalis, a place of towering skyscrapers, ominously moody rain, and the comforting glow of neon signs and lit windows. Nivalis is chopped up into several slices, which are connected by Ascenders that take you up or down as necessary (but really just transition you from one map to another).

Within each of these slices, you get to fly around in your beaten-down car and land in designated parking spots. It’s rare to find a genuine 3D open world game in the indie sphere, but developer Ion Lands has mastered the craft in their very first go.

You’ll fly your coloured vehicle trail across the stunning vistas of capitalist enterprise, and you’ll find the colourful contrasting with the dark. As you meet the many characters that eke out an existence in this dystopia, you will find hope and ambition intermingled with despair and depravity.

Cloudpunk screenshot

Nivalis is the heart that beats underneath Cloudpunk the game, and although the game is set over the course of a single night, it covers so much ground (or air), that like Rania, you’ll come to settle into Nivalis as an uneasy new home.

The actual gameplay of Cloudpunk involves mostly driving and a little bit of running on foot, but on the whole, it’s fiercely obedient to its narrative. Although the city is peppered with collectibles and merchants, I never felt obligated to go out of my way for them. I pushed on with Rania’s story instead, following easy waypoints and listening to the many conversations that I encountered along the way.

Cloudpunk’s story might feel a little slow at the beginning, but the game works best as a long soak. As I went through the motions and let the delectable atmosphere sink in, I found it hard to pull away from Rania’s car, from the cosy voice of her handler ‘Control’, from her pet AI dog Camus, and from the many colourful characters whose stories I explored.

Some of the stories are a little hamfisted in their treatment of class differences, with caricatured characters standing in for the disaffected elite. Nevertheless, Nivalis’ society is fascinating, what with its blend of cyberpunk science-fiction with a hint of techno-mythology. It’s a world where CEOs are inaccessible demigods living in the clouds, and where the technology that underpins the city is so ancient, so intricate, so muddled, that its maintenance engineers are more akin to priests of an unknowable deity.

The highlight of the game is Rania herself, who cleaves through this uncaring and vicious city with her empathy, compassion, and relatability. She’s new here, and she’s trying to make a living, but the city keeps testing her, over and over. The best part, though? Rania changes.

Unlike too many stodgy and static video game characters, Rania is a dramatically different person at the end of the game than she is at the start, and you witness this change incrementally over the hours. Often, she mirrored my own emotions. She spoke what I wanted her to speak, and this in a game that eschews dialogue choices for a defined protagonist. I could not have asked for a better character to spend a night driving around this cyberpunk town with.

Cloudpunk makes economical use of a blocky, lego-ish aesthetic that practically disappears when you look at the city from a distance. It’s not really a deal-breaker, given that we have plenty of ‘realistic’ cyberpunk coming from elsewhere. Whenever possible, though, Ion Lands has absolutely lent a triple-A shine to the production.

Promenades glow with neon reflections, tumultuous clouds thunder up top, a very Blade Runner soundtrack adds further volume—everything works together. Most of all, though, the voice acting elevates the experience. Rania, Control, Camus, and the many supporting characters each shine through with their unique personalities and styles.

Cloudpunk’s overall narrative is perhaps a little less saturated than its glittering city, but the game is held aloft by its memorable characters and meditative driving gameplay. If you’d like to just drive a lot in a cyberpunk city while exploring sci-fi questions of corporatism and artificial intelligence, you’ll find plenty to like in the chill experience that is Cloudpunk.

Developer: Ion Lands
Country of Origin: Germany
Publisher: Ion Lands
Release Date: 23rd April 2020 (PC), TBA 2020 (PS4, Xbox One, Switch)

This review is based on a copy of the game provided by the developer. The PC version of the game was played for this review of Cloudpunk.

Note: The reviewer lost his (many, many) screenshots and so had to make do with the official ones for this review! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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Cloudpunk’s overall narrative is perhaps a little less saturated than its glittering city, but the game is held aloft by its memorable characters and meditative driving gameplay.

This Article was written by: Rahul Shirke

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