Review: ClusterTruckA glorious, glorious cluster... truck
You wait years for a bus and then two come along at once. Earlier this year we had Devil Daggers, a game that has an incredibly simple set of core mechanics and manages to stretch them as far as they’ll go to make something that’s both streamlined yet also really dang engaging.
And now look, here comes that second bus, ClusterTruck. It’s a game that has an incredibly simple set of core mechanics and manages to stretch them as far as they’ll go to make something that’s both streamlined yet also really dang engaging. Except this time, it’s about running across multi-vehicle pileups, which is downright awesome.
While you’re tasked with making it to the end of a level by jumping on various speeding lorries and avoiding obstacles, I hesitate to really call ClusterTruck a platformer. It’s not about learning an optimal route (in fact the physics-based random aspect of the trucks makes that impossible), it’s about stumbling and improvising your way through the stage in a series of bum-clenchingly chaotic leaps. It’s a stumbler, not a platformer.
Stumbling and improvising your way through the stage in a series of bum-clenchingly chaotic leaps.
But my god, that stumbling sure is fantastic. Momentum feels speedy and fluid, the collision detection between both you and the trucks are solid, and it’s surprising how much challenge the trucks’ procedural physics alone can be, even before any sort of trap is introduced. Explosions, lasers, flipping trucks and narrow escapes make you feel like the jammiest bastard ever until you realise you’ve been holding your breath for far too long out of sheer concentration.
The controls, however, can be a bit dodgy at times. Jumping feels totally fine, but running on the moving surfaces can be frustrating, particularly on bends or curved levels. It often feels less like momentum takes hold when you veer off the side or the back of a truck, and more like the game just decided it was time for you to die. Trying to compensate for this momentum is a battle that just can’t be won, and particularly in the perfectly circular final level, it ain’t half annoying.
To assist you, there are a series of unlockable abilities and items to make life a bit easier: jet-packs, grappling hooks, teleportation, time control and more can be earned by pulling off stunts during play. None of them feel particularly overpowered, allowing for different playstyles and retooling loadouts as the situations arise. My personal favourite was a combination of the short-range teleport and the ability to slow down time, which got me out of more than a few tricky spots.
Memorable, aesthetically distinctive and, most of all, fun challenges
What ClusterTruck manages to do phenomenally well is have each stage take the basic conceit of ‘there’s a load of trucks, jump on them’ and make memorable, aesthetically distinctive and, most of all, fun challenges out of them. From forests and sci-fi-themed worlds through to “steampunk” lands and Hell itself, each of the nine zones brings with them new obstacles and new ways of bending the truck-jumping in an interesting way.
If 90 pre-made levels weren’t enough, the game has a robust level editor and Steam Workshop support (on PC) to let you make and share your own stages. The learning curve is very gentle; within 15 minutes I had made a playable – if not particularly good – level full of moving objects and visual effects. The workshop stages vary in quality as you would expect, with a lot of first attempts and minimal efforts clogging up the page, but there are also plenty of interesting and original ideas in there.
ClusterTruck is a simple game, and it manages to flawlessly pull off almost everything it does. The sporadically iffy controls make the last level is a total pain in the arse bordering on the unfair, but with a one in 90 fail rate it just feels petty to even bring it up. With hectic play, visual flair and an easy to use level editor, I’ve never had this much fun being hit by a truck.
A review code was provided by the publisher for the purposes of this review.
Platform: PC/Mac/Linux (reviewed), PS4
Developer/Publisher: Landfall Games/TinyBuild
Release date: September 27, 2016
- Chaotic and exciting
- Varied environments and traps
- Good level designer
- Iffy running controls, predominantly on bends
- The final level is nonsense
ClusterTruck is a simple game executed almost flawlessly. Momentum can feel strange, but the excitement of prancing over exploding trucks more than makes up for it.