The first time I tried out Cloudbuilt, I was really tired. That was a mistake. Tiredness and Cloudbuilt mix like Marxists at the Goldman Sachs Annual Disco; with anger, confusion and the potential for property damage. Don’t do it.
Not only did the tiredness make me far more irritable towards the game than was strictly necessary, it also meant I picked up some bad control habits that could’ve been avoided. Since Cloudbuilt is a title based around precision and quick-thinking, that was less than ideal.
I’ve only myself to blame. Coilworks’ own introductory video to their recently Greenlit title calls it “highly challenging.” Doing anything that’s highly challenging while sleepy is a pretty bad move. Still, at least with a videogame the risk of losing a limb is significantly reduced.
In Cloudbuilt you goal is to guide an anime-ish third-person avatar lady through a floating 3D construct of platforms in a manner of your choosing, as quickly as possible. There are checkpoints along the way and helpful arrows on some of the surfaces to give you some guidance, but until you’ve run the course several times you probably won’t know quite where to go or have settled on a preferred pathway.
Level design will prevent you from doing exactly what you want, but each area has plenty of branching points. From what I’ve seen so far these tend to offer the ‘slower, but a bit safer’ route versus the ‘yep, this where the leaderboard-toppers will be going’ one, but I’m sure there are even more devious routes to be found. The ‘damn, we didn’t even expect people to go this way, that’s clever’ type.
Mirror’s Edge might be the go-to timed parkour reference, but Cloudbuilt reminds me just as much of Trackmania. It invites the same obsessive stabbing of the ‘restart from checkpoint’ key every time you blunder your rocket-boosting charge off yet another platform edge, accidentally wall-run her into the void, or otherwise bring her agile form to a premature halt.
Mastering the move set is pretty much mandatory if you’re going to find any kind of fluidity and avoid frustration. As I mentioned, I picked up a terrible (and flat out incorrect) habit right away which took a while to shake. To wall-run, it’s necessary to approach the surface at a sort of diagonal (approaching head-on will trigger a vertical run instead) and tap space to jump on. That’ll ‘stick’ you to the surface for a brief period, which can be extended by draining some boost energy.
For some insane reason, I’d thought you had to hold down space to remain stuck to the wall while running. That made it infuriating to hop between walls, because I was having to un-hold space, tap space again to jump across … and then begin holding it again. Mostly, this just resulted in ricocheting off the wall to my death.
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Who would design the controls this way, I wondered? The answer is nobody. Nobody would, because it would be terrible. Cloudbuilt’s real controls, the ones that don’t just exist in my head, are far more reasonable.
I’d still say the angle of approach of ‘wall-run’ versus ‘vertical wall climb’ can be a bit nebulous in the split-second situations Cloudbuilt places you in, but once you’ve settled on a mouse sensitivity and custom control scheme it’s possible to find some real momentum. I found that having the energy boost on Shift was a bit clumsy, and moved it to the right mouse button instead. That used to be ‘aim,’ but Shift was happy switch to that role.
Yes, aiming. There are some shooty bits too. After all, everybody loved them in Mirror’s Edge. That’s … not true at all, but it’s perhaps slightly unfair to equate the role of guns in the two games. Here, you just run into the occasional turret, patrolling robot or energy mine that you need to dispose of in a hurry. To be honest, I’ve not yet found a level where the inclusion of shooting has felt especially necessary, but it’s not too objectionable either.
For the most part it seems to be an additional way to nag away at your time, as you either need to take a few seconds to blow the ordinance up, or go around it but risk the possibility that it’ll keep nipping away at your health and mess up later acrobatics.
Moderate success (a time worthy of a C grade or above) on any given level will top up your lives, which is perhaps a slightly inverted mechanic. It means that as you get better at the game, you get more chances to fail at a level before Cloudbuilt invites you to either restart the whole thing or have a crack at a different one. But this repeated failure seems more likely to occur when someone is still learning the game; the point at which they have fewest lives.
Each death also conveys a time penalty, something better players will be wanting to avoid. However, levels do get more expansive and will probably require more trial and error exploration (at the cost of more lives) before a “pure” run can be attempted.
While I’m nitpicking, it’d be nice to have a separate voice-audio slider. If you’re not quick enough on the restart button, you’ll be treated to a piercing scream of alarm as your heroine tumbles to her death. If you’re me you’ll hear that scream pretty often, and perhaps want to turn it down without losing the sound effects and rather terrific music (the main menu, especially, sounds like it uses some long-lost ZX Spectrum tones.)
Cloudbuilt’s twenty-some levels should be enough for competitive types to wrangle over, especially as many of them have different modes of play once completed. You can, if you’re insane, activate a ‘one hit kills you’ mode or the more doable ‘collect all the beacons and return to your starting position’ variant.
Throughout my time with the game I’ve swung from feelings of loathing to understanding, back through loathing and ended up at something approaching respect. It’s a title which loves to poke at you, jabbing at your flabby, atrophied gaming skills with a challenging finger and daring you to do better. You might spend twenty minutes falling off Cloudbuilt’s cunning constructs and swearing, but if you can find that perfect line and guide your protagonist through in a fluid frenzy of flips, spins and tricks, it’s momentary bliss.
Just make sure you’re awake enough to stand a chance.
Cloudbuilt is scheduled for release in March.