Delivering a CyberPunk Dystopia – One package at a time
Flying through the clouds and spires of a sprawling cyberpunk city with Vangelis-style synthwave being pumped through the speakers – in your backseat, there’s a ticking package and you need to decide whether to drop it down the trash-chute or deliver it to its final destination. A message is coming in through your dashboard – it’s your dispatcher seeing where you’re at with that package. Gotta make that decision quick.
Welcome to Cloudpunk.
In the future, in a cyberpunk neon-drenched city, where the corps rule with an iron fist – packages still need to get delivered. You play as Rania, a down on her luck musician that had to move to the big city of Nivalis to make ends meet. The means to those ends comes in the form of a job at a somewhat illicit delivery company known as Cloudpunk. You’re joined by your loyal companion Camus, a goofy dog AI uploaded into the dashboard of your HOVA (or flying car). Yes, Rania is equipped with her own flying car in the vein of other sci-fi classics like Blade Runner or 5th Element. In fact, if you’re the type of person who watched the opening sequence of Blade Runner and thought “Damn, I want to deliver a crazy amount of packages in that world” – Cloudpunk is definitely the game for you.
The story of the world unfolds through dialog between Rania and various NPC’s, from your handler at Cloudpunk (Control) and Camus or the customers you’re delivering packages to – in fact, while driving around the city there isn’t much of a chance for Rania to collect her thoughts between bits of dialog. Over the course of the game, Rania is presented with decisions, whether it’s to drop a ticking package down a trash chute or to mess with a bulletin board in the Spires, each decision has rippling effects on the overall narrative and the conversations that get had. The world and conversational narrative kind of reminds me of Neo Cab – but since that is a game set mostly in a vehicle driving around a cyberpunk city, that kinda makes sense.
The gameplay of Cloudpunk is relatively straightforward – get a call on your comms to get a waypoint to go to and pick up a package. Usually, you’ll have to find a parking space (which can be kind of a trek from the final nav point) and go on foot to the nav point – using a variety of cyberpunk style elevators and tunnels. While you’re running around on foot there are usually a variety of NPCs running around, some of which you can talk to. The dialog is all spoken (in addition to a neat cyberpunk portrait and subtitles) – so it really helps build the world and give it the dystopian megacity kind of vibe. Once you get your package, you generally haul it back to your HOVA and cruise to its drop-off point. Like mentioned before, sometimes you’ll have two nav-points to go to, providing a choice, and altering your narrative based on whatever is chosen. Sometimes to increase the challenge there are time-limits placed on the deliveries, however, for the most part, they are pretty generous and don’t ramp up the challenge too much.
the gameplay is relaxing, even zen
Overall, I’d say the gameplay is relaxing, even zen – allowing you to take your HOVA effortlessly around Nivalis and glide through the sometimes packed highways. As you start your HOVA feels a bit slow and unresponsive, but as you play and master the skyways you’ll begin to weave through the buildings and streets like a master courier – and it does feel pretty good to dip and weave through the traffic of Nivalis.
Nivalis – Welcome to the Cyberpunk Highways of the Future
High in the cloudy night, dark skyscrapers lit with a cacophony of neon loom over the city’s inhabitants. From the Marrow to the Spires, Cloudpunk’s cyberpunk voxel city is known as Nivalis, and you’ll get to know its streets well as a courier for a shady delivery service known as Cloudpunk.
The city of Nivalis was made for screenshots, and that’s definitely what looped me in initially. The voxel-based world is perfect for the cyberpunk aesthetic, with the looming dark towers set against the blue of the night and a smattering of neon signs and graffiti. The city is divided into neighborhoods or districts – connected by a series of tubes (like the internet) – each district has a slightly unique feel, but I think more could be done to differentiate them, there are several that feel pretty same-y. But some of the ‘hoods, like the spooky Hollows, have a very distinct feel and provide some gorgeous environments to play around in.
The world and atmosphere are helped by the soundtrack – providing space-y, relaxing synthwave music that evokes a similar feel to the Bladerunner Soundtrack, which is fantastic. Check out the main theme here – it DEFINITELY gives off them Bladerunner opening sequence vibes, with a bit more upbeat action. You can pick up the soundtrack for ten bucks on Steam, and if you’re looking for some atmospheric synthwave, there are worse places to look.
Traveling on-foot through sections of the city you get to see a lot of cool glowing imagery, graffiti and signs that add to the atmosphere, while also running across crisscrossing catwalks and neon elevators. On foot you’ll be able to interact with some of the locals around Nivalis, chatting with them to get a better feel for the world – which leads naturally to the next topic, the characters and narrative.
The Characters & Narrative
While Rania traverses the city on foot – she’ll encounter a few named individuals and they provide a bit of voiced dialog that helps “flesh-out” the city. In addition to the dialog each NPC has a neat cyberpunk portrait (which are probably my personal favorite part). The voice acting varies from person to person, some of it can be pretty cringe-y, but so can interactions in real life, so points for realism I guess. Outside of the random city NPCs, the conversations between Rania, Camus and Control are what drive the narrative forward.
The story of the game is told mostly through dialog between three main characters – Rania, the player character, Control, the Cloudpunk dispatcher who provides delivery jobs, and Camus, Rania’s AI dog. It mostly falls to – Rania, being the newcomer to Nivalis, is being taught the ropes of Nivalis through her dispatcher, Control, while delivering packages and explaining things to her joyfully naive AI counterpart Camus. Rania was a musician in a previous life from the Eastern Peninsula and kinda has a bit of a hipster-outsider vibe that can be a bit much at times.
Outside of the main three characters, the delivery jobs provide information about the world and interacting with the job-related NPCs in their various districts creates more gameplay oriented worldbuilding. Some of the highlights include an android’s head in a box or an old-school gumshoe AI who speaks in third-person metaphors.
A staple in cyberpunk storytelling – the corps are a relatively omnipresent force, with their oppressive hyper-capitalist class structure forming the backdrop over which the story is told. The story of Cloudpunk is the story of the city of Nivalis as it ages and decays and the implications of the decay on society and the AI’s that govern it – a story of a city on its last legs. And while that may seem pretty bleak – it’s helped by your constant companion and constant good boy, Camus.
“I may not eat, but I am still food curious”
I’m a sucker for a good boy – what can I say, I just love the doggos. Camus is Rania’s AI companion who apparently used to be a dog, but his frame (robotic dog body) had to be sold to the debt corps before the events of the game began. Luckily Rania was able to recover his AI and get him installed into her HOVA. What ensues are a bunch of goofy conversations between Rania and Camus, with him being the perpetual good boy. If you’re like me and you love the memes talking about what dogs are thinking or follow Thoughts of Dog on twitter – you’ll love Camus’s role in this story. His naivety surrounding Nivalis and how a cyberpunk dystopia is supposed to work is a bit of refreshing levity to help drive the plot away from being completely bleak and depressing (as typical cyberpunk narratives tend to lean).
Does Cloudpunk deliver?
If you are hoping for a gameplay rich, action street racer through a voxel cyberpunk city with lots of pew pews and explosions – this probably isn’t the game for you. If you’re looking for a decent narrative experience with some social commentary on hyper-capitalist dystopias, Cloudpunk is a good place to find it. The most obvious analogue would be Neo Cab – and it’s relatively apt. I’d say overall the writing in Neo Cab is better, but I prefer the gameplay of Cloudpunk and of the two Cloudpunk would be my pick – which is why it found its way onto the shelves of Indieology by WorldCraft.
So buckle-up – it’s gonna be a long night in Nivalis.
Game Title: Cloudpunk
Game’s Website: https://www.mergegames.com/cloudpunk
Game’s Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloudpunk
Game Release Date: 04/23/2020
Developer: ION LANDS
Developer’s Website: https://ionlands.tumblr.com/tagged/ionlands
Publisher: Merge Games
Publisher’s Website: https://www.mergegames.com/