by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
Space: Cold and Colorful
If there's one thing Cargo Commander nails, it's atmosphere. Crates feel cold and mechanical, like there should be life there but isn't. Everything is utilitarian, including your home base. While it features a tiny bedroom and tinier bathroom, the vast majority of it is taken up by a loading bay and storage locker, all cast in mechanical oranges and greens. Zoom out just a little and the vastness of space unfolds around you, swirling with debris. In the background, strains of bluegrass play through tired loading bay speakers.
Dark and direness aside, the game features a nice sense of humor that lightens the mood. Most days feature a funny email from Cargo Corp. reminding you that, yeah, you're probably going to die but they really, really appreciate it. The cargo itself is also infused with silliness. Over the course of the game you'll collect unicorns, kittens and even a coveted alien sex toy. Cargo Commander also takes the cake as the first game I have seen with an actual “F you!” button. They call it a taunt but the real purpose is school boy giggles.
Graphically, the game employs a stylized cel-shaded technique that works quite well with the setting. The character models are nothing to brag about but the environments are pack a decent amount of detail. Zooming out for a “big picture” view of things is also impressive. The developer's choice of coloration for the outer space elements is pitch perfect and a joy to look at.
Shiny Side up?
As much fun as the game is, it noticeably lacks polish. When the game thinks, it freezes for strangely long periods of time. I found myself bringing up the task manager more than once thinking it had become unresponsive. This is especially odd considering how low the system requirements are.
The game can also be its own worst enemy. Because it employs a “gotta catch 'em all” mentality with cargo collection, it can be downright frustrating to pull crate after crate only to find that the item you need hasn't spawned. Ask any MMO player, and they will tell you that this problem isn't unique to Cargo Commander. Sometimes the system likes you and you will harvest a sector for serious progression. Other times it will be a total bust. Environments also lack the visual flare to make them memorable, leading each crate to feel much like the many others to come before it. This can lead to a feeling of repetitiveness over the long-term.
So, at the end of the day, does Cargo Commander hold its own? The answer is a definitive yes. While repetitiveness and randomization are a concern in the long term, the game does a lot of things right and provides hours and hours of gameplay for less than the cost of a movie ticket. The atmosphere is perfect, gameplay is tight and it has a compulsive quality to keep players coming back for just one more wave. It's a shame that production qualities weren't a little bit higher in some areas, but for $10, Serious Brew has crafted a worthy experience for both platformer and roguelike fans. This is a worthy first entry into what we hope will become a series.
Tight controls, addictive gameplay, great replayability.
Defeating at high levels, can feel repetitive in the long-term.