What is it? Delivering packages in a cyberpunk city.
Expect to pay £17/$20
Developer Ion Lands
Publisher Merge Games
Reviewed on RTX 2080 Super, Intel i7-9700K, 16GB RAM
Link Developer website (opens in new tab)
Whether it's Blade Runner's rain-soaked Los Angeles, the planet Coruscant in Star Wars, or the future New York imagined by The Fifth Element, there's something evocative about the image of a futuristic city criss-crossed with flying cars. And in the gorgeous, voxel-based Cloudpunk you get to be a part of one of those teeming skyways, driving a beaten-up hover car and delivering packages in a dystopian city, Nivalus.
This vivid, intricate metropolis is genuinely stunning to look at. It's a bustling sprawl of neon signs, roaming spotlights, colossal billboards, and hover cars scurrying back and forth between monolithic skyscrapers. If you've ever watched Blade Runner and wished you could get behind the wheel of a spinner, this is as close any game has come to realising that fantasy.
It looks great up close too. Lower your car to street level and you'll see pedestrians milling around, noodle stands, and seedy nightclubs. In the air, advertising blimps, trains streaking along suspended rails, and the glow of thousands of apartment windows. The sheer density of the place is remarkable. It ticks off every cyberpunk aesthetic cliche, but it does it with style.
And I have to mention the extraordinary sound design too. The buzz of the traffic, the endlessly rattling rain, the voices echoing from the billboards, and the soaring synths of the stirring Vangelis-inspired soundtrack combine to create a really thrilling sonic landscape. It sounds every bit as good as it looks, and the result is a game that is absolutely drenched in atmosphere.
Okay, the city is incredible. We've established that. But what do you actually do there? You play as Rania, a newcomer to Nivalus who takes a job with a legally dubious courier company called Cloudpunk. Your job is simple: pick up packages, deliver them, and don't ask any questions. Ominously, your dispatcher—a crotchety but likeable old guy you know only as Control—tells you that most new drivers don't make it past the first night.(opens in new tab)
Cloudpunk is a game almost entirely about exploration and conversation. As you make your deliveries you'll meet a large cast of characters along the way, including shady nightclub owners, hackers, hover car racers, CEOs, cops, and self-aware androids. Nivalus is a city filled with stories, although the quality of the writing and voice acting is pretty uneven.
There are some great characters here, though. Huxley is a private detective who speaks like he's narrating a hard-boiled crime novel, and frustrates Rania with his tortured mixed metaphors. And I love Camus, Rania's AI companion, who has an infectiously naive, optimistic personality.
There's a story to follow too. As Rania makes her deliveries she learns more about Cloudpunk, how the city is run, and the tensions bubbling beneath the surface. And as Control grows to trust you, you're given more lucrative jobs—including a visit above the clouds to the Spire, where wealthy corporate stooges live and work away from the mass of humanity below.
But what really holds Cloudpunk together is the driving. Or is it flying? Your little hover car is a delight to control, with a nice feeling of speed, weight, and momentum. Gliding across those dazzling cityscapes, weaving through traffic, and firing your repulsors to gain altitude feels sensational. And it only gets better as you spend your hard-earned wages on upgrades, including a nifty booster that gives you a short, satisfying surge of speed.
There are some light simulation elements too, such as stopping at garages to refuel, or forking out for repairs if you've traded paint with a few too many hover buses. But for the most part, Cloudpunk is a pretty easygoing experience. It's a narrative game first and foremost, more concerned with telling you a story than challenging you. You're never really in danger.
Occasionally you're forced to park your car and explore parts of the city on foot. Fixed camera angles and slightly floaty character movement mean these sections aren't as compelling as when you're in the air. But there are some nice, light navigation puzzles here, using elevators and walkways to find clients hiding in the dark corners of the crowded city.
There are a few fun extras, like an apartment you can decorate, optional missions that reveal more about the city, and even the opportunity to trade your hover car in for a faster model. But the core of the game is navigating the city and meeting the strange people who live there.
There's a faint but noticeable disconnect between some of Cloudpunk's working parts, as if the city and the hover cars came first, and the rest was grafted on later. But despite this, and some distractingly poor acting in places, I basically love it. Even if the story doesn't grab you, it's worth playing just to fly around that wonderful city. And it's nice playing a cyberpunk game where you're a regular working stiff, not a corporation-toppling superhacker.