This Baby Corners Like She’s On Rails!

HIGH Intricate plot, fascinating characters, great vehicle control.

LOW Timed missions.

WTF What is the screening procedure for hiring police in Nivalis?

The city of Nivalis can be heaven for a select few.  Its gleaming spires and neon-soaked streets offer the world to those rich enough to afford it.  To everyone else, it’s a grimy, rain-splattered blight where every day is a literal struggle to survive. 

Rania is one of the unfortunate masses driven to the poor sections of the city due to crushing debt and the loss of her dreams, and she’s starting her first night of a deadly new job as a driver for “Cloudpunk” — a morally ambiguous delivery service that doesn’t ask too many questions.  Rania is in for an interesting and eventful night.

As Rania, players will learn to zip through the densely-packed aerial highways of Nivalis while driving (or is it piloting?) their HOVA, an antigravity vehicle that brings package delivery to the third dimension. 

I used to think driving through a city like New York was difficult, but adding a vertical component brings things to a whole new level, and some of Cloudpunk‘s best moments involve long stretches of racing through the city while engaged in conversations with Rania’s handler, or her onboard AI and former dog, the lovable-yet-naïve Camus. (Trust me, it makes sense in context.) Rania also encounters a number of well-written secondary characters, both human and artificial, trying to cope with tragedy, loss, and the day-to-day grind of Nivalis life. 

The driving portion of Cloudpunk is generally exhilarating while also being fairly chill in the sense that most deliveries aren’t urgent, so Rania is free to drive around and get a feel for the city, provided she doesn’t damage her car too much or run out of fuel. 

Although time is not generally a factor, there are a few unwelcome timed missions which seemed impossible to complete as the destinations were simply too far away for me to reach in time.  Fortunately, these sections only seem to alter some dialogue slightly, and didn’t appear to change the game’s ending.   

it’s not all flying cars, though. When Rania parks the HOVA and heads out on foot, Cloudpunk slows down quite a bit. 

While exploring the streets outside of her vehicle, Rania can talk to citizens for information and sidequests. The minimap does an adequate job of pointing out goals and points of interest, although I wish there were a way for it to show more detailed info about what Rania will find. For instance, one quest required me to find 60 ( !! ) of a particular item.  Since the map doesn’t identify items by type, I couldn’t focus on collecting just that one thing, and instead had to do more exploration than I was interested in to gather them all. 

The walking sections rely on fixed camera positioning, which is great for establishing a sense of mood and for setpieces like police chases and collapsing towers, but it makes controlling Rania difficult when the perspective shifts without warning.  Parking spaces are also very far from some delivery destinations, meaning progress when walking is excruciatingly slow since Rania’s walking speed isn’t adequate and doing these tasks often felt like padding, rather than a good use of my time.

Coudpunk offers several seemingly major choices during the story which feel weighty in the moment, but like the timed driving sections above, turn out to merely change a bit of dialogue rather than truly impacting the game. To be fair though, the moral implications of the choices I made are probably designed to make me ponder about them, rather than giving me definitive answers.

Like some of the narrative choices, it’s hard to know how to feel about Cloudpunk — and maybe that’s the point.  It’s well-written and lovingly constructed, but it’s sometimes hard to appreciate as much as I’d like to thanks to the pacing issues. However, despite the problems, it’s definitely a journey worth taking — just go into it knowing that a little patience in some spots is required.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by ION LANDS and published by ION LANDS, Merge Games, and Maple Whispering Limited. It is currently available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 11 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Drug References and Strong Language.  The main character interacts with a sex worker during a side mission.  Illicit drugs must be purchased from a dealer in order for the plot to progress.  Various narcotics can be purchased which have uncertain in-game effects.  F**k is used several times throughout the story.  A character implicitly commits suicide.  Numerous fatal accidents are described during the story. 

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All plot-relevant dialogue is fully subtitled.  However, citywide announcements, advertisements, etc. are voiced only.  While they do not reveal plot data, they do provide a portion of the grim atmosphere the game is trying to convey.  Additionally, some audio cues (crashing the player vehicle, for instance) have very subtle visual cues that may be difficult to see, although the car generally handles as if it has been in an impact.  There is force feedback if players are using a gamepad equipped with the feature. There are no options to resize subtitles, nor are there color options.  The game is not fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Certain functions are remappable.  If using a keyboard, all keys can be rebound.  When using a gamepad, the option exists to alternate handedness for driving controls (right trigger as brakes rather than left trigger).

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