Sometimes, you get a game that you’ll play for hours and hours because it has a rich and engrossing narrative. Other times, you’ll play a game for hours because it’s just that damn pretty to look at. And on occasion? You’ll keep playing because it just refuses to let you go.
Clustertruck is the third kind of game.
The premise is simple: you are some sort of crazy parkour wizard, standing on a truck. That truck is barrelling towards its distant destination, regardless of obstacles. It has brought along a bunch of its truck mates, who also have the same destination in mind. You need to reach that destination by throwing yourself from truck to truck as they continually come to grievous harm, making sure never to splatter yourself on the ground. Good luck!
What follows is a twitch-reaction game of physics and snap decisions. Spread over a bunch of short and sweet levels, you’ll find yourself navigating in leaps and bounds as trucks rampage through the environment, slamming into obstacles and each other. It sounds simple, and theoretically it is. In actual practice it presents as more of a challenge than you might think. While all of the trucks follow a predetermined path, this is not a scripted trek; minute variations in each trucks’ path makes one play of a level distinct from another. A single truck stumbling over rough terrain or hitting a wall can have a knock-on effect, sending the rest crashing, exploding or cartwheeling into the air unexpectedly. You can’t just plan a path after running through the level a few times, because you have no idea when the next clustertruck of a pile-up will happen.
After running through the first ten levels or so, a new facet of this gameplay is unlocked – while you can jump, sprint and navigate from the get-go, hitting this milestone unlocks optional abilities and skills to help tweak your ability to move through the levels. Double-jumps, jetpacks and time manipulation all become available depending on your ‘style points’ banked – a currency unlocked based on how quickly you complete a level, as well as bonuses for making it through on the first try, or managing difficult jumps such as from an airborne truck. It’s a great incentive to replay levels you’ve already finished, earning that currency to tweak your playstyle and better manage Clustertruck’s unpredictable challenge.
And believe me, the challenge is indisputable. You will fail, and you will fail a lot. Thankfully, Clustertruck is designed with a ‘one more try’ mentality in place – the moment you hit the ground you can press any button to instantly reset the level and try again, a la Super Meat Boy or Superhot. The ability to instantly try again (in my experience, often being triggered by still mashing the keyboard from your LAST attempt) plays into the game well, letting you get into the groove enough to finally luck your way through a level.
By its very nature, this game can be intensely frustrating; in my time with it I definitely nope’d out of the room to cool down a handful of times only to return minutes later, convinced I’d get it right this time (I didn’t). The addition of custom levels means that even if you get stuck on the main campaign you’ll have plenty of user-generated content to mess around with – though in my experience, this leans even harder than the main game content.
While it’s a lot of fun to have to constantly stay on your toes, the randomised nature of Clustertruck’s levels can work against it too. It’s intensely frustrating to be acing your way through a level on a speed run, only to find that a randomised pile-up has taken out every possible landing point ahead of you. It’s the nature of the beast, but very disheartening to fail because of chance, rather than your own bad reaction times.
Overall, Clustertruck has a lot to offer both her quick bursts of play or longer investments, smashing your head against the wall of chance. I would love to see some functionality added from the previously mentioned games, though – either a replay mode like Superhot‘s to show your successful run, or an all-in-one fail display from an external perspective, like Super Meat Boy. The former shows just how cool you are to make it through, and the latter lets you see just hoe much you had to fail your way to success… But please, Landfall Games, don’t take Superhot’s lead and develop a VR-based iteration of your game. No human stomach could handle it.
Features like Twitch integration with vote-based modifiers are sure to keep Clustertruck active in the streaming community for a good while, and I look forward to seeing even more insanely difficult user-created content as time goes on. I’m definitely not going to be the one to complete it, but I’d love to watch someone try.
Clustertruck was reviewed using a promotional code on PC, as provided by the publisher.
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