Cloud Chasers Review
Subtitled “A Journey of Hope”, Cloud Chasers,is deceptive in its nomenclature. Yes, it’s literally about chasing clouds. But while a journey of hope it may be, dozens of unsuccessful and depressing play-throughs have convinced me that Blindflug Studios meant for the game to be about false hope, about knowing that the end is inevitable, about seeing your doom moments away and yet trying to remain buoyant against the oncoming flood of despair. Because what else is there to do?
In Terry Pratchett’s celebrated Discworld series of novels, in order to reach the afterlife, one must cross a vast, barren desert, occasionally punctuated with lone, wandering souls. I couldn’t help but draw parallels between that desert and the one you must traverse in Cloud Chasers, as father-and-daughter team Francisco and Amelia. Their desert is equally immense and unforgiving, and in all probability, leads to death. It’s equally absurd in some of the characters you meet, especially, if subscribe to Camus’ view of absurdity. And like Pratchett’s novels, it’s equally lighthearted at first glance until you actually get into the content.
While cheerfully painted in pastel colors, Cloud Chasers is sepulchral in its voiceless silence, even as the background music carries on its haunting dirge. On your quest to escape your drought-ridden home and find hope in the “Spire”, you may run into procedurally selected encounters, from crashed airplanes from which you can pillage supplies, to long lost friends with parting gifts, to things as simple as a bush with pretty flowers. The flowers were nice. They made Amelia happy for a moment, letting her forget the constant eye you need to keep on your water supplies, your health, and the state of repair of your glider, your only means of obtaining more water.
It’s this Frank Herbert-ian obsession with water that defines your world. Drought is the reason you’re facing the perils of the open desert. Water is your most limited and fastest-consumed resource. Even standing around doing nothing eats up portions of the precious 10 liters of water you can carry. Collecting more is an ordeal, requiring you to search for lonely clouds and launch your glider, towards them, with young Amelia strapped inside. Then, you need to navigate Amelia through the clouds, avoiding cliff sides, drafts of strong wind, ominously whirring, water-stealing drone-bots, and even gun-shots, as you try to gather as much moisture as you can hold.
The cities that pepper your journey offer no human contact, and little relief: purchasing medicines or supplies costs yet more water, and you may find yourself healed to full, only to die of thirst moments later, a few steps into the desert. Brutality is the law of the land, and if thirst or your wounds don’t get you, then roving bands of outlaws or the border patrol will. And only in death will you get to read Francisco’s heart-breaking journal, a record of significant moments on your adventure (though “adventure” word connotes more happiness than I’d like), as well as a confessional featuring his thoughts, feelings and hopes concerning his daughter. The last entry is inevitably about your death. Variations of “…we had hope. Now that Amelia died, that is gone. I can’t just go on by myself,” it reads. Again and again and again.
Maybe there is a way to beat the game. Maybe I’m just a terrible player. But ultimately, your death becomes the only way to uncover your full story. It’s depressing, I know, but that’s not really what the game is all about. It’s about the little moments before, when you’re soaring through the clouds on a homemade glider, carried aloft only by the hot desert air, and the fierce, fierce dreams of a father trying to protect his family.