My love for you is like a truck
As a child, I would frequently play games of “the floor is lava” when I was bored. What that involved was basically jumping on furniture to avoid touching the carpet, which would “kill” you. Despite my parents not being in favor of my recklessness, I kept trying to up the ante with cushions around the floor and other obstacles.
Somehow, developers never really adopted that into a game. Maybe they thought it was too juvenile or couldn’t think of a strong enough gimmick to wrap around that core idea, but I’ve never seen anything even attempt to replicate that childhood wonder. Developer Landfall Games definitely had joyous memories of “the floor is lava,” or it wanted to make Mirror’s Edge with autonomous, suicidal trucks.
Clustertruck (PC [Reviewed], PS4, Xbox One)
Developer: Landfall Games
Publisher: tinyBuild Games
Released: September 27, 2016 (PC, PS4)
The main hook of Clustetruck is that you’re on speeding semis that have no regard for their own well-being. You need to navigate from the tops of them to reach a goal in levels that have various obstacles obstructing your path. Sometimes level gimmicks come up, and others times, it is just good old-fashioned platforming.
The game takes place entirely from a first-person viewpoint. That may be disorienting at first, but the way the physics work makes everything feel correct. After dying a bunch of times in the first world, you’ll get the hang of how the game feels.
At first, all you can do is run and jump, along with looking around the environment. The opening world is, honestly, disappointing. From those first ten levels, I thought Clustertruck was just a weird gimmick that would grow tiring quickly. Thankfully, that isn’t the case.
After finishing the first world, you’re given the option to unlock different abilities to help your platforming. Things like double jump, air dash, slow motion, levitation, and some other neat toys are available. This helps dramatically in the following levels, which swiftly avoid a regular formula and opt to go for batshit crazy.
You will encounter all manner of variations on the idea of speeding semi-trucks. One level will have the trucks periodically launched into the air; one level will have the trucks driving over a spinning log-like structure; yet another level will see you jumping through a boulder and landing on a truck in mid-flight.
The amount of creativity in the course design cannot be understated. I went from being mildly entertained to flat-out impressed with how such a simple idea kept finding new ways to stay fun. This all works without screwing around with the basic gameplay controls. You never need the unlockable abilities, but they certainly help you with tough situations.
They may help a bit too much, as a matter of fact. There are 90 levels in total, but you can breeze through the campaign in a little under three hours. Certain levels will become temporary roadblocks for up to 10 minutes, but with the longest level being the very final one at two whole minutes, nothing is really that difficult. This plays like Super Meat Boy, but with some drunk driving.
It works well for people with ADHD or a penchant for mechanic-based platformers, but can feel like too little for those who expect more out of their games. I love the simplicity on display, but I can definitely understand that some people would like an objective or a deeper connection to the game world.
Sometimes, the physics will hurt the level design. Just because an AI path is laid down doesn’t mean the trucks will always react properly, so you’ll have instances where levels cannot be completed or your character will go flying in the wrong direction. No level is too long to make this a giant problem, but it is frustrating to have a run ruined by bad luck.
If you find yourself frustrated, you can always check out the level editor. This tool is ridiculously easy to use and allows you to tweak nearly every aspect of the game to your liking. You can setup scripted events, place props anywhere, and build whole new scenarios without ever needing to know a thing about game design.
Since I love dressing up my creations with random props, I created a small desert-themed test level with a bunch of cobbled-together mountains and randomly-placed cacti. I put some towers in there and made a breakaway stone wall for a truck to crash through. I even altered the skybox to look like grape Fanta, before realizing that was stupid.
You can share these levels online, too! Steam workshop integration is awesome to have for a game like this, even if the menu is a bit convoluted. You can navigate courses through the Steam client, but I’d like to see some better options for locating levels in-game. That is a small issue, though.
I’d be singing its praises more if the last level wasn’t truly awful. I’m not sure why hyper-strict platformers feel the need to shoehorn a boss battle in, but Clustertruck does just that. You end on a level that takes far too long to finish, breaks the game’s own simple rules, and just sucks the fun out of the whole ordeal.
I need to give special mention to the Twitch streaming integration the game offers. With a simple menu, you can stream your gameplay on Twitch for the world to see. Clustertruck then allows users to vote on various tweaks to the game world.
One minute, you’ll be playing a vanilla version of the level and the next, all of the trucks will be in hyper-speed or really fat or will blow up on contact. The developers have also been hijacking people who are streaming, changing the colors and Rick Rolling users. It makes an already hectic game even more insane.
Clustertruck just about gets everything right. The high price kind of puts me off, but the game makes up for it with creativity and the ability to share user content. Sadly, the campaign ends on such a downer that I was more frustrated than anything. At least the game was hilariously fun for 90% of it’s duration.
Oh, you can also unlock a mutator that turns the game into Superhot. Just let that sink in for a second.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]