Nivalis is a sprawling, futuristic metropolis, its skies crowded with flying cars, massive structures, and neon billboards soaked by a never-ending downpour. Its streets are populated by malfunctioning androids and humans with cybernetic implants quickly going out of date. Which is to say, Cloudpunk is certainly conspicuous about its devotion to cyberpunk. As Rania, a driver for the illicit delivery service that gives the game its title, you’ll consistently run into one staple of the genre after another. But beyond its impressive sense of place, few other aspects of the game feel nearly as considered and complex.
Much of Cloudpunk is dedicated to serving up that most familiar of sci-fi images: vehicles flying across a city skyline according to totally inscrutable traffic laws. And for as much time as you spend on the “roads” of Nivalis, traveling them doesn’t make the rules any more coherent. Beyond certain altitude limitations, you’re largely free to drive your vehicle, called a HOVA, wherever it will fit and at whatever height will help avoid collisions. Highways with speed boosts are more of a suggestion than a requirement, since you can take shortcuts by bobbing and weaving between the spires, the skyscrapers, and the neon signage. And if you crash, well, that’s okay, too, as the only real penalty is a rather lenient repair bill.
Not that you have much incentive to drive quickly. Despite its intimidating setting, Cloudpunk is incongruously easygoing. Its missions have no time constraints, with many of them largely designed as jumping-off points for absurdly ponderous conversations. These exchanges are all long enough to feel like some kind of bizarre punishment for reaching a destination too quickly, given how often you may find yourself sitting and waiting a minute or two for the voice-acted dialogue to finish up. Sometimes the game’s talkiness even holds up the start of a mission, leaving you hovering idly inside your HOVA until the game finally reaches the point in the dialogue that tells you where to go. Though areas you traverse on foot include shops and side characters, you often can’t access either one because the dialogue is still prattling on.
Nivalis has its share of amusing details, like an entire building of androids named “Anderson” or an elevator convinced that it eats people. Which makes it a pity that so many of Cloudpunk’s baffling design choices sap the game of any momentum, mainly by conflicting with the story’s overtures about struggling under the boot of tyrannical corporations. Rania is meant to be fighting against debt, to the point where she once had to sell the body of her robotic dog, Camus, for cash and has nowhere else to house his AI except inside her HOVA. A game like Neo Cab may not have an intricate city at its center, but it uses gas and lodging to approximate the desperation of a bad job that doesn’t pay enough much more effectively than the rather negligible repair and fuel costs across Nivalis. In fact, you’re less likely to run out of funds than end up with more than you know what to do with. For Cloudpunk, hardship is merely the wallpaper for a pretty yet thinly conceived gaming experience.
The game was reviewed using a review code provided by Future Friends Games.
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