(Image credit: Future)
In addition to our team-selected Game of the Year Awards 2020, individual members of the PC Gamer team each select one of their own favourite games of the year. We’ll post new personal picks, alongside the main awards, throughout the rest of the month.
Cloudpunk‘s transformation has been a pleasure to watch. The version that launched in April was great—a cyberpunk courier romp that saw you exploring the dystopian city of Nivalis in your flying car and on foot. Massive voxel spires tearing through the clouds below you; walkways filled with street vendors, dealers and corporate security; everywhere you look something eye-catching and unusual. It’s a game you can wrap up in 10 hours, but one that beckons you to explore it for days. Weeks.
If developer Ion Lands had left it that, I’d still probably be writing about Cloudpunk here. I’d still be gushing about Rainia, a rare cyberpunk protagonist who isn’t dying from cynicism, who’s cool because she absolutely isn’t trying to be. And of course I wouldn’t forget about Camus, her constant companion. He was an AI dog in a former life, and now he’s a car. He’s the best boy. The pair meet a lot of fascinating people during their first night on the job, and through them Cloudpunk explores transhumanism, terrorism, AI rights and all sorts of topics, both speculative and relevant now.
Cloudpunk is dense with worldbuilding, but it’s not bogged down in it. Nivalis itself is huge and ancient, the sort of thing you can’t really know, but you’ll come to understand it pretty well, and the greater world around it, just by driving around. In a few hours, you’ll have the kind of strong sense of place that a lot of games fail to produce after 50 hours. And like us, Rainia is a newcomer to the city, encountering its oddities for the first time. She doesn’t just accept that “this is how it is”. She’s frequently stunned by it, but also very critical. It’s an incredible place that also happens to be deeply fucked up and broken.
So yeah, it was fantastic. Then the first-person mode appeared, initially for the on-foot sections. Previously, these were presented side-on with a fixed camera, and while the ability to explore the city outside of the car was very welcome, I always found myself aching to return to my boxy, banged-up vehicle. The first-person mode changed that straight away. Walking around became a delight. Wizardry must have been involved. The game wasn’t designed with a first-person perspective in mind, but it works so damn well. Now I can’t imagine playing it any other way. And it only took Ion Lands a month to implement. As I said: wizardry.
Viewing the city up close really lets you admire the impressive voxel art and so many little details that were hard to pick out when it kept you at a distance. It’s so much larger and intimidating and lively, but simultaneously intimate. An unlocked third-person camera was also added, and most recently a first-person driving mode, letting you experience the whole game from Rainia’s eyes. It’s the best way to see the city, but I’m just as enamoured with the inside of my car, which includes a diegetic display that puts your fuel meter, bank balance, minimap and other helpful details on the dashboard.
Cloudpunk could have just let me fly my car around a weird city in the distant future and I would have absolutely been content, but it reeled me in with its intriguing, understated story and then catapulted itself to the top of my favourite games list thanks to the extra attention it’s received from Ion Lands. Jumping back in to grab some screenshots, I was reminded just how seductive Nivalis is, and while the story is behind me, I don’t think I’m quite done being a tourist.