Cloudpunk is what I’d imagine the offspring of movies Blade Runner and The Fifth Element would look like – if Blade Runner & The Fifth Element got cozy for a night, that is.
Hear me out on this one. Take Blade Runner’s dystopian and neon-lit bleakness and The Fifth Element’s chaotic driving and downright craziness and you’ve got their offspring: Cloudpunk. A damn good looking child, if I say so myself, that I’m sure it’s parent (German developer Ionlands) would be so proud of what it has achieved.
You play as Rania, a newcomer to the city of Nivalis. A dystopian city where AIs, human and mechanical have merged into one giant melting point. Where the rich live in tall towers, never mixing with the little people, and the poor rummage around the streets just trying to survive. Rania finds work as a delivery/courier driver for delivery company Cloudpunk, and over the course of a night, criss-crosses across the city’s various districts delivering parcels – and sometimes people. As the night wears on, Rania soon discovers that there is more to Nivalis – and the AI that is intertwined in its very fabric – than meets the eye.
The first thing that smacks you in the head is Cloudpunk’s amazing visual aesthetic, which is created by voxel graphics and is a real mash of gloom and neon.
Giant billboards bath buildings in a bright, neon glow; light trails from the flying vehicles punctuate the brightly lit highways that weave through Nivalis like capilliaries and veins; Flames billow from tall smokestacks (like in the opening moments of the original Blade Runner); Exhaust fans cast shadows through the dim shadows; Sirens wail as police vehicles pursue a fleeing driver. Driving through the city has a real The Fifth Element feel, too.
Remember early in the movie (if you’ve seen it, you will, but if you haven’t seen it: Why not?) when Corbin Dallas (Bruce Willis) is driving through the city and has to dodge oncoming traffic? Cloudpunk is like that, with Rania having to navigate around skyscrapers and precincts, and visit repair shops from time to time after one many fender bender with an oncoming vehicle.
Rania isn’t alone in her journey: Her vehicle’s AI is the stored memory of her former dog, Camus (who has an avatar of a border collie) and the voice of Control, who offers solace and advice as she finds her way across Nivalis, and she will meet a variety of character as the story unfolds.
The ageing android PI who speaks like he’s reading the pages of a hard-boiled detective novel; The financial advisor who works for the firm Anderson Financial that only has employees with the surname Anderson; The nightclub owner who has hidden agenda when he befriends Rania; The CEO who lives in the highest tower in the city and has never ventured below. The voice acting is a little hit and miss at times, but Rania, Control and Camus are voiced wonderfully.
What’s also wonderful is the Vangellis-inspired soundtrack which punctuates the soundtrack in Cloudpunk. Even the opening note of the game echoes the opening note of OG Blade Runner. In some ways, it’s as if Cloudpunk is a love letter to the greatness that was Blade Runner and the world it created.
Perhaps the weakest part of Cloudpunk are the on-foot sections where the fixed camera makes navigating the environments awkward at times. Rania frequently got stuck on light poles, trees and benches as I was trying to reach the objective marker because the fixed camera was so inflexible and I couldn’t quite guide her right.
It also isn’t always obvious where to go sometimes when you’re on foot, too. The map is a bit of a mess so, Ionlands, any chance of a map legend? You can only park your vehicle at designated district parking zones, too, meaning some times you’ll have quite a trek to reach your destination, having to traverse both horizontally and vertically. I won’t deny that I got lost on more than one occasion.
The fact that I completed Cloudpunk over a matter of days (clocking in at 16 hours) is testimony to just how good I found it. There are a handful of missions (including the final one) where you have to make a choice on what to do so there is some replayability there. I wonder if I’d made a different decision in the end how things would have changed the storyline. Ionlands are also incredibly active listening to their community updating the game several times already since it was released.
Cloudpunk ends in such a way that I’d be interested to see where Rania’s story goes from here: So, Ionlands. What are the chances of a sibling for the firstborn between Blade Runner and The Fifth Element?