kritiqal is the pet project of nate Kiernan. Based out of Maryville, TN, Kritiqal seeks to explore games at the intersection of academia and mass-market entertainment.

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ClusterTruck is a dick but I love it anyway

Near the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), there’s a scene in which Jones has to clamber from the back of a horse onto and between a tank rambling through the desert. It’s an incredibly intense scene, not only because of the large quantity of Nazis but because the scene is moving at 100 miles-per-hour and everyone else is just barely keeping pace. But what if Indiana Jones had a jetpack? And what if instead of all those Nazis, there was just a shitload of trucks? This, through some form of metaphor transfiguration black magic, is ClusterTruck (2016), a gleefully antagonistic experiment in exactly how far an absurd idea can take you. The answer, it turns out, is all the way to hell.

I’m not sure it’s necessary to go into much more detail on how ClusterTruck plays, as I’ve discovered any attempt to put into words what this game is utterly fails to capture the magical surrealism of seeing it in motion. There’s a bunch of trucks. You jump on them. The world falls apart around you and an asshole ghost steals the goal sign. ClusterTruck is as simple as it is inexplicable, and its combination of low-rent production values and increasingly ridiculous level designs helps sustain it for longer than is arguably healthy. I went into Clustertruck expecting laughs but what I got was a shower of expletives and hot tears.

ClusterTruck is not a fair game, perhaps not even an honest one. Its physics system is an unpredictable, indecipherable mess held together by string and the prayers of the damned, causing trucks to swerve and explode at random while taking you along with them. That’s part of the fun, at first, but as the levels become longer and more intricate this inability to do much more than throw yourself through a level becomes intensely frustrating, chipping away at the amusing concept to find nothing underneath. ClusterTruck straddles the line between tough but precise platformers like Super Meat Boy (2010) and troll games such as I Want To Be The Guy (2007) and Eryi’s Action (2013), but never finds its footing in either style, taking the worst elements of both and leaning on its premise to make up for its poor design.

And yet I still played every god-forsaken level. I rode ClusterTruck all the way to hell and left it with the devil it came from. Am I a better person for having done so? No, definitely not. But can I say with conviction that I regret doing so? Not really, either. ClusterTruck is a dick, but I kinda love it anyway. I won’t called it in the morning, but I'll remember the messy night we had together.

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