For Scores and 88 Items to Go – Cargo Commander Review
This game was reviewed on the PC.
Let’s be real here – everybody loves an underdog. So when I hear about indie games like Cargo Commander, developed by Serious Brew and published by Digital Tribe Games, my interest is piqued. Set in a futuristic world on the fringe of the galaxy, Cargo Commander is a 2D action-platformer that will have you leaping around grabbing everything from a Rat Eaten Donut to Vial of Liquid Cool. Will Cargo Commander collect your indie-loving heart in a jar with its rich and glorious gameplay, or will it reveal itself to be as dimensionless as its 2D interface?
It’s a cold, October morning (well, at least according to the song looping in the background). You wake up, grab a ‘cup of joe’, and head towards your main hanger bay. It’s a relatively large room with Cargo below you, a few Consoles on the main platform, and a string of clothes hanging on a line overhead. You are an employee at Cargo Corp. and your main objective is to collect Cargo from the space debris, then send it back to your company so you can earn your way home. The only piece of solace you’ll find in this corner of existence is through regular Emails sent from Your Love, but that’s just part of the job and you knew that going in.
The mechanics are fairly simple, even if certain glitches can cause the basic gameplay to run less smoothly than intended. The control scheme is your typical WASD setup (though W is used to jump), you’ll reload with R, switch Guns with Q, and interact with objects (like Consoles) with E. You can also zoom the screen in or out with your scroll bar, or use your Gun as a Drill by right clicking with your mouse. And let’s not forget the option to use an ‘F You’ command hitting the F button, which allows you to swear at your enemies. If you hit it multiple times, you’ll start screaming random obscenities in long, breathless waves. Keep in mind you can map these controls to any key you’d like at any point in the game via the Options menu, so if you’re finding the controls hard to manage, feel free to change it up! The Cargo Bay is your base of operations. It’s where you start the game, read your Emails, sleep, drink your Coffee, navigate to another Sector, or attract new Cargo containers to scavenge.
Once you use the Magnet Lever to attract containers, a small assortment of them will crash into one of the four corners of your Cargo Bay and connect in a chain. You’ll enter them by either jumping or sliding into an existing hole, or by making one with your Gun. If you fall into outer space, don’t worry! You have a certain amount of air before you start suffocating, indicated by a grey bar at the bottom of your screen that slowly gets smaller as you run out of time. On multiple occasions, the game begins to glitch and you’ll find that the containers get stuck at weird angles against your Cargo Bay, and the panels you can drill through don’t level enough room for you to squeeze by, forcing you to jump into outer space and try to drill another panel before suffocating to death.
In outer space it is naturally much harder to maneuver your character, and you are limited in how much time you have to get back into a container, so be careful when taking the plunge into outer space! Upon your travels through these clumped-together cubes of exploratory goodness, you’ll not only be finding Cargo, but you will also run into mutant ex-employees of Cargo Corp who you must kill quickly and collect their hats, which can be used to upgrade your equipment. These are the main enemies in the game, and you will fight them in small or large numbers at any given time. But be careful where you tread – in some containers, you will find yourself overrun by hoards of mutants, and they can beat you to death if you don’t get out in time.
To advance in the game, you want to collect as many kinds of Cargo as you can through the various containers you explore. However, bear in mind that you’ll have a time limit for your explorations, and eventually, a Wormhole will show up. If this happens before you have collected everything in the containers and returned back to your main Cargo Bay, you’ll have to forget about picking up new pieces of Cargo and make a run for it. When the Wormhole opens, it will dissolve the containers and the Cargo around you. This leaves you floating out into space and trying to make your way back to your home base – which can be particularly dangerous if you’re far away.
Each piece of new Cargo is worth 100 points, and each Sector contains six possible Cargo types. Be advised that each new Sector may still have the same Cargo you’ve already collected. If you aren’t having luck finding new forms of Cargo from Sector to Sector, you’ll soon discover the game lulls itself into an agonizingly slow pace. There are 12 available Ranks, including such titles as Lead Packing Mule, Junior Cargo Commander, or Senior Deckswab. Your ultimate goal is to return home to Your Love and live happily ever after, but you must collect all 88 types of Cargo to do so. Since each Sector only contains six types of Cargo, you’ll find yourself moving around in space a lot in an attempt to collect your desired Cargo-types. Once you’ve collected enough Cargo to move to a new Sector, you’ll use your Magnet Lever Console to attract a new container, which will be (on average) slightly larger than the other container clumps you’ll run into – and will contain a boss fight and a Key so you can move to a new Sector. Never fear: once an area is unlocked, you can return if you choose to do so.
Once you hit Rank 6 (Junior Packing Mule), you will unlock Journey mode. The main differences you’ll find are that there are no Wormholes, so you can play as long as you’d like but you also don’t have a home base. Each section of containers has a Console randomly placed in it where you can turn in your Cargo, and an Upgrade Bench should you wish to upgrade your equipment – instead of being attached to your home base. It’s a slower, more relaxed pace, and one that is more in tune with scavenging and exploration than action-packed adventure.
The online aspect of the game plays into the idea that each Sector has the same layout, and if you decide to travel to a Sector that one of your friends has already visited, you can compare your high-scores via the Leaderboard – separated into global online scores, or scores between you and your friends. It’s a fun little addition if you want to see how well you’re doing in comparison to your friends, but there isn’t much more depth to it than that.
At first the music really seems to fit, giving you the twangy, lonesome feel of an old country folk song as you make your way through the gritty space junk collecting mere scraps for a living. When you end up in space, the music follows, but with a reaction you’d expect would happen in space. Much like under water, the song becomes extremely muddled so you can barely make it out, and you actually feel as though your ears are plugged up. Where the music falls flat is when you realize that this fitting but slightly boring song plays over and over, with no deviation from the main track (unless you’re actually in the void of space). The sound effects overall play nicely, be it the low, cold clank of steel underfoot as you walk around in your bulky space collector’s uniform, the high-pitched drilling noise as you cut your way through metal walls, or the mid-ranged ‘pew pew’ sound of your ammo being fired. If the music is really bothering you, you can turn it off and only have the sound effects play, but without the background noise, the entire experience seems anticlimactic and monotonous.
Visually the game presents itself in a great light, with crisp and clean graphics supported by the dark abyss of space. Your character looks very clear whether you are zoomed in or out, as are the Consoles, Mutants, and even the platforms. When you are in space, you’ll notice almost a ‘Vaseline on the camera’ effect, which will turn red as you start to suffocate. This was a really great part of the visuals, and coupled with the muddled music, it really made for a neat effect. The graphics are solid all the way through, but there isn’t any deviation. You’ll run into the same environments regardless of Sector or area.
The main thing you’ll notice about Cargo Commander is that while it is a good playthrough, and certainly worth its $9.99 price tag, the Sectors don’t really deviate at all – it’s the same enemies over and over and the same layouts. This can get tiresome and monotonous, without a lot of new challenges or changes to the base gameplay, and while you can upgrade your equipment it only makes you stronger and doesn’t add new features (like a jetpack option perhaps, or a shield). While wit and wonder are prevalent in the game, it won’t help motivate you to keep exploring, and some may feel that there isn’t a ton of replay value, as there isn’t more to the game once you collect all 88 types. On the flipside, one of the best parts about the game for me was all the little witticisms in the descriptions of things. You’ll run into little bits of information that will make you smile, such as picking up cargo like a Gallon of Rocket Fuel, and having the description state: “A whole gallon! (note: use of the metric system has been illegal since the imperial wars. the penalty is murder by death)”. Even the glossary has great little moments, such as when you click on mutants to learn more and simply getting the phrase “kill them” as if you hadn’t already figured that part out yet.
Through the grit and grease, you will find yourself having a good time overall with Cargo Commander, exploring the galaxy to find the various bits of Cargo to add to your collection, and prove you are the best scavenger Cargo Corp has ever hired. If the opposite is true for you and you don’t like the work you’ve done in your career, or are feeling too lonely out in space to go on, hit the Esc button on your keyboard and choose the Suicide option to end your in-game life and start over. If you’re into platform games, this is a neat concept with a few good, morbid chuckles to be had, and an experience I strongly suggest you give a play through.
Cargo Commander receives a 4.25/5.0
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