Cloudbuilt offers an incredible free-run platforming experience. Highly addictive, highly challenging, and highly infuriating, this game pushes the idea of speed running to its limits. Speed and control are the core elements of the game, and if you can’t handle one or the other, this game is going to be a nightmare. However, if you can master both, the levels evolve into puzzle-like playgrounds where you can push your creativity to reach the goal in a myriad of ways.
The game throws players right into a destroyed building, offering a blue light that leads players to different obstacles, which will initiate a tutorial on how to overcome said obstacles. Within this trial run, it becomes quite obvious that the controls are highly sensitive. The camera angle needs to be focused on exactly where you want to go, or wall runs and the slightly more technical aspects of the game will not work out. It’s simple, the direction you’re facing is the direction you go; so making sure you can precisely look around while doing anything, especially a wall run, is essential. It will probably take most gamers some time to master the camera control while moving; it took me an hour before I was comfortable and about two hours to have a decent success rate at more complex maneuvers. In other words, I died a lot and was scoring below average on most levels.
Though the learning curve is steep, you probably won’t get held up on an early level for long. Firstly, there’s rarely ever just one path to take. Sometimes you’ll simply run into a fork in your path, and you’ll find one to be easier. Other times you might need to explore, climb up a random wall, and get a better look at your surroundings. For quite a few levels you can get by with the bare basics if you find the right path. It also helps that the levels progress in ways that require you to get the hang of a simple technique and then expand upon it in the next level. Once you’ve learned the core basics, you get cybernetic gear complete with a jetpack that allows you to double jump and dash at very intense speeds to cover longer distances. Despite this area still being a part of the tutorial, the jetpack alters the game significantly. If you’re not used to controlling the character at normal speeds, the jetpack might be too much.
Checkpoints are well spaced when you inevitably die. But even if you’ve reached a checkpoint, dying too many times will force you to choose between going to a different level or starting from the very beginning. This can be heartbreaking when there’s only one obstacle before the door holding you up. However, it does force you to get used to certain maneuvers, which trust me, as a person who’s spent over eight hours with sweaty palms sticking to the mouse and keys, you will get used to.
Once you’ve gained a decent amount of control, the gameplay seemingly evolves. Since the levels are layered in ways that don’t demand you to follow a single path, there is an automatic replayability built into them. I’d go through a level once extremely slow just to see what obstacles I could connect together. Admittedly, I needed to take it slow or I would end up dead rather quickly. Then I could see what worked and what didn’t. That allowed me to see how fast I could get through the level using the course I had mapped out. If you’re a competitive player, then beating other player’s times might be all you need to whittle hours away perfecting your route.
On top of all that, Cloudbuilt features quite a few different game modes for players to challenge themselves with. There was a mode titled ‘Fragile’ where one hit meant death, and I didn’t even bother touching that one. First off, I could shoot down a lot of enemies with my blaster, but I always ran straight into a cluster of stationary units that can’t be destroyed; death would have never stopped for me. Secondly, it was painful enough to get a ‘D’ ninety percent of the time on normal, so I can’t imagine the morale decrease of being completely stuck. Another mode named ‘Pathfinder’ gave you less fuel to boost yourself around with forcing you to pick your routes carefully. Finally, there was the ‘Super Charge’ mode which actually made the game a quite a bit easier. It overpowered your booster to a ridiculous degree. However, if you couldn’t really get control of your character this probably still wouldn’t help.
Though the gameplay will decide for most people whether or not Clouldbuilt was worth buying, those with an appreciation for cyberpunk artwork and gorgeous level designs might be more willing to put up with the difficulty. Getting to see the next level is a reward in itself as you first gaze on a new environment. One of my favorite moments was moving from what felt like the remnants of some city’s downtown to a gorgeous skyscape. The lighting suddenly opened up, as if I’d travelled from under the shadow of a skyscraper to its rooftop as everything brightened, and the shadows all softened. It was such an intense transition that I literally felt as if I’d been set free from a dystopian imprisonment. The level design even enforced that feeling as I ran from what felt like a hanger into an incredible open expanse.
I mentioned Cloudbuilt‘s cyberpunk veneer, and I need to elaborate on it. Outside of the obvious cybernetic qualities of the character – she is in a robotic suit, the artwork has a cross-hatched style to it that lends a grid like backdrop to the world. Yes, a lot of platformers feel grid like because there’s set paths one must take to reach the end, but Cloudbuilt’s doesn’t come from that. The paths in Cloudbuilt are not direct, and almost disorienting as platforms and objects float disconnected from one another. Instead, it’s the slightly blocky, thick lined, hatched artwork that made it feel as if I had been dropped into an apocalyptic cyberspace.
I say apocalyptic because if you haven’t touched the game yet, everything feels torn apart. The level selection map makes each area look like it’s made of junk floating out in space; the obstacles in a level are consistently spread apart, forcing you to hop and dash just to move forward. At the same time, the positions also create a dreamlike quality to the game that borders on surrealism. Everything’s just floating about, unstable with nothing to root it to reality. In many ways it’s what parkour heaven must be like.
What’s exceptionally beautiful about this strange mix is how it reflects the story surrounding the character. She is a war veteran, who seems to be hospitalized and undergoing cybernetic repairs. There are some strange notions of AI holding a duality to the human conscience or even encroaching upon it that some might take away, but that’s not what I’m going to get into here. The experiences that the character has gone through in war, together with her apparent comatose condition have this beautiful connection to the way I perceived the levels.
Each level was dismantled, crumbling apart with robots patrolling the grounds. These areas are both places of battle and chunks of what, I imagine, used to be something greater, and clearly don’t support human life. At the same time there’s this abstract quality to each stage that made me feel like it was just a part of a dream. In doing so, the levels alone could have told her story without an actual narration.
However, besides that the story really didn’t have much impact on me. I mentioned some strange ideas about AI taking over the subconscious, because the character we control in the real world reminds me of a transparent Tron. Now the amount of assumptions one could formulate from that could be fun, but for the most part, the narrative didn’t draw me in, because it felt like an intermission. It was somewhat short, and thrown in almost as if to just give my hands a break.
Lacking alongside the story was the sound. It didn’t harm the game in any way. I wasn’t appalled by the voices, or the music. It’s just that I was so focused on what I was doing or cursing so loud in my mind and aloud that I didn’t really register it. If anything that’s just a compliment to the addictiveness of the gameplay. Still, when I did notice it, the soundtrack was soft and slow, with high notes that enforced a sense of solitude and loneliness. This made a strange contrast to the loud bursts of noise that went off when being fired at and using the jetpack. But the contrast worked well and helped create an environment that was both desolate and exciting at the same time.
In the end, Cloudbuilt provides an extremely challenging experience that I recommend for any who have a decent dexterity stat. Not only will it give you a beautiful world to blaze through but carpal tunnel in about a month. A low price tag of $19.99 certainly ups the value, even at the risk of bodily injury. Kidding. Kinda. All in all, it’s definitely worth playing and I give my applause to Coilworks for creating a game that killed me many more times than Dark Souls 2 did in my first several hours of play.