All Trucks Go To Hell
HIGH Flying through three sets of gears to just barely reach the goal sign.
LOW Failing a level because the trucks couldn’t make it to the end.
WTF Wait – this game has a boss? How?
Satisfaction is a hard thing to come by in chaotic platformers.
Standard platformers generally ask players to learn specific rules about how their world works, and how to exploit them for the cleanest possible line through a level. When developers then add random elements — chaos, essentially — the core of the experience is at risk. Just imagine how unplayable Super Meat Boy would be if the buzzsaws randomly moved wherever they felt like instead of keeping to a set pattern?
Few virtual accomplishments compare to executing perfect timing, dodging projectiles and clambering up ledges in challenging platformers, but chaotic platforming steals those moments of triumph from players. If each level plays differently each time it loads, who’s more responsible for how the level plays out — the person with the controller, or the random number generator responsible for the level’s behavior? Needless to say, I had major misgivings about Clustertruck going in.
A first-person platformer set in a world with far more trucks than there are roads to carry them, Clustertruck takes the cowboy fantasy of running atop a herd of stampeding cattle and updates it to the modern age as the player bounds from one tractor-trailer to the next, always barreling towards a finish line. I honestly wondered how the developers could possibly keep this wacky conceit going — it’s entertaining and all, but can dozens of levels be crafted out of such a thin premise?
I was shocked to discover that yes, apparently they can.
Clustertruck has 90 levels split up into nine different worlds. Each world has its own visual style, musical theme, and distinctive types of traps and challenges. The worlds also do a great job of teaching one set of skills at a time. The first area focuses on riding trucks on uneven terrain, the second shows how to move from one herd of trucks to the next, the third explains how to manage obstacles, and so forth. By the time giant cannons are firing trucks at the player, they’ll have all the skills down so pat that it won’t even faze them.
Skills alone won’t be enough for most players to get through the game, however — they’ll need assistance in the form of special unlockable abilities.
At the end of every level, the player is awarded points based on their time, and whether they pulled off any ‘stunts’ such as big airtime or jumping off of a truck while it was in mid-air. Save up enough points, and players can purchase a wide variety of gameplay tweaks.
Some are simply cosmetic or jokey — one makes trucks spin like a kickflipped skateboard whenever the player jumps off them. Others are more practical, and even vitally necessary if players want to make it past the first few levels of world two. I managed to beat Clustertruck, but it was only by leaning heavily on my jetpack and time-dilation abilities.
The fact that I had to claw and scrape through some of the more complicated levels even with superpowers turned on illustrates just how random and capricious the chaos of Clustertruck can be. After an hour or two I’d come to accept that a jump that worked in one attempt wouldn’t work on the next because the trucks behaved differently, but sometimes the randomness gets out of hand.
For example, every level requires the player to ride a truck to the finish line, but some levels have jumps which the trucks fail to clear, rendering them unbeatable. In another level, cannons located far below me were supposed to fire trucks up into the air so I could jump on them in sequence, but half the time the trucks would hit the edge of a platform and ricochet back down to into the abyss, with me following quickly behind as I’d been robbed of my boost. Restarting a level a couple of times always solves the problem, but it’s extremely frustrating to get through thirty seconds of white-knuckle platforming only to discover that the game hasn’t held up its end.
It’s possible that many of these issues are caused by the time-slowing button, and the item description even warns that using it can screw up Clustertruck‘s worlds. If that’s the case, the developers should have fixed the bugs or left the feature out, since the game is nearly unplayable without the ability to take a breath and fine-tune jumps. Even the developers’ own promotional videos show off the constant use of slow time. Whether these problems were intended or not, they make the experience far more frustrating and unfair than it should be, and I can only hope they’ll be patched out at some point in the future.
Clustertruck is admirably insane. The action is so fast and engaging that it made me enjoy a randomized, chaotic platformer, which was something I’d previously thought impossible. Still, I couldn’t avoid the nagging sense that I wasn’t wholly responsible for my failures (and successes!) they way I would have been in a more tightly-designed game. That said, anyone willing to loosen their grip on the wheel and go with the flow can expect a consistently surprising and raucous good time.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Landfall Games and published by TinyBuild. It is currently available on PC and PS4. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed.
Parents: The game was not rated by the ESRB, but it would likely be an E10 – there’s fantasy violence in the form of exploding trucks, but that’s it, beyond some overtly satanic imagery showing up in later levels. Even that is mostly harmless, however, presented as it is in a cheeky manner.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: The game has no audio cues, and can be comfortably played with the audio off.
Remappable Controls: Only the game’s keyboard/mouse commands are remappable. Unfortunately this renders the game all but unplayable with the controller, as players will be frequently asked to move the camera and jump at the same time. But, with jump permanently locked to the face buttons of the controller, it’s basically impossible to move a thumb to the button and back to the camera stick with the kind of speed that a mouse can offer.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.