CloudPunk: Futuristic exploration

Disclosure: We were provided with a free copy of CloudPunk by Ion Lands for the purpose of a review.

In my mind exists a strange nostalgia for the floating and endless city of Coruscant. Specifically, the chase scene in Attack of the Clones. The sense of wonder at the atmosphere, the vivid contrast of bright neon lights and gloomy grimy alleyways, all added up to one of the most memorable moments of the prequel series. Not to mention the vague transition of skies and streets swarming with flying vehicles.

The memory of Coruscant hit me relentlessly in my first hour of CloudPunk. Even though Ion Lands settled on block-ish graphics, the spirit of wonder and endless possibility I felt as a child watching Anakin and Obi-Wan chase a rogue assassin was reignited. In case you were wondering, yes, I like this game. 

In CloudPunk you jump into the life of Rania, a driver of a ‘HOVA’ (flying car), in her first night on a new job in Nivalis. The job? HOVA-driver for CloudPunk, which is pretty much a black-market Amazon Prime for all your illegal needs. This job will take you all across the width and height of the vertical metropolis, meeting both the wealthy upper-level inhabitants and the most deprived city-dwellers.

CloudPunk is a contemplative and immersive experience, introducing a whole new world to explore and discover. The game is story-driven and the hyper-capitalist dog-eat-dog world of Nivalis sets you down some dark roads, mainly to deliver something to the geezer that lives at the end of it. 

I can hear the whirring engine now. Credit: Ion Lands

It’s well worth chatting with every random android-gangster or human-barista you come across, as each conversation fleshes out the universe of CloudPunk in meaningful ways. The map is very large, yet it never feels empty as the rich inhabitants and strange encounters give the city a bustling and lively air, even in the most impoverished areas. 

The visuals are the most striking element of Nivalis, with heavy use of neon and grimy greys to highlight the gritty-futuristic setting. At first, I was slightly off-put by the animation of the characters as the blocky graphical style threw me off, but it’s actually an essential element in creating the environment of Nivalis. The graphical style suits the game well, but can only really show off when you’re driving around the city. It doesn’t quite scale down the same when walking around the floating markets and streets, but it does set the game apart. 

Nivalis has grown upward as space is at a premium. Credit: Ion Lands

Now we get to the most significant feature of CloudPunk: driving. Piloting you HOVA takes a bit of getting used to, but you’ll certainly get a lot of practice as it’s the only way of getting around.  The controls are smooth but it’s still all too easy to lose control and take some damage from bashing into other cars or even just buildings if you’re as inept as me. Keep an eye on the damage levels of your HOVA and your fuel, and repair, refuel and customise your vehicle at the frequent garages.

 When delivering a package you’ve first got to park you HOVA, which is probably the only annoying part of the game. I hate finding a parking spot in busy towns as it is, and now I’ve got to find a digital one? Eurgh. 

The soundtrack and the audio engineering of CloudPunk are brilliant. The audible feedback of driving a hover-car is so important to the immersion and satisfaction you feel as a player, and Ion Land has really nailed it. The higher pitch whining as you accelerate and turn corners is perfectly done, and even the low-pitch humming of your idle vehicle just sounds right. I mean, not that I’d know what a highly-advanced hover-car engine idling would sound like, but I’d assume it would be something extremely similar.

*whew* near-misses are frequent when you fly like me. Credit: Ion Lands

 CloudPunk’s soundtrack is relaxing and captures the sense of mystery and exploration in a captivating new world. The combination of bright and expansive visuals and an immersive soundtrack completely sink you into living in Nivalis, and I’ve spent a long time just aimlessly driving and enjoying myself. I guess I don’t have much of a social life. 

The voice acting is also well done, only occasionally sounding a bit stilted and unnatural with a few random side characters. Raina herself, the strangely sympathetic ‘Controller’ and your adorably innocent virtual dog ‘Camus’ are all voice acted very believably. 

The only issue I have with the game is the loading screens. They feel just a tad long for the size of the game and occur fairly frequently when travelling between sections of the city. For a game that is so ridiculously detailed and immersive, loading screens are a surefire way of breaking that immersion. 

What strange encounter’s next on the floating streets of Nivalis? Credit: Ion Lands

To be honest, at first, I wasn’t sure if this game was for me. I don’t play lots of indie game, and I’d more likely pick up a competitive first-person shooter or RPG than an exploration-based game. 

But I really enjoyed CloudPunk, it was a great change in pace for me, strangely satisfying the same sort of relaxing itch as Animal Crossing, if a lot darker and contemplative. The real star of the show is definitely the city and its inhabitants. and the story seems only to be used as an excuse to explore and learn about Nivalis. 

I’d say that CloudPunk is worth buying for anyone that enjoys exploring and wants to dive into a new world for a while. The game is surprisingly large, especially if you were to fully customise your character, HOVA and pick up all the collectables. It’s not often that an indie game has so many side-missions and subplots. I really enjoyed my playthrough and the story is gripping, mysterious and doesn’t always have a clear-cut ending. CloudPunk is definitely reasonably priced and well worth the money. 

CloudPunk is available on Steam for £16.99, Switch for £19.99 and Xbox/PS4 for £24.99.

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