By Chris Melchin / January 20th, 2017
|Release Date||Sept. 27, 2016|
|Platform||Steam, PS4, Xbox One|
|Age Rating||N/A (all-ages)|
Clustertruck is a game that was a big deal at PAX West this year. Unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to play it at any point, but there was always a large crowd around the tinyBuild booth playing it. I did get a look at how the game plays, but that’s all I saw.
The main point of Clustertruck is to get from the starting point to a marked goal as quickly as possible while avoiding various obstacles that the game throws your way. The biggest obstacle is often the ground itself – the only safe surfaces to land on are the many transfer trucks barrelling down the road (or falling into the abyss, or being fired from cannons) alongside you. There’s also a number of obstacles that get added, such as missiles, lasers, giant rotating wheels, and other hazards. The idea of a first-person platformer may be a turn-off, but Clustertruck makes it work by having the perspective close to the ground and by not having a lot of vertical movement, with most of the jumps being either slightly above and well within the player’s jump arc, level with or below the player. In addition, hitting the back or sides of a truck will allow the player to jump as well as landing on top, and jumping from a vertical surface launches you higher depending on how far down the surface you started holding the jump button.
The trucks’ movement is almost entirely subject to the game’s physics engine, which can lead to some unpredictable results when they are driving on anything other than level, even, open terrain. Even simple curves can sometimes be too much for them to handle, and some trucks will under-turn and go into the edge of the road. Then more trucks will hit them and create a pileup, and if you’re unlucky it’s possible to get stuck behind the trucks that have stopped, while the ones that kept going are too far away to jump to without certain power-ups. It’s a bit of a roll of the dice as to whether or not the level will actually be possible on any given attempt, on top of whether the player is actually able to get through it. Many levels also require a certain degree of trial and error – especially later on in the game – but the fact that you can respawn almost immediately after dying makes it clear that the developers designed the game with this in mind. Respawning is almost instantaneous, meaning that dying is an inconvenience, although it can be a pain in longer late-game levels.
Clustertruck is organized into nine distinct worlds with ten levels each. In addition to a unique aesthetic, each world brings its own array of hazards. The worlds have themes such as sci-fi, ancient, desert, forest and so on, with the final one appropriately named Hell. The final level is a boss fight, and is both the longest and most difficult level, mostly because it requires precision platforming. It’s not the only level that requires it – there’s one in the steampunk world that has it as well, although it’s not nearly as long as the final boss – but because Clustertruck’s gameplay is so heavily momentum-based, it makes it difficult to land precise jumps. The player gains speed very quickly when moving, and while it’s well-suited to jumping between moving trucks it makes it much more difficult to land jumps between stationary platforms, especially when everything around those platforms will kill you.
There’s a wide variety of power-ups available, classed as movement and utility. The one I used the most was the double-jump, which is fairly self-explanatory. Other abilities include a grappling hook, hovering, temporarily freezing all trucks, and one inspired by SUPERHOT that changes the game so that trucks and other stage elements only move when you move. Power-ups are unlocked with points gained by playing levels and performing tricks within levels, such as long air time or landing on a truck that’s in mid-air. The platforming itself feels great to play, and it’s not difficult to smoothly run and jump your way from one truck to the next. The main thing that feels weird is adjusting your momentum in mid-air; holding a direction gradually angles your trajectory in that direction, but releasing the direction partly reverts the changes to your path, which takes some getting used to when you’re trying to land on either a truck that’s moving in a different direction to you, or for long-distance jumps that involve falling a long distance onto a moving truck. This trait of the movement system is part of what makes precision platforming difficult, along with the reliance on momentum. On the ground, the player can stop and turn on a dime, not that you’ll need to do that very often. When it comes down to it, as with any platformer, the most important thing in Clustertruck is to stay calm, since panicking will lead to a quick death.
Clustertruck starts out simple enough, but the difficulty quickly increases. Even the later levels in the first world are still challenging once you have a feel for how the game plays, and as the worlds progress, the difficulty slowly increases. Even before the last world, if you keep failing at a level over and over again it’s most likely because there’s one particular thing that you’re missing, such as a different approach to the level, or simple trial and error. However, the last world is where the game gets really intense, with terrain that causes the trucks to jerk wildly around making it difficult to land on them, precision platforming, and new moving obstacles. I spent 4 hours with the campaign levels in Clustertruck, and I’m willing to bet that at least a quarter of that was spent on the last world, if not the final level itself. There’s also a small problem with the lighting engine, where a lot of bright lights will darken everything else, making it hard to make out details on non-glowing objects which can make it difficult to tell which side of a truck you’re moving towards.
In addition to the core levels and seasonal sets, the game contains a full level editor and Steam Workshop support, allowing you to find and download user-created levels or create your own. Early levels are also still fun to go back and replay after beating the game, since there’s so little development in the gameplay throughout the game it never really gets easier. It gives the game a sort of replayability, be it through trying different assortments of items or going for a no-item pure run, or trying for a new best time. It may get frustrating later on, as some of the level design gets more questionable and less suited to the gameplay, but you’ll likely be able to get your money’s worth for your $14.99 USD. There’s a lot of fun to be had with Clustertruck, since the gameplay is fast-paced and fluid, and fits the premise like a glove.
Review copy provided by publisher.
ClustertruckLanfall GamesPC reviewReviewSteamtinybuild