Cloudbuilt is the new 3D parkour runner from Coilworks, and it's currently got Dave Cook smacking his head off a brick wall. It's hard and uncomprising, but when did you ever shy away from a challenge?
I haven't played a game as hard as Cloudbuilt in a long time, but I'm not entirely convinced its challenge comes from a good place.
The pain begins straight after the initial tutorial teaches you the fundamentals of wall-running, which is activated by jumping into any vertical surface at an angle. You've also got a suite of jet-pack moves at your disposal, such as boosting up walls, double-jumping and dashing through hazards, all of which you'll need if you want to survive the sadistic gauntlet laid down by developer Coilworks.
At base level this feels like Mirror's Edge with a turbo mode, spliced with Sonic Adventure's time challenges. As I missed a single jump, only to be sent back to the start of the first stage several times, I was reminded of trying to beat Sega's S-Rank on Emerald Coast, where one wrong move can mean the difference between victory, failure or death. This is a game for speed-runners and those who enjoy combo-based gameplay.
There's no combo system to speak of as such, but you will find yourself chaining jumps and wall manoeuvres to find the best route through stages over and over until you nail that perfect run. This also means you'll be dying a lot, which isn't helped along by a shortage of checkpoints in each stage. Even when you're not trying to complete a decent time on a stage, you'll still find yourself killed often and - at times - inexplicably as a wall boost fails to connect, or you get blind-sided by a floating laser drone shooting you from out of view.
You'll need to memory map every inch of your preferred route down to the finest detail to emerge before all of your retries run out. Where do enemies appear? Is there a quicker way to bypass this annoying section? Why are my ears bleeding plasma? If you're someone who doesn't like having to retry games often then I guarantee you will lose your mind playing Cloudbuilt. It's made to be difficult, but by christ it gets too hard, too fast. Honestly, I'm shit at it, although I can still see the appeal. But first, I need to address why you might not like it.
”From the start there are tons of small platforms flanked by death drops, areas where – if you cock up a wall run – you’re going to have a rough time trying to get back out, and a section that’s being continually bombarded by giant pink mortar strikes of “fuck you.”
I found the learning curve excruciating at first, because from the start there are tons of small platforms flanked by death drops, areas where - if you cock up a wall run - you're going to have a rough time trying to get back out, and a section that's being continually bombarded by giant pink mortar strikes of "fuck you." I died, marvelled at how difficult the first stage was and hit retry until my lives ran out. After that I restarted the stage from scratch. It's really, really difficult.
But I tell you what - and this could be the big 'sell' for you - once you finally cross that finish line with no lives lost you'll want to punch air. Completionists who strive for 'no death' runs will probably feel their hearts beat irregularly with every jump over cloudy oblivion, until they know for damn sure they're going to land on solid ground unscathed. As a Dark Souls fan I know this feeling all too well, but I can't help but feel Cloudbuilt's challenge is tarnished by some technical issues.
It's a fast game, so you're always going to botch some jumps here and there, but even when taking things slow I had moments where a vertical wall run failed to connect, causing me to fall to my death, or when the camera got confused to the point I jumped in the wrong direction. I should add that you jump wherever your mouse cursor is pointing, and that's fine, but it can prove clunky and uncomfortable over time. I'd like to have a pad option. There were times where I'd try to jump off ledges only to drop down and hang from the lip when all I wanted to do was jump a little later to get more distance beneath my feet.
There are areas that make it hard to learn early on. One corridor in the second stage lingers in my mind, as there's a drone-dispensing machine spewing attackers constantly until you run past it, followed quickly by another lane with tiny platforms, book-ended by a turret firing waves of bullets at you. It's madness, and it's a real shock to the system if you're unprepared for it. I've been playing an early build ahead of this week's release, so the final code probably has the technical issues I mentioned ironed out. I can only go by what I experienced so far however.
This isn't a game for me, I obviously have to be honest here, but I do like the way that Coilworks has captured the tension of endless runners and transported it into a third-person format. The acrobatic feats do feel great if they work or when the scenery isn't fighting you, and there's also a little light gunplay in there for the 'pew-pew' pack, so there's definitely lots to be getting on with. I'm just not a big fan of the anxiety that comes with speed runs. They stress me out and the constant restarting gets old really fast. I S-ranked every stage on Sonic Adventure back in the day, but I can't go back there man, never again.
I just hope that the words above make it clear if you'll like Cloudbuilt or not. I'm not about to slam a game I'm rubbish at just because I got beat, that'd be massively unprofessional of me. I'll say this though: the feeling when you do discover a new, more-efficient route that cuts time and danger off your run felt the same as opening a new shortcut in Dark Souls, or even beating my best Sega Rally 2 time by an eighth of a second. If you know that feeling well, and are prepared to work for it, then you should probably give this a go.