Clustertruck review impressions
Let's get this out of the way: Landfall Games’ Clustertruck is a first-person platforming/bizarro-parkour game where the play area is made up of hundreds of of identical, bright-white, high-speed big-rig trucks. It is hilarious. You leap with powerful strength and speed from truck to truck, navigate their physics-hell crashes, gain extra points for leaping off midair trucks, and use a variety of equippable abilities and items to help you manage the chaos. Legitimately, it is a great idea for an extremely silly game. I spent a lot of my time playing with a huge grin on my face.
And I'll give Clustertruck this: I cannot wait to see people speedrun this game. I would love to see someone totally master its movement mechanics and just go to town on some of its absurd physics-hell levels. Out of all the games I've played this year, it's probably the one I'm most excited to see someone play with graceful mastery.
Me? I do not play Clustertruck with even graceful competence, much less mastery. Often Clustertruck feels like something I could get really good at, but sometimes, I'm playing a Clustertruck level and it strikes me as such profound physics bullshit that not only could I never get good at it, I'd never want to.
For example, there are levels where a randomly-occurring truck crash in the first two minutes of the level -- a crash that behaves differently each time, depending on how the physics shake out -- can dramatically affect your ability to make time-gated jumps.
Sometimes I'd be standing glumly on the back of a truck, see an unfortunate crash take place in front of me, and simply reload the level to get a more reasonable setup for my planned jumps. Other times, I'd be jumping blindly over a cliff to land on some moving trucks below me, and some weird, unseen physics nonsense ten or twenty seconds earlier would have already knocked all my target trucks off another cliff.
What's the fun in nailing the first half of a level, only to discover than random physics outcomes have ruined your chance of completing the second half? Another level required me to survive a head-on collision between two opposing fleets of trucks. The trouble is, all the trucks just smashed into each other with random physics and then sped away in random directions -- some away from the goal. Even if you manage to survive the collision zone once, you won't learn any trick that will let you reliably repeat the accomplishment. You just have to try over and over again until you get lucky enough to stand on the right truck at the right time.
Not all the physics stuff is bad. Some of the physics nonsense these trucks suffer is fun and clever -- particularly levels where the vast structures of the environment are themselves moving, shaking, and swinging in surprising ways. But some of it feels, frankly, like a complete waste of my time. Every now and then, it seems like the designers have just abdicated their control over the level. We're not sure what to do here; we'll just fling a lot of trucks in the air!!
Clustertruck weirdly combines both moments of absurdist, cool-feeling truck parkour and absurdist, bad-feeling physics hell. It's not equal parts hell and parkour, though: it is definitely more likely to toss you in the air for a breathtaking, satisfying leap than it is to merely fling a bunch of crap at you and dare you to survive. But the second thing happens often enough that I was pretty pissed off several times while reviewing this game!
The good moments are quite good, though. In the third game world (an ice zone, of course) you learn to make enormous, thrilling jumps from icy bridge to icy bridge, dodging huge spinning death-wheels and sliding pillars for precise, pinpoint landings -- on moving objects, since the trucks are constantly moving.
Learning to do this made me feel great, honestly. Movement in Clustertruck -- particularly the ability to "stick" briefly to the edges and backs of trucks if you just barely miss them -- is mostly pretty satisfying, and while learning to make the most of it, you'll tackle a lot of unique, rewarding challenges.
For example, you get an enormous boost in leap distance by sprinting, but the trucks are short enough that you will rarely be able to sprint for an extended period of time without just running off the front of a truck. Precise Clustertruck movement involves being very careful with your sprint key. It also eventually involves double-jumping, grapple-hooking, and more, thanks to the unlockable abilities and utility items.
One of Clustertruck's missteps, however, is hiding the abilities and utility items behind such a time-consuming unlock system. The abilities and items are a lot of fun, and they make it easier to manage the physics bullshit hell situations you frequently find yourself in. If I'd had access to more of them earlier on, I think the early-game physics bullshit would have bothered me a lot less!
I've got to mention the map creator. There's a rough-looking but extremely easy-to-use map creator that allows you to place trucks, define paths for them to travel along, and place traps and other objects in their way. It comes with a pretty good tutorial, and the tools are pretty self-explanatory. There are not very many good custom levels yet, but I have no doubt someone will be able to make something quite cool with this.
If you forgive Clustertruck for occasionally surrendering its experience to the cruel and capricious gods of physics, you're left with an enjoyable, creative first-person platformer that does a lot of weird and bizarre stuff that nobody else is doing right now. I'm glad I gave it a shot, and I honestly hope I see it in the next AGDQ event.
You'll just never see me trying to speedrun this game. I am not interested in optimizing my movement through physics hell!! Let some other sucker try.