By Nick Whitcroft
I went into Clustertruck with very little in the way of expectations. What I was met with was a game so fun I forgot I was meant to be meeting friends, inadvertently cancelled my evening plans and am currently writing this from rehab since recalling, in passing, that I had a job. So what is Clustertruck? Madness. Pure, unadulterated madness.
Billing itself as “a chaotic game about not falling off trucks”, if you’re anything like me you’re already sold; that or you’re wondering where I went wrong in life to be spending my time leaping off the back of semis driven by what I can only imagine are an amalgamation of failed stunt drivers and people’s great aunts with a brick on the accelerator pedal.
The premise of the game is simple; the way you achieve it is anything but. Your task is everyone’s favourite gaming trope: first-person platforming. Mirror’s Edge was easy, right? Wait, wait, hear me out. There’s an added challenge: you’re riding the rooves of moving trucks (yes, Brit readers, we’re talking whopping great lorries). Each level is a simple quest to hop your way to the goal - a classic finish line - without touching any surface other than the frantic stream of ever throttle-mad trucks (with the exception of a few random environmental features, but let’s not split hairs). In simple terms, fall off or hit an obstacle and it’s back to the start for you. Fortunately, the respawn process is nigh-on instantaneous, so you’ll be back in the action before you know it.
Now I said ‘simple’ when talking about the end goal. I may have bent the truth a little. The first level lowers you in gently, seeing you leap your way to victory in a pretty straightforward route, leaving you feeling like some low budget action hero. From there… well, let’s just say it doesn’t get any easier - the last level (spoiler alert) is literally hell. So, erm, yeah… have fun with that. The point is, this is exactly where the fun comes in. No sooner are you up to speed with the mechanics than the game is throwing ever more manic courses at you - from swinging axes to giant magnets to monstrous crushing rollers for your trucks to drive across, the devs have really gone to town to give you variety across the game’s extensive campaign.
The full game itself is made up of 9 distinct worlds, all with their own look and feel and themed hazards, each made up of 10 levels - 90 in all. Levels are relatively short but be prepared to hit a wall now and then. Being infamously bad at platforming (and remaining calm) there were definitely a couple of points which saw me respawning and retrying what felt like hundreds of times (and probably was) before finally making it through. The refreshing counterpoint to this though? Never once did I want to smash my keyboard apart and stop playing. (Ok, maybe a little of the former, but never the latter). Clustertruck is relentlessly addictive. It’s a consequence of a number of things: the seriously smooth platforming, the responsiveness of the controls, the variation in retries (down to the trucks’ paths being physics-based) and the simple art style that keeps the world from being distracting and keeps those framerates nice and high.
Outside of the basic mechanics - run, jump, sprint - you’ve got an array of extra features to keep things interesting. As you play, you accumulate points used to unlock abilities. The better you play - completing a level on your first try, landing jumps off trucks flipping through mid-air - the more points you get. Earn enough and you’ll be able to equip a maximum of one navigation ability, such as a dash double-jump or jetpack, and one world-altering one, like slowing down time or one SUPERHOT fans will be familiar with…
What’s really clear is how conscious Landfall Games are of their community. The inclusion of scoreboards and ghosts to follow are a nice touch, but they’ve also gone to the trouble of adding an extensive level editor so the workshop materials available vastly expand the game’s lifespan and replayability. And then there’s their Twitch integration, which was what really took me by surprise. The developers have built in a neat feature you can enable which, if you’re streaming on Twitch, allows viewers to vote via the chat on modifiers to apply to your game for a short time. The end result: utter chaos. I’ve never developed such a fear of lasers (strapped to the back of trucks) as I did my first night playing this game on Twitch with my wonderfully sadistic viewers. As I sat there, with my face sore from smiling, I thought it couldn’t get any more over the top, and then this happened…
Landfall Games cunningly left in the ability for them exclusively to access a host of commands from your Twitch chat that take things to a whole new level of weird, from flashing text messages to gravity inversion, and rest assured, they’re out there, making it their mission to invade as many streams as possible and give you one hell of a memorable time!
Clustertruck is, by all accounts, a simple concept: take an insane team’s re-imagining of “the floor is lava” (which it actually sometimes is) and add trucks. Yet somehow they’ve turned it into something which is, whilst both brief (a speedy playthrough of the main campaign might be done in one sitting) and at times buggy, incredibly playable and truly unique. It’s stressful, it’s infuriating, it’s chaotic, but by god is it fun.