‘Cargo Commander’ Review – Platformer Of The Year?
In the future, men and women desperate for a decent paycheck will enlist with the Cargo Corp. and be whisked off Earth to be deposited into a workstation somewhere across the galaxy. They will go months, perhaps years, without seeing another human being. Their job performance dictates if they can even receive personal mail. They lied to their family, “a fulfilling desk job” they probably said. They would hate for their family to know the truth: the truth that working for the Cargo Corp. is anything but inspiring…or safe.
As a high-ranking member of the Cargo Corp. I can tell you that as dangerous as working in solitude in the depths of space can be…it’s a lot of fun.
Serious Brew released Cargo Commander earlier this month for PC and Mac. The game is a platformer that has players gathering space junk from abandoned space containers that litter the galaxy. Each container needs to be drilled open, and explored. Many containers contain dangerous aliens or environmental hazards like broken fuel lines bellowing out fire. As a member of the Cargo Corp. it is the player’s duty to scour these crates for rare space junk. After all, you can’t go home until you’ve met your quota.
At the start of each “day” players activate the magnetic beams built into their workstation/space-house and wait for a nearby procedurally-generated container to come crashing into their ship. If the collision did not already bust open the hull of the container, players must attempt to drill into the container with their built-in “Fistcanon” tool which also functions as a weapon: it can shoot nails and be used as a melee weapon.
Outside the hulls of the containers (and within some containers) players will have to work with zero-gravity conditions. This allows them to float around freely, but only for as long as their oxygen supply lasts.
Inside the containers, players break open crates and collect anything of value. Usually, the magnetic strips pull in three or four containers total, so players would be wise to make sure they are secure within a container before another container smashes into theirs and sends them flying out into the vacuum of space.
Within a few containers, players will find weapons laying around, but you can only carry one type of weapon (in addition to your Fistcanon) at a time. The weapons range from a shotgun, to a weapon that shoots sticky-mines which can be remotely triggered. I learned that you can use the mines to blow your way out of a container in a pinch, and ended up keeping that weapon as my secondary whenever I was able to find it.
After a while, a black-hole opens up and slowly begins to inhale the containers. Once the warning bells sound, the player has only moments to drop what they’re doing and scramble to make it back to the safety of their home ship.
The rush that comes with leaping through containers as they are ripped apart, jumping through areas of zero-gravity with probably more than a few aliens at your heels, is an incredible feeling that you just don’t find in platformers very often. It is what makes Cargo Commander so much fun.
Back in the safety of the home container, the inventory system catalogs everything you collected, and updates your point total. If you feel that you can chance another container pull, hit the magnet activator and brace for impact. If you are happy with your (hopefully high) score, choose to end the work day and the game tallies up your inventory and awards you points based on the rarity of the items found. You gain promotions (that come with their own equipment unlocks) based on your total end-of-the-day score.
A really cool thing that Cargo Commander does is that it ranks you against other “workers” in the sector; the other workers being other players. The game gives you a live update of what the other cargo commanders’ high-scores are, and it adds a multiplayer competitive edge to what is essentially a single-player game.
Players can eventually change sectors after finding a sector pass within a container, allowing them to unlock different sectors.
Eventually players will unlock upgrades for both the home-container and the Fistcanon. Right now, I have an ammunition-generator installed in my home-container, as well as an auto-repair system that can instantly repair hull-breaches due to the containers crashing into the station. My Fistcanon also has the upgraded Magma-Drill installed, which drills through container hulls super fast, allowing me to make last minute-escapes.
Overall the game has a very lonely feel to it…but I really like it because it isn’t something you see much in games. The home-station plays one very lonely, but catchy, song, and players using headsets will benefit because the music can act as a beacon when you are scrambling around in zero-gravity looking for a way to get back to the home-station.
Once players reach rank six, Journey mode unlocks on the main menu. This differs from the regular gameplay mode in that the containers come in an endless string, but they fall apart after you explore them. The cargo you find in Journey mode counts towards your overall rank, just like it would in the regular gameplay mode. This is a much more relaxed way to play, as there are no black-holes randomly poping up that you must escape from, but like I said, that “black-hole rush” (hm, sounds like a bad stomach virus), is what makes Cargo Commander so fun. But hey, I understand that it isn’t for everyone.
The only real issue I had with Cargo Commander was that some of the containers just really screw you over. Since you can’t see into the container until you are in it, you could be drilling right into a flaming busted pipeline and have no idea until you’re sitting in it. Alternatively, you could be in the middle of an empty container and then all of a sudden a dozen alien-spawning crystals pop up, and suddenly the entire container is literally crawling with aliens of all sorts.
These faults can be easily countered by players being extra careful and always allowing for an extra escape route, but there will be times when you will just be overwhelmed and killed.
Serious Brew created a fantastic little platformer with Cargo Commander. I know the indie market is over-saturated with platformers of all types, but Cargo Commander is one of this year’s best. I had no trouble playing the game, the controls were solid, the slightly cel-shaded visuals were nothing fancy but worked just fine; the entire experience from start to where I am now has been nothing but addicting and fun.
Visit the official Cargo Commander website.
Review summary Pros:
Procedurally generated containers, interesting mechanics, overall fun and addicting platforming, sector leaderboards add competitiveness
Enemy swarms sometimes too much to handle