Review: Cloudbuilt (PC)

The first title from Indie team Coilworks, Cloudbuilt is both an exhilarating action-platforming title and a speed-runner’s paradise.

Cloudbuilt (PC)
Score: 9/10

Platform: PC
Release Date: 3/20/2014 (USA)
Developed by Coilworks
Published by Rising Star Games

Cloudbuilt is the first title to come from the Swedish team of students that make up Coilworks. This PC-exclusive title pushes the lateral-thinking of players to their limits, across several vast, open-ended stages.

It’s difficult to venture directly into the backstory of Cloudbuilt, as the mere act of doing so would spoil the core essence of the game. However, upon entering the initial “meat” of the story, the title “Cloudbuilt” itself takes on an entirely different meaning…apart from environments that are literally built among the clouds. Players will guide Demi, a cybernetically enhanced soldier, through various stages, with the intent of reaching the goal in the fastest time possible. Upon completing each stage, new information regarding her unfortunate past is revealed. Depending on which stages are completed, the player will experience one of the four possible endings.

Each stage is a free-floating labyrinth of structures, with little or no indication of a clear path towards the goal. Where titles like Mirror’s Edge and Brink laid the groundwork for parkour-based elements in games, Cloudbuilt ups the ante with floating structures to tackle at high speeds. At first glance, each stage looks like disorganized chaos; walls, platforms, ramps and tunnels are all arranged in ways that seem absolutely nonsensical.

“Where do I go?” “Am I supposed to get up there?” “Are these levels even complete?” That’s where the beauty of Cloudbuilt’s open-ended level design shines.

While the environments in other parkour-based games might highlight defined route-points with colored objects (i.e. red ladders, red doors, red pipes), Cloudbuilt thrusts Demi into a broken environment, and demands a “figure it out yourself” approach from the player. Traversing such seemingly random environments would require some form of advanced movement; fortunately Demi is well-equipped for the job. Immediately after the opening stage, all of Demi’s techniques are at the player’s disposal. The free-running cyborg is equipped with jet-thrusters that allow her to dash across platforms, perform air-dashes, double-jump, wall-run and sprint up vertical walls. While each of these maneuvers help the player through the chaotic stages, all of her jet-based moves share the same stamina, indicated by a yellow bar across the bottom of the screen. Fortunately, as many of these techniques are done on a back-to-back basis, Demi’s stamina recharges in a matter of seconds. Depending on which route the player decides to create, Demi may encounter enemy hazards that block progression. Ground enemies and turrets can usually be avoided through some avant-garde approach involving the environment (ex. Demi could run up a wall, jump to an adjacent wall, then dash-jumping to a nearby ledge to avoid the enemy altogether), but for players who prefer more aggressive methods, Demi is equipped with an arm cannon, reminiscent of Mega Man’s “Mega Buster”. The base shot has a limited number of rounds that can be shot in succession; a charge-shot can be held for a more powerful attack. Demi can attack from any position, which may not seem like a crucial detail, until the player reaches certain segments that may involve shooting down barriers while wall-running over an endless drop.

Upon completing each stage, a new branching path is added to the “over-world” map. After completing the first few stages, four quadrants are opened up for the player to progress through. With the exception of unlocking the next stage in the quadrant, levels can be played in any order, though it’s recommended that those who are just beginning Cloudbuilt should stay away from the “dark” quadrant, as this section contains the most demanding levels in the game. Along with progressing through each section, if a level is completed within a stage-specific time limit, other modes for that stage are unlocked. Some of the extra modes include a hardcore one-hit-death run through the stage, and the fast-paced “Super Charge”, where Demi’s stamina remains infinite throughout the level. While Cloudbuilt is a single-player experience, there’s a hint of multiplayer competition in the form of online leaderboards for each level. Each stage has a letter-ranking for completing the level within a specific time limit, but on a global scale, players can view the top 10 players with the fastest completion time for each level.

Cloudbuilt features a very unique “colored pencil” art style. While character models and environmental structures are finely detailed, the color scheme gives off the impression that one of the artists in Coilworks hand-colored each stage with colored-pencils: Rather than have solid shading, Cloudbuilt has very fine lines of color that seem to shimmer and vibrate with energy. A close comparison can be drawn with the Street Fighter IV series and the more recent Yoshi’s New Island. Stages are vibrant and colorful, but not to the point of “whimsical over-saturation” found in some fantasy-based titles. Some environments feature small “organic” areas with grass, trees and assorted floras; the combination of real-world lighting and weather effects, the robotic landscape and clashing planted areas emphasize the “once beautiful, now desolate” setting of Cloudbuilt.

Praise aside, Cloudbuilt can be a frustrating experience for new players. Those who may not have played a single game with free-running elements could potentially find the opening levels to be nothing more than a string of impossible tasks. The initial movement speed may take some players by surprise, as not only are the controls very sensitive, but Demi has little starting-momentum. In some areas, the slightest twitch could send Demi into the abyss. With each stage placed over an endless drop into absolute nothingness, players will inevitably die several times. Checkpoints are scarce, and depending on how each level is approached, some checkpoints could easily be missed, resulting in an anger-inducing trip back to the start of the level. For a game that has a heavy emphasis on speed-running, Cloudbuilt lacks a multiplayer option outside of online leaderboards. A game such as this would probably benefit from having a competitive racing option, or a co-op mode.

Cloudbuilt is truly a visual spectacle, and a fantastic title for PC owners to experience. Those who prefer a traditional linear style of gameplay may not have much interest with the breakout title from Coilworks, as this is a game catered towards speed-run enthusiasts and those who want a lateral challenge from an action-platformer.

“There is always a way. There is always a better way. There is always a quicker way.” Cloudbuilt’s gameplay delivers on this statement, and sets a new benchmark for action-platforming games on PC.

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