Keep on ClusterTruckin’
I’ll be honest, I picked this up because of the title. It’s one of those terrible puns that usually signifies a game that hopes to pull you in with a joke and overlook how one-note it is. I figured this would be a cheap and easy Game Rage review, a game that was created title-first. Turns out Clustertruck is no clusterf*k.
It’s basically a platformer set in a demolition derby. But you’re not driving, you’re on top of the contestants. Sitting atop one of dozens of trucks, the trick is to stay on the roofs and reach ‘goal’ as the trucks careen and crash into each other as they also race towards Goal. It’s the freeway chase from Matrix Reloaded.
At first, Clustertruck seems a standard Platformer with some hilarious mechanics where you learn by dying, but there’s no real point in learning anything because every replay will be different due to the free-form AI of the trucks, who are as panicked and single-minded as you are, and the fact that the environment is trying to kill everyone. You might decide “I’ll just stay where I am” and ride it out, literally, and occasionally that works (although the leader board won’t forgive you for it), but it’s rare for the truck you start on to make it to the end.
It’s the kind of game that you think can only last a few levels before the novelty wears off. I gave it five minutes. FIVE HOURS later I was still at it, feverishly trying to navigate the insane crashes and spinning trucks. Certain events might make winning impossible, but that’s because once the trucks start, anything can happen and it’s on you to find a way. You see Goal in the distance, think ‘I got this’ then all hell breaks loose. I do not got this.
There’s just something so Fast and Furious about it all, it's so exhilarating jumping off a truck mid-air, leapfrogging another, bouncing off one that’s crashing, get smashed into the air as they collide then land it while timing a leap over an obstacle onto one that’s got a clear run for Goal and then fall off.
Only the first few tracks are linear. Within a few levels the roads become twisty, single-file nightmares, there’s cliffs, alternative routes, trucks coming the other way, unfinished bridges, the scenery collapses or crushes you, there’s jumps, trucks leaping into the air; there’s no strategy you can employ, it’s all instinct. You might have a fair idea of how to reach the end, but the trucks don’t know that and your plan will go out the window within a second.
Thankfully the reload time is roughly one second too, so by the time you’ve muttered ‘oh come on!’ you’re off again, trying to squeeze through the mayhem and catch a truck that seems to have the inside track. Its one of those games where play enough and you’ll enter nirvana, able to anticipate what’s happening. You become like Neo, beginning to believe.
I’d like to accuse the game of cheating, but there’s no rules here. Its all so breakneck and mad I’m winning by luck as much as ability. Some missions do infuriate, the early level where you leap over crashing trucks to land in another intersection going the other way nearly made me rage-quit, but you can’t stay mad at this.
You also gain XP points for stunts like leaping over airborne trucks, which allow you to unlock abilities helping you survive the increasing sadistic, impossible, amazing levels and many of them just make it madder. They can’t even be explained by the devs.
There’s many a review that says this is light on design and experience, but they can truck off. There wasn’t one moment playing this where I thought “oh, the graphics could be better, the design needs tinkering with, it needs more immersion” – no, this takes me back to the Spectrum days where my imagination filled in the gaps and the dev’s sense of fun did the rest. You get what they’re up to and it’s simple. Not everything needs to be real.
The only criticism is this isn’t online or two-player. I rarely wish for company when gaming but doing this alongside someone – either as a team or trying to boot them off the trucks as you go - would be all the awesome. The leader board is online, and there’s a healthy fanbase creating even more batshit levels which you can access through the game. Its relatively short as well, but it takes some serious commitment to reach the end. Some levels took me hours – and I enjoyed every minute of failure. I never died without a smile.
It’s just so good, and I picked this up for under three quid – to think I literally pay twenty times that to be disappointed by Triple A games. I didn’t know I needed this in my life, and any time a game gets on my nerves, I’m going to load this up to be reminded gaming is supposed to be fun. There’s an art buried deep in this, it’s chaos on acid and officially the only Platformer I love.