'Clustertruck' Is a Physics Nightmare That’s Hilarious and Fun to Play

Jumping from one truck doesn't sound like a recipe for comedy, but Clustertruck manages to be a smart, interesting platformer that'll have you laughing the whole time, too.
September 29, 2016, 4:24pm

The best way to explain why you should care about Clustertruck is by watching this:

Images captured by Patrick Klepek

I doubt the trucks are supposed to be melding with the environment, but who gives a shit—it help me beat the level. It's been a long time since I've laughed out loud at a game the way I've been cackling at Clustertruck, a game where players jump between sets of trucks that are, in the words of developer Landfall Games, "driven by terrible drivers." That's an understatement. If you touch the ground, you die, and in Clustertruck, the developers expect you to die a lot.

Though a simple premise, Clustertruck's wrinkle is an increasingly common trick these days: physics. The game features pre-designed stages, but an air of chaos makes playing them fun, unpredictable, and lovably frustrating, all at the same time. You can come up with a general strategy for how to approach a level, but it's not reliable; each time the stage loads up again, the physics play out in a slightly different way, possibly sending a fleet of trucks left instead of right. Sometimes changes work in your favor; other times they make the level impossible. Even in the latter, the outcomes are usually so outrageous, you can't help but laugh the whole time.

It's profoundly difficult for video games to be funny. It's possible to deploy comedy in cutscenes, dialogue, and other spaces where developers have total control, but once you introduce a free-thinking player into the situation, all bets are off (with some rare exceptions). But increasingly, games are using physics as comedic, allowing for participation by players and developers. Think about some of the unexpected hits the last few years. There's Surgeon Simulator, where players inhabit a crappy doctor who cannot hold onto their tools, or Goat Simulator, which has players wreaking havoc in a small town. All three play in the same sandbox.

But what makes Clustertruck, Surgeon Simulator, and others truly funny is how the designers don't use the physics as a lazy crutch; they work in concert with everything else. It's more than just ragdoll, which is often accidentally funny. A great example of this is when Clustertruck begins a stage like any other, with the player moving forward, on their way to the finish line, when the game suddenly removes all the ground from beneath them and trucks begin…flying.

I let out an audible gasp when this happened, before I died, paused the game, and burst into laughter. The absurdity of the trucks slowly twisting in the air, the anxiety of trying to pick which truck to jump towards next, the ridiculousness of having nothing underneath you—it all works together. On their own, each element is funny, but in sync, they elevate one another into hilarity.

Misdirection becomes integral to the level design as you progress, too, with Clustertruck's designers going out of their way to put you in scenarios that make you throw up your hands.

And crucially, Clustertruck is fun to play. It's not just a goofy physics experiment destined for GIFs to be shared on social media; it's a hard-as-nails platformer with surprising depth. The level design gets increasingly unorthodox, surprising you when it no longer seems possible. Pulling tricks, hanging in the air for too long, or risking a jump on a floating truck nabs you extra points to be spent on bonus abilities to make your life easier, such as a tool to slow down time or the opportunity to perform a double jump. As someone always looking for a new way to jump between things, I didn't expect to spend several hours with Clustertruck yesterday. I figured it was an interesting idea with a funny twist. Instead, it's that and a damn good game.

Clustertruck is available now on Steam for PC.

Follow Patrick Klepek on Twitter.