I’m going to close out the year with two game reviews from very different titles, which you may want to check out on those new gaming systems you got for Christmas (for those of you who can find and afford them). A Plague Tale: Innocence is a beautiful and well produced title; a puzzler with dark, medieval and supernatural themes. Cloudpunk is on the total opposite end of the spectrum: an independent title, with pixel art animation, that takes place in a dystopian future.
A Plague Tale: Innocence
A Plague Tale: Innocence is a game that’s rich in story, has amazing voice acting, and has deep immersion without being a walking simulator. You play a girl somewhere in a mythical early Catholic Europe. Your primary weapon is a sling, given to you by your father. An inquisition shatters your world, and a deep family secret leads you and your brother to flee.
Initial game mechanics involve stealth and sneaking around. Your character gains skills via encounters and ammunition via crafting. I’m not a fan of stealth games, but the gameplay of A Plague Tale is more about puzzle solving. It’s not overly complex, but it’s also not trivial. There are parts of the game that do emphasize reaction time, and the weapon wheel doesn’t really slow time enough for some of the more complex scenarios.
Getting the game to run in widescreen requires patching1. Although it wasn’t designed/tested with a wide aspect ratio, it’s playable with few glitches. Visually, the setting and detail are colorful and absolutely stunning. The pacing has a balance of respite and revelation. The developers did include support of PS4/DualShock controllers, showing the PS4 buttons instead of traditional xBox cues; which is a rare but welcome addition.
Most of the game involves sneaking around soldiers or rats; often using the plagued rats to cause havoc. The plagued rats are a weird mechanic at times, but I do appreciate the way puzzles and story are constructed around them. There is a deep mythos around plagues, the church, alchemy and village society that’s always kept at an abstract level and never fully built out. The game really pulls you into the struggles of the individual characters. It’s a dark game, both in atmosphere and in story.
The story is captivating, the characters are memorable, and the gameplay keeps moving at a really good pace. I really enjoyed this game, and found both the characters and scenery beautiful and memorizing. It’s somewhat dark material for a story where the protagonist are all children, but the overall theme is captivating and believable. This title was certainly worth the 13 hours I put into it, and I’d highly recommend it.
Cloudpunk takes place in Nivalis, which may literally be the last city on Earth. You play Rania, a woman who leaves her home in the Eastern Peninsula. Her character takes a job as a delivery driver in the city, in hopes of paying off, or escaping, the debt corps. It’s a pixelated adventure that features an A.I dog, some fairly good voice acting, and a story that throws too many references towards modern political movements. The gameplay is relaxing, but lackluster when it comes to risk. I enjoyed playing Cloudpunk, and was brought in by the music and visuals, but it will likely be a disappointing title to anyone seeking adventure versus social commentary.
Characters constantly bring up stereotypes about Rania being from the Eastern Peninsula. There are references to android gender, “cultural appropriation,” android being told to “seize the means or production,” and street preachers being told they are disrespectful of minorities and women. The theme of the game feels like it wants to draw from the classics like Snow Crash, but a lot of the dialog just ends up being a pile of dogshit from our modern era of political conflict. None of the issues presented in the game feel unique to an eventual cyberpunk dystopia. They’re just recycled garbage from current politics.
Most of the game consists of delivery missions. You are either in a vehicle or on the streets. Items can be collected to be sold for cash, and punch cards can be collected for a specific side story. The city is segmented by tubes going between the levels; with missions often requiring you to navigated through multiple zones as the story exposition takes place. Money can buy you upgrades for your vehicle, but other than that, it really only adds useless trinkets for your apartment. It’s almost always raining in the city, and while the vistas are pretty stunning for pixel art, it can get pretty repetitive.
The artwork in this game is pretty beautiful and the soundtrack is beyond stunning. However, this game would have been a perfect visual demo of RTX/ray tracing. None of the reflections are real. The stunning puddles in the perpetual rain of the city constantly break the illusion as your character has no reflection of her own. Since this game consists of a lot of low resolution isomeric art, this could have been a great candidate for ray traced reflections and shadows. Despite the lack of reflections, the music does really make you feel like you’re in Ridley Scott’s early 90s movie Blade Runner. Besides some basic enhancements, your car will never maneuver well. But driving through Nivalis does have a strong Sci-Fi Noir feel.
There is no real risk in Cloudpunk. There are some pretty big decisions your character must make, but they have few (if any) real consequences. I did enjoy a lot of the characters, and the game did entice me enough to keep following it to the end. At about 10 hours of gameplay, I felt like Cloudpunk was a decent cyberpunk indie title. It’s less frustrating, and more relaxing, than Lithium City. Although the game engine is less buggy and more playable than Cyberpunk 2077, the story lacks a lot of real depth. Instead, it plays on a modern political era that wouldn’t scale into the future it occupies. Overall I did enjoy Cloudpunk, but it’s still a middle of the road title that’s a little above a walking simulator with a true lack of challenge and story depth.
A Plague Tale: Innocence Ultrawide/21:9 Fix [EN/GER]. 18 May 2019. SP4RT4N3R. Steam. ↩