Clustertruck , released in September 2016, is an uncommon example of what you might call a “first-person platformer.” It’s a very simple game. The player is tasked with jumping along a moving caravan of white box trucks until they reach the end of a short course. The goal of each level varies; some require the player to move between opposing caravans of trucks, others to avoid objects in the gameworld, some to jump between laser grids and gigantic falling objects. Touching anything other than a truck is an instant level fail.
It’s not a complicated game, but it does have complexity—the many pieces of it layer on one another until the final, glorious escape at the end of the level, only to be greeted with another, seemingly more frustrating new motion puzzle. It’s goofy and irreverent, full of slight puns and level layouts that play on the absurdity of the premise. But at its core the game is always the same: Clustertruck is about running out of time.
I’ve been playing a lot of Clustertruck recently. Not only is finishing a level satisfying in its own right, there is something cathartic about endlessly running on uneven ground, actively plummeting toward doom or heading straight for it. It was calming, in the way that putting yourself under stress purposefully in a stressful time can be calming—it’s the sense of control.
Lately, that sense of control has become more and more soothing as the world continues to slide into a seemingly endless series of tragedies. If Clustertruck a metaphor, it’s an accidental one.
Clustertruck came out at the right time. The studio developing it, Landfall Games, is based in Sweden, so it’s unlikely they meant to time the release with the coming American election. Nonetheless, the game released a scant month-and-a-half before the event, and I personally bought it about a month after, in December.
I’ve written before about the value of games as comfort mechanism. The act of committing time to any pastime means valuing the process. Sitting down to play Clustertruck, and to, for a moment, tame the untameable flood, was a process I valued.
I don’t generally like difficult games. I gravitate toward those with more to say and less to do, to put it simply. I like games that let me walk through a story. But when I just needed a “win,” Clustertruck was the game I turned to.
I like first-person platformers. There aren’t that many of them, and Clustertruck is indisputably one of the best. The game excels at communicating forward motion in a way that feels impossible, inescapable. The wildfires are still burning. The trucks are going to move. Every news cycle brings about some new terror. It’s up to you to keep up.
Dante Douglas is a writer, poet and game developer. You can find him on Twitter at @videodante.