The sky's the limit in this fast-paced platforming score-chaser
Cloudbuilt is a game about running across an industrial waste-ground suspended high above the clouds, evading traps and running up walls as you dodge and shoot at automated defences while racing against the clock. Cloudbuilt is also a game about a grievously injured female soldier named Demi, who attempts to make sense of what happened to her and why she now dreams of running above the clouds.
Cloudbuilt doesn't ever quite manage to reconcile these two different halves into a coherent whole. The core of Cloudbuilt is a high-speed combination of games like Mirror's Edge and the Trials series that asks you to complete levels in the fastest time possible, choosing your route and timing your movements to shave off the seconds. In-between levels you return to the medical facility where an unconscious Demi ruminates on war, memory and the meaning of the 'dreams' she is having. In other words she tries to make narrative sense of the level you have just played.
There are few games that could not be improved by the Ramp + Jetpack combination
Trying to make sense of an abstract sky-hopping time trial is to put it bluntly, a difficult task and while there are little threads of a compelling story told here, it's a distraction from the real meat of the game and feels a little out of place. Instead it's better to focus on the strengths of Cloudbuilt – for instance its open ended level design that for the most allows you to choose your own path from the start of each level to its conclusion (a red door identical to the one in Demi's hospital room). Cloudbuilt gives you the tools of double jumps, wall runs, wall-hangs, rapid fire and a charged rocket shot then simply says – now get to the end as fast as you can.
Fortunately doing so is for the most part a pleasure. At least it is once you master the slightly fiddly nature of the difference between wall-hanging and wall running and learn that pressing the boost key is something to time carefully, rather than spam until you run out of power. Demi resembles a speedy Megaman, with a jetpack allowing short boosts, and a hand mounted laser cannon used to disable traps and turrets. Despite the weaponry Cloudbuilt is not so much about killing enemies as it is eliminating obstacles that litter your path in a timely manner, allowing you to continue on your run with as little time lost as possible. Sometimes those obstacles will take the form of robots that will chase and shock you, or automated turrets that fire homing rockets. It's up to you to decide whether it's quicker to eliminate a turret, dodge its rockets or shoot them mid air.
Demi takes a rare moment to pause and admire the admirable scenery
Cloudbuilt is – largely thanks to the art-style - a very pretty game to look at. It combines traditional cartoonish cel-shading with a sort of cross-hatch style used to denote shadow and it works very well indeed. However, the levels do have a greyish industrial hue that contrasts starkly with the colourful protagonist Demi. Played from a third person perspective, the camera can feel like a bit of a hindrance at time as it tries to keep track of your speedy movements. Moments where you need to run up a wall, then jump off it at 180 degrees onto a parallel platform can be a little more awkward than is optimal. The game also does a good job of conveying speed and when you find a ramp and power down it to leap across the sky, it's very satisfying.
As you progress through Cloudbuilt towards one of several story conclusions, the levels become a lot tougher than early efforts where it's more about finding the right direction to head in (the games repetition of the industrial motif does mean that it can sometimes be hard to orientate yourself). Later levels see a fiendish array of traps arrayed in front of you, from slow moving lasers that must be dodged, lightning conduits that fired in timed bursts and patrolling robots that will chase you. The decisions you make become harder as you decide when to shoot, when to dodge and when to operate your burst and fly into a high-speed wall run before transitioning into a ramp. The difficulty certainly gets the pulse going, but some nasty check-pointing can sometimes turn the game into an exercise in frustration.
Cloudbuilt has a built in leaderboard system that provides the necessary thrust to replay levels. Although each level can be completed in under a minute if you're good, it generally takes a few tries before you're able to reach the end, let alone post a respectable time. This is the point where you can easily discern whether Cloudbuilt is a game for you – if you're interested in the story and the conclusion of Demi's journey, the game can be completed in a few short hours. Though there are plenty of levels it doesn't take especially long to power through them all, despite some cruel check-pointing in some of the later missions. On the other hand, if you're a committed score chaser longing to demonstrate your dexterity, quick decision-making and route planning, Cloudbuilt could potentially last far far longer.
The scratchy visuals help to create a dream-like feeling to the levels
Cloudbuilt is the kind of game where it takes a little time for the mechanics, particularly the controls to gel. But once you get over the initial learning curve and beyond the point of simply trying to complete every level it quickly becomes clear that the long-term appeal is cracking the leaderboard and improving your times.
Cloudbuilt is a pretty game with a strong incentive to replay. If your primary interest is in a story, it’s probably not for you. If you’re more intrigued by jetpacks, rocket boosts, wall-running and the thrill of flying off a ramp as you make your way to levels end as fast as you ruddy well can, Cloudbuilt is heartily recommended.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Realising how far you’ve come as you chain together a perfect run.