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Cloudpunk review for PS4, Xbox One, Switch


Platform: PS4
Also on: PC, Switch, Xbox One
Publisher: ION Lands
Developer: ION Lands
Medium: Digital
Players: 1
Online: No
ESRB: M

Cloudpunk is probably worth checking out. You’ve just got to be okay with making a couple of pretty big allowances.

First, you need to forgive graphics that give off pretty heavy “early days of 3D gaming” vibes. Cloudpunk is set in a sprawling city full of skyscrapers in a very literal sense of the world, and you pilot around your flying car around the eponymous city, making deliveries. As you’re doing this, the world is mostly shrouded in darkness, and you can barely see a few buildings ahead of you. On the one hand, the game takes place at night, so the darkness makes a bit of sense, but at the same time, the way it’s presented, everything just looks kind of foggy and dull.

On top of that, the city is pretty empty, so it all feels pretty desolate. There’s sort of some story reasons for that — which I’ll get to in a moment — and the game is definitely going for a certain atmosphere, but more often than not, it feels like the developers created a city and forgot to fill it with people. Oddly, the map — which is very confusing and very useless — makes it seem like Cloudpunk (the city, not the game) is brimming with points of interest, but when you investigate further you quickly realize that it’s mainly a whole lot of nothing.

To make it even worse, whenever you get close to…well, anything, you find out that the people and the world are all blocky and Lego-like. You might be able to forgive this as an aesthetic choice, but personally, I found it added to the overall ugliness.

Cloudpunk isn’t helped by the fact that the gameplay is generally pretty boring. You fly around that ugly, confusing map making pick-ups and deliveries, and…well, that’s about it. You’re constantly being given missions, but pretty much all of them are “Drive here, find a parking spot, pick up your package, fly it to this other point on the map.” Even if you like games that centre around mundane tasks, this one may just put you to sleep.

And I’ve got to focus for a moment on that “find a parking spot” point. That’s a shockingly huge part of Cloudpunk. Like, I know that it’s an issue in real life, and it presumably would only get worse if we had flying cars, but there’s no reason why it needs to play such a major role in a game. Even with the map, I regularly spent a couple of minutes flying through the dark night, and then a couple more minutes seeking out a parking spot. It’s about as fun as the real thing, which is to say, not at al.

So: ugly graphics, dull gameplay, an odd preoccupation with players having to find parking. You might be asking what makes Cloudpunk still worth your time — and I’m not denying that’s certainly a valid question.

The answer is in the story, and the characters, and the writing. As you fly around the dark, empty city, you learn more about the driver and the people who inhabit the world around her — which includes a move towards AI and people putting their consciousness into machines, which helps explain why the world is so empty. It’s surprisingly touching, and the way the tension slowly ramps up makes for a really interesting experience.

Interesting enough to make up for all the ways Cloudpunk is lacking, though? Your mileage on that will obviously vary. For me, it was, if only barely. There’s some engaging stuff going on here, but you need to dig through some pretty iffy stuff to get there.

ION Lands provided us with a Cloudpunk PS4 code for review purposes.

Grade: C