Review – Cloudbuilt

Run, dash, leap, climb, boost, dodge, shoot, die. So goes a few seconds in the world of Cloudbuilt, a brutally unforgiving, lightning-fast parkour-em-up set amongst the skies, skies which are filled with angry robots looking to keep you from wall running, double jumping, and speed boosting your way through the game’s roughly twenty stages. In those rare moments when everything lines up, Cloudbuilt can deliver unmatched exhilaration, but it more frequently simply provides unnecessary frustration with no satisfaction to follow. It’s certainly a good idea, mixing Trials-esque stages with fast-paced over-the-shoulder action, but a number of misfires in the execution leaves Cloudbuilt feeling like masochism with no real purpose behind it.

 

While you could always try to nail a perfect run through Cloudbuilt’s obstacle courses and claim a spot on the leaderboard, your first priority is just to make it through at all. This is perhaps easier said than done, as each stage will beat you down with some combination of killer machines and precision acrobatics sequences. Failure, which is inevitable, adds a few seconds to your time and sends you back to the last checkpoint (or the start of the stage if you’ve run out of lives). In fact, you’ll probably spend a lot more time struggling and failing with Cloudbuilt than you will gracefully navigating its gauntlets. The main culprit here is the fact that it’s incredibly hard to get a good idea of what a sequence will entail before you begin it, which means the only way to figure out what series of maneuvers will get you out alive is to try, fail, and hope that you can see what you’re supposed to do on your next attempt. This wouldn’t be the worst of all possible worlds if not for the fact that checkpoints are few and far between, meaning that each of the five or six or twenty attempts it takes to figure out a particular sequence will require you to retread a lot of familiar ground. Compounding the problem are controls that simply aren’t precise or predictable enough to keep up with the game’s pace. What should have been a wall run instead becomes a climb, or a graceful dismount instead becomes a freefall into the clouds below, and back you go to the last checkpoint.

It’s a long way down. Be sure to pack a rocket booster.

 

And even if you figure out your route and the control gods smile on you, you’ll still have to destroy or avoid seeker drones, gun turrets, and mines along the way. Shooting is perhaps Cloudbuilt‘s most forgiving aspect, as your rapid-fire gun can churn out homing bullets quickly enough to put down most threats. Unless, of course, your targets are shielded, in which case you’ll need to find a way around them or nimbly jump and weave your way through incoming fire. Unfortunately, moving quickly is usually not enough to stay out of harm’s way, meaning that encountering even a single enemy necessitates stopping to destroy it from afar before moving on. This absolutely butchers the game’s pacing and turns any sequence with destructible enemies into a stop-and-go grind as you alternate between rushing ahead and clearing out enemies. Sure, you could always just keep moving and attempt to shoot down foes while wall-running about, but having to shoot while dealing with unreliable controls is an unnecessary source of frustration in a game already overflowing with them.

 

Your reward for jumping and shooting your way through a (typically beautifully drawn) stage is a small bit of voiced monologue that tells a tale that’s too incoherent to be truly terrible. You play as a disembodied spirit (possibly) of a seriously injured girl (hurt in a war, possibly). But while the monologue bits are too busy with psycho-babble and obtuse philosophical musings for their own good, the game’s overall structure offers an interesting take on the storytelling. After completing some tutorials, you’re free to choose a stage from one of four different paths. Each path has a different flavor – one is darker and filled with enemies, one features calmer stages filled with vine-covered stone – and the tone of the monologue you unlock after each stage matches the tone of that particular path, so the darker path talks more about war and devastation while a brighter path may skew a bit more hopeful and introspective. It’s an interesting and natural way to give the player a bit of agency in the story, it’s just a shame that it’s not in the service of a more cogent and worthwhile narrative.

 

And that’s really the theme of Cloudbuilt: good ideas and poor implementation. The movement can feel great, but the controls get in the way. Planning a route through a level has a fun bit of puzzle-solving to it, but the poor checkpointing ruins the fun. Shooting down enemies adds intensity on occasion, but frequently just kills the game’s sense of speed. And after five or so hours completing one of the paths (and most stages from the other three), I don’t feel like I’m any better at Cloudbuilt than I was when I started. Success in Cloudbuilt is not founded on developing an intuition or a deeper understanding of the game’s mechanics, but rather just trying over and over again until the controls finally agree to do the thing you’d been trying to do for twenty minutes. It is thus a series of independent challenges in which failure is frustrating by virtue of it being somewhat beyond your control and success is unrewarding because it comes not from growth as a player, but merely from persistence and a bit of luck.

 

Eric says: Skip it. Cloudbuilt brings frustration in defeat and no satisfaction in victory.



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