by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Cargo Commander is a game at home in the cold reaches of space. It is haunting and it echoes in the back of your mind when you step away for sleep or the clutches of your spouse. It itches at you, promising more cargo and more high scores if only you open just one more sector. Like any good body snatcher, it sits on the back of your neck telling you where to go. That, my friends, is the addictive quality Serious Brew has cooked into its flagship game. But coming from a two-man team, can it possibly stand up against its indie scene classmates? Read on to find out.
In Space, There Are Only Boxes (and Mutants)
The premise of the game is simple: You are a new employee of Cargo Corp. whose job it is to loot cargo containers floating in the far corners of space. Where these containers come from is anyone's guess, but inside is cargo and probably a few mutants to keep it company. Kill the mutants, scavenge the booty, and move on to the next box before a wormhole rips it all apart. Loot enough unique items from each sector and you eventually gain ranks. Earn enough of them and you can return home to your family. You hope.
If it sounds simple, it is, but Serious Brew has added just enough complexity to keep it all addictively fun. You begin the game in a hold-like ship featuring a magnet for pulling in empty holds, a console for reading email, an upgrade bench and a sector navigator for choosing new locations to hunt. Hitting the magnet causes your ship to pulse with blue energy and a draw in new holds that smash through the walls and allow you safe entry through the damaged area – most of the time. These containers are randomly generated and increase in difficulty the more waves you take on. Their contents is also random, so they can occasionally be cold and lifeless. When they're packing, however, the player should beware. More often than not, they will feature mutants that can do some serious damage to your collection efforts.
While on the surface, the game is a platformer, but at the same time a roguelike games. The randomization, the focus on increasingly difficult exploration, the foregone conclusion that you will die and start fresh to try again are storied elements of that genre. The goal of each day in Cargo Commander is to survive continuous container waves and live to fight another day. Survival, scavenging, and slaying all add points to a high score ranked against other players through online leaderboards. Dying enemies drop caps – cloth remnants of their former cargo commander selves – which are used as currency to buy upgrades for your armor and weapons. Each pull is tense and exploration is tentative; at any moment the magnetized container can fall to pieces as it is sucked into a wormhole. Die or complete the day by choice, your cargo is tallied up, your score posted, and you progress to the next day.
Did Somebody Call a Mechanic?
The average gameplay session in Cargo Commander goes something like this: You wake up and head down to the loading bay to check email and possibly navigate to a new sector. This is all done moving on a 2D plane, not unlike the great platformers of yesteryear. When you're caught up, the next step is to activate the magnet. When a hold crashes into your ship, you jump through the damaged area (or fly outside to an accessible panel) and enter your first interior. It will likely feature multiple levels with cargo drops placed strategically throughout. There's also a good chance of finding bright yellow enemies and the glowing crystals they originate from. You'll jump from platform to platform, possibly using your drill to forge a more direct path. Here the game differs from the likes of Mario or Super Meat Boy. There is no sprint nor any variety to jumps, so whether or not you reach your goal depends entirely on timing.
Tight controls, addictive gameplay, great replayability.
Defeating at high levels, can feel repetitive in the long-term.