Cloudpunk review: The love child of Blade Runner & The Fifth Element

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.

A very Bladerunner balcony shot

This scene is reminiscent of the scene in Westworld’s Blade Runner game. When Ray McCoy stands on his apartment balcony early on in the game.

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.

Welcome to Cloudpunk Paradise

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. 

Some sort of ground beneath Cloudpunk

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.

Take Cloupunk for a Bespin

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?

NZ video game development industry on the up and up

Looks like things are on the up and up for the New Zealand video games development industry, with the sector earning $203.4 million dollars during the 2019 financial year – double the $99.9m earned only two years earlier in 2017.

The figures come from the annual NZ Game Developers Industry Survey conducted by independent researcher Tim Thorpe and is for the financial year ending 31 March 2019. It canvassed 39 interactive, gaming, virtual reality, augmented reality and edTech companies. The 10 largest studios earned 93% of the industry revenue, employed 77% of the workforce and are now 10 years old on average.

New Zealand Game Developers Association Chairperson Cassandra Gray says the results are the “fruits of the last generation of New Zealand interactive studios’ hard work”.

“Our opportunity is to support the next generation of creative tech companies to join them,” she says.

Fifty nine per cent of studios expect significant growth (greater than 10%) in the coming year. In the last year, eight New Zealand-made apps debuted the new Apple Arcade service, NinjaKiwi’s Bloons TD6 topped Apple’s paid games charts, Grinding Gear Games’ Path of Exile was one of the top ten played PC games in the world, RocketWerkz opened a second studio in Auckland, and Valleys Between by Little Lost Fox won the Best Feel Good Game at the International Mobile Gaming Awards.

The companies involved in the survey employ 683 creative and hi-tech workers, an increase of 133 new jobs this year. A Creative NZ and NZ On Air study, A Profile of Creative Professionals 2019, found that game development was one of the best paid creative occupations in the country and 31% of the roles in the industry are programmers, 29% are artists, 24% for game designers or producers, 12% for management or marketing.

Nearly half of the studios (47%) said that skills shortages were limiting the growth of their business – and this had intensified since last year. Gender diversity remains a concern for the sector, with 21% of employees identifying as female or non-binary, and attracting early stage development funding and attracting investment for expansion continue to be the biggest growth challenges to the industry.

The educational benefits of simulations and interactive training continues to be recognised, with 24% of New Zealand interactive studios having made games or apps for businesses clients or government departments and 20% have made games for educational institutions.

The surveyed developers make interactive media for a range of devices and global markets, with 63% making mobile apps, 53% producing PC games, 38% concentrating on console games, 22% making augmented reality apps and 19% making virtual reality games.

When I used to write full-time for a living (a few years ago now), I had a wee bit to do with several NZ game developers and was impressed with what I saw, especially from studios like Flightless, based in Mt Maunganui (RTS game Element, Doomsday Vault & Bee Leader) and Sidhe (now called Pik Pok),  and I had a tour of the Grinding Gears studio a few years back. Here’s to a strong future to all Kiwi game developers.

Lonely Mountains: Mountain biking, low-poly styles

No doubt I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m a keen cyclist, both mountain and road, so when a Twitter friend (thanks @museste) let me know about Lonely Mountains, my interest was piqued.

Lonely Mountains describes itself as a “downhill mountain biking game for PC focusing on responsive and fun controls, an open level design and an untouched nature in a beautiful low poly style”.

I’m digging the art style and simplistic nature of Lonely Mountains, but apart from the trailer I don’t know much more about it, like how big will it be, how does progression through the game work and is there an online aspect .The game is being worked on my Berlin, Germany indie studio Megagon Industries founded in 2013. Two of the three-man team are working on Lonely Mountains, which is tentatively aiming for a 2018 release.

Lonely Mountains reminds me a lot of the game Trials HD, mainly because it’s a game where you ride a trials motorbike through a variety of courses, aiming to beat times and do tricks to earn points. Megagon says the game will feature custom bike physics, secret locations, tracks that you can ride from top to bottom without encountering a loading screen and open-world game play, meaning you can follow tracks or find your own way to the end point. All the screen shots show the game in a pre-Alpha state so there’s still a fair bit of work to go.

The developers say other potential features will include weather systems (snow, rain, wind), a dynamic day and night system, a replay & share system, and rider and bike customisation. As I said earlier, my interest is piqued and I’m going to follow the progress of Lonely Mountains closely.

Now, if I could only be as skilled on my mountain bike as the low-poly rider featured in the trailer …