Unfolding over the course of one night, “Cloudpunk” follows Rania as she pilots her HOVA — a four-seater air vehicle — around the city, making the rounds for an illicit delivery service. Her life in the city is fraught with precarity. She moved to Nivalis after losing the home in which she grew up to debt collectors. Her newfound employer, Cloudpunk, is riddled with a high turnover rate and, in recent times, drivers were involved in numerous accidents all over the city due to wild fluctuations in its A.I. controlled infrastructure.
As someone who harbors a fondness for the chunky graphics of the 16-bit era, I was charmed by “Cloudpunk’s” voxel graphics — think “Blade Runner” meets Lego. The core gameplay loop consists of picking up packages and delivering them, and occasionally ferrying passengers to and fro. Such basic activities might leave something to be desired for those looking for a bit of pizazz in terms of gameplay, but I had no issue with such a setup since I was looking for something restive during my holiday downtime. Rather, what propels “Cloudpunk” are the interactions Rania has with her fellow citizens.
Although I quickly formed an attachment to Rania, whose subdued observations of the world are delivered with aplomb by the voice actor Andrea Petrille, a number of the other voice actors ham it up too much for my taste. I never, for instance, felt any affinity for Rania’s A.I. companion Camus (pronounced “came us” as opposed to “cam-mu” — a winking distortion of the Algerian philosopher’s name) who longs to be placed in the body of a dog rather than serve as her co-pilot. And Rania’s encounters with the wealthy citizens of Nivalis, such as Mrs. Octavius Butler, hew so much to a look at this conceited, out of touch, one-percenter template that they feel like futile exercises in orthodox posturing.
Still, there are splashes of good writing to be found. I chuckled the first time I heard a public broadcast warning that said: “Unlicensed jazz is punishable by death. Those who wish to experience or perform jazz must apply for a yearly permit.” I also appreciated some of the game’s morally ambiguous decisions that force Rania to choose between acting in her own best interest or helping someone who cannot return the favor.
“Cloudpunk” can be completed in under fifteen hours depending on how many side missions one engages in. Honestly, though, it could have clocked in at half that time and been better served by a more concentrated approach. As it stands, the game is too much of a flyover experience — beholden to the cyberpunk genre’s conceits and, as such, mired in an aesthetic rut.
Note: I played Cloudpunk on an Alienware PC with an Xbox controller. Initially, I noticed that Rania’s vehicle drifted to the side even when idle. Going into the Steam settings and selecting Xbox configuration support eliminated the issue.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.