If I had to summarise what Clustertruck offers into a single sentence, or perhaps even into a whole paragraph, I really do think I would struggle. I would probably start off by describing it as "a physics based, first person platform game with time and score attack elements, that plays a bit like Mirrors Edge mixed with some of the most fiendish Super Mario levels ever devised." Describing it like that would probably raise more questions than it answers and only tell half the story.
In Clustertruck players spawn onto the roof of a truck that moves. This truck barrels along towards a finish line with dozens of other trucks. The levels (especially later) are usually uneven and filled with obstacles including dips, cliffs, walls, sheer drops, lasers, trees, rocks and much more. As such, the convoy of trucks crashes and bashes (unpredictably) together in a highly chaotic way. Among this carnage, the player must hop from vehicle to vehicle towards the same finish line that the trucks are aiming for, but it's never an easy ride. Levels are never the same twice due to the way that the physics engine affects the trucks path, so making progress is an odd mix of pattern recognition, timely use of skills and pinpoint jumping accuracy.
Here's what I liked:
Strange and unusual — Whilst I liken Clustertruck to a number of other games with regard to where the developers may have drawn inspiration, the game they have created is totally unique as far as I am aware. I can't even begin to imagine how such a concept gained enough momentum to become a reality, but I'm glad it did. Despite the flaws, Clustertruck is interesting, engaging and immersive (in short burst at least) simply because of what it has to offer. I've played it on my own and found a five minute session stretch into a couple of hours, and I've played with pals and passed the pad around whilst drinking a few beers. The random nature of the game, and the high level of skill required to play can cause frustration, but it provides almost as many laughs as well.
Rewarding — For those who persevere long enough to get the hang of the controls and gain a tolerance to the slight frustration that randomness can cause, Clustertruck can be very rewarding. Early levels teach the player how the weight and pace of the control scheme feels, but it isn't long before more and more complexity is introduced to the point where the game becomes almost like a puzzler. You'll need to learn and memorize the path of the trucks and how they are likely to behave based on (literally) the lay of the land. There may be multiple streams of trucks that the player must traverse to and from, avoiding obstacles and timing jumps and the use of skills to perfection. Pulling off the perfect run on any of the more challenging levels feels immense.
Keep on truckin' — Game experiences as unusual as Clustertruck can often be over far too quickly, playing like a tech demo rather than a game. Clustertruck isn't like that, and it has tens of levels to offer, with each set offering a (surprisingly varied) theme that affects not just the appearance of the game, but also the way the levels play. Each set is progressively more difficult and interesting (with my particular favorite being the ice world) and aside from the occasional hard stop due to frustration, most players will want to push through to see what the next world has to offer.
Here's what I didn't like:
Hard as steel — Clustertruck is really hard and will most definitely test all but the most experienced and capable player to the limit. The controls are well weighted, fast and responsive, but the game demands absolute pinpoint accuracy and timing that takes a while to get used to. Some players may not even reach that level of comfort, and those who do will still be severely tested. Difficult games are not bad by definition, but when you combine overall toughness with…
Frustration — Then things can go downhill fast. Clustertruck has a physics engine that is capable of throwing out situations that are impossible to recover from that might not have resulted from anything to do with the player. The game does get players back into the action pretty much instantly, and there are a fair number of both useful and useless skills that can be bought with accrued points that help to reduce the variance that the game can throw up. Even so, it can be really frustrating to lose out late in a level because of something ridiculous like the leading three trucks becoming entangled in such a way that the following trucks can never reach the finish line.
Clustertruck is a really unique concept, and it's one that I enjoy in doses of up to about an hour, but only very occasionally longer than that. It has a decent sized and rewarding campaign, and it can be played with pals in a pass the pad, score attack kind of approach. There is a ton of replay value because the unlockable skills which give the ability to replay levels in new ways. With all that said, there's no way that Clustertruck is going to appeal to everyone. Clustertruck is utterly bonkers, skill intensive, hard as nails and occasionally frustrating, but for me it is still compelling enough to be worth a look.
Score: Reader's Choice
Clustertruck was developed by Landfall Games and was published by tinyBuild. It was released on October 28, 2016 for $14.99. A copy of the game was provided for review purposes.