“I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe,” begins Roy Batty’s dying monologue in Blade Runner. In the nearly 40 years since Ridley Scott’s film established a visual aesthetic for what would become known as cyberpunk, we’ve seen these things many times now. Cloudpunk is a complex and uneven narrative-heavy adventure game that trades heavily in cyberpunk cliche. Familiar tropes are rejuvenated with mostly smart writing and consistently striking art direction, but there are also opportunities missed thanks to undernourished, by-the-numbers design.
Nivalis is the last city, or at least that’s what people say. Towering neon spires thrust out of the climate-ravaged ocean and, eventually, emerge through the clouds; at the top live the privileged few, the self-dubbed CEOs secluded in their stratified penthouses, while underneath everybody else ekes out a living in the dense urban sprawl where every city block has a noodle stand, night is permanent and it’s almost always raining. You’ve seen it all before, of course, yet this well-worn set dressing is rendered in such singular fashion it remains striking throughout.
Simply put, Cloudpunk is a stunningly gorgeous game. Nivalis is constructed out of voxels, big chunky bricks of solid colour that give the urban landscape the feel of an enormous, elaborate Lego diorama. Terrific use is made of contrast and lighting. Skyscrapers almost recede into negative space, their facades composed of hundreds of tiny boxes of light, alternating in lurid pinks, yellows and blues. When you’re flying through the city in your hover car, each turn delivers a spectacular view, each ascension over a row of high-rises greeted with a dazzling neon-drenched vista. To be honest, this review took longer than it should have because I had to pause every few seconds to snap off another screenshot.