Clustertruck (PC) review
- Fun. Full of outlandish ideas, included largely to add moments to the game rather than for anything resembling coherency.
- Sharp, clear graphics, giving a distinctive - and responsive - style to everything.
- In-built editor and Steam Workshop support, to keep those levels coming.
Not so much?
- Randomness feels like a part of the game mechanics; you can get good at the controls, but will never totally control things.
- Where randomness leads, frustration can soon follow. Short sessions are probably best for your blood pressure.
Engaging in parkour across moving lorries with a seeming mass-deathwish through outlandish traps seems like an activity to shorten any lifespan. Clustertruck proves this hypothesis correct.
I still have strong memories of playing off-ground tag as a kid, the mad scramble to leap onto benches, hang from railings and generally keep as far away from the ground as possible while friends do their best to tag you. Clustertruck carries that chaotic feeling too, though contact with the ground results in you being tagged by a speeding mass of trucks instead.
Recently released by developer Landfall Games, Clustertruck is a first person platformer, with you performing death-defying (or more commonly, death-causing) parkour by leaping around a course formed by the rooves of speeding lorries.
The trucks themselves start each stage in neat formation, but within a second they’ll be steering themselves into a mass of moving platforms, ramming each other off of racing lines and into obstacles, off of cliffs, and through bizarre machines existing solely to beat vehicles into scrap. It is as if the suicidal rodents from the old Lemmings game started a road haulage company, and you decided to take a lift.
Your reckless dare-devilry is focused on you trying to get to a goal as quickly as possible, made hard enough thanks to the trucks weaving, bashing and crashing around you. After a while, you’ll work out how to control your leaps and gauge roughly where a surface should be as you land, but skill is only part of it – luck also plays a factor, and it’s here that the frustration can kick in.
Some levels can seem straightforward, but leave you stuck retrying repeatedly – problems aren’t just awkward jumps and undulating ground, but sometimes you’ll have random vehicle crashes occurring on some runs and not others, or the pack splitting up to leave you with nothing to leap on to. There were a couple of stages that, were it not for a review, I’d have been tempted to give up in frustration. Yet generally within a level or two of these potential rage-quit moments there would then be something so impressive I’d swear the game was great again – like leaping from roof to roof as trucks make a slow motion leap across a chasm, or heading between swinging hammers knocking rows of vehicles off the road.
So the stage difficulty is not consistent, though you can offset some of the challenge with upgrades, which you purchase with points earned on completing the levels. These are broken down into movement abilities – double jumps, grappling hooks and jet packs to name three – and utilities – slowing time or deploying extra trucks, for example. Some planning is still needed though, as you can only take one from each category at a time, and these options can heavily change how you approach levels… in many ways, the game does come alive as you start exploring how you can use the physics engine with particular abilities, in a way that the basic platforming doesn’t.
Some mention must go to the distinctive graphics style. The trucks, world, and pretty much everything is made up of flat shaded polygons, leaving everything clear, bright and colourful. It’s tempting to compare it to early 32bit era games, but doing so sounds like a criticism when it is not just functional but actually distinctive, and moves very smoothly.
When you’ve cleared the 90 preset levels – something which may take only a few hours, although allowing for a degree of frustration at some stages potentially adds destressing time to that – and if replaying them with different gear doesn’t appeal, the game has an inbuilt level editor. This gives you the freedom to create your own slices of vehicular chaos, and if the creative bug doesn’t strike you can instead access other people’s creations via Steam Workshop.
Clustertruck is the sum of many parts – it is fun and frustrating in inconsistent quantities, and it has the foundation of a simple game idea that only really shines when complicated with novelties. The idea is crazy enough to be fun for its own sake, but with a difficulty that varies inconsistently and the randomness of the physics engine being a gameplay factor, frustration can kick in at times, making for a game to play in short bursts. However, there tend to be awesome moments just waiting on the horizon if you push through for them, and then even more if you start exploring the player-created content freely available.
Family Fiends Findings?
- No gore, no swearing, and a cartoonish disregard for safety rather than a serious demonstration of living dangerously. Nothing especially unsuitable for kids here.