From watching videos of daredevils to jumping around in Mirror’s Edge, I love parkour. When done right, that style of movement can make for a thoroughly entertaining gaming experience. Enter Clustertruck, an indie title made by Landfall Games. The game follows a very simple formula – jump on the tops of trucks to get to the goal. For the first few levels, it seems like that’s an easy enough objective. Before long, however, the game starts to introduce different obstacles to overcome. From simple bars that you need to jump over, to launch pads that throw the trucks into the air, pretty soon the game begins to throw everything it can at you in order to stop you from reaching your goal.
Luckily, you have a few powers at your disposal. You have two categories of powers you can unlock, movement and utility. Movement powers are things like double jumping, dashing, and a grappling hook. Utility powers give you the ability to do things like slow down time, spawning a truck, and the coolest ability, Supertruck. This turns the game into Superhot, so time only moves when you do and the trucks are all that Superhot red. Also, pressing the button that normally activates your utility power just makes the game say SUPER TRUCK. It’s pretty great, even if it’s not the most useful power.
On top of this, you have a few ways to interact with the trucks around you. If you jump and hit the back of a truck, you will sort of wall-run up the truck and jump up. Similarly, you can wall-run along the sides of the trucks, albeit for a short while. It’s enough to save you from a fall, but it’s hard to utilize strategically.
Clustertruck looks and sounds great. The creators cited The Witness and Firewatch as inspirations, and it definitely shows. They use that semi cell shaded look to great effect. Seeing a truck explode in an almost cartoon-y puff of smoke and fire is great. On top of that, the art style means it’s very easy to distinguish the trucks from the environment, so you’re almost always sure where you need to be going next.
Almost is a good word to describe this game, however. The way you interact with trucks almost works. When you do the wall-run up the backside of a truck and jump off, it seems to be random how high you will jump. Sometimes I would jump up a normal amount, and sometimes the back of the truck seemed to fling me 50 feet into the air. It becomes impossible to rely on, as more often than not I would be flung directly into an obstacle. Sometimes you’re allowed to run along the sides of trucks, but sometimes I would find myself slipping straight off of them. When I came to a level late in the game that required me to do multiple wall runs along multiple trucks in mid-air with zero room for error, I realized I wasn’t having fun anymore. I was just getting frustrated.
Then, there are the aforementioned truck physics. See, the developers decided that the trucks should have real physics as they bounce around the track. What this means is that some levels become unbeatable if you don’t get good truck-based RNG. While most of the levels are relatively short, some are quite long, and having a long run killed because one truck didn’t bounce the way it was supposed to means you never could have beaten it on that run. Some runs are killed before you even do anything. It’s a level of randomization that has moments where everything seems to line up perfectly, but most of the time it’s like the physics are working against you. Especially in the boss fight.
Oh yeah, Clustertruck has a boss fight. Just like in Super Meat Boy, the developers decided that the end of the game needs a boss fight. It doesn’t matter that the boss fight feels out of place and doesn’t really work with the mechanics of the game. This is the end, so there has to be a boss. The fight is dumb, repetitive, and frustrating. You basically play through the same level 3 times in a row, and if you die, start the boss fight over again. Yeah, this just isn’t fun.
My whole experience with Clustertruck has been frustrating. On the surface, it looks amazing. Those first couple of levels are so much fun. Running and hopping from truck to truck feels great, when it works. The problem is that there’s too much left up to random chance. If I hit the back of this truck, is it going to fling me way up in the air? If it does, will there be a truck for me to land on, or did they all crash into each other this time? Did landing on that midair truck give me both of my jumps back, or just my second one? Sometimes you open the level and the trucks are alive and well. Sometimes they were dead before you even started.
That’s why my score for Clustertruck is a Schrödinger’s Cat out of 10.
Pros: Jumping from truck to truck looks awesome, cool and interesting powers, great art design
Cons: Too much truck-based RNG, mechanics are inconsistent, completely unnecessary boss fight
Gaming for most of my life, writing for about half. Finally decided to smash the two together to create a wonderfully gory portrait of a gaming journalist. My opinions are usually long-winded, often misinformed, but I'd like to think at least well written.