By Mento 8 Comments
May the Twenty-Ninth
The source: Indie Gala 6
The pre-amble: Cargo! is a third-person action game with construction elements (think Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts) in which the planet's sudden lack of gravity has caused almost all of humanity to float off. The only terrestrial beings left are the "Buddies" - impish humanoid creatures who create a nebulous force called "fun" that can be used to bring everything back down to Earth. This task is left in the capable hands of Flawkes: an airship engineer and one of the few humans still around. The game was developed by Russian studio Ice-Pick Lodge which also developed Pathologic and The Void (I'll take a look at those two eventually, don't worry. They provide a few clues to where this game's sanity-bending mentality came from.)
The site's Quick Look is here - I'd recommend it if you've never watched it before.
The playthrough: All right, so there's no escaping the fact that this is an absolutely bizarre little game. However, much of this inscrutability is only skin-deep. As a game, once the rules have been explained in the brief tutorial period, it becomes far less inexplicable. Essentially, you need to mine a resource (fun) from a source (the Buddies, the bald little naked dudes) while also protecting said source from various external dangers so you can continue to collect from them. These dangers unfortunately tend to come from the Buddies themselves, who cannot differentiate between the fun that comes from harmless kicks and pleasant speedboat rides to being horribly killed by various hazards scattered around the island setting.
Fun can be used for purchasing new mechanical parts that can be attached to boats, the game's chief method of transportation. As with a certain aforementioned bear and bird game, the seaworthy vehicle can be modified to suit any need that arises and the game tosses a fair amount of upgradeable parts your way to allow you modify your boat in any way you'd like. Chiefly, you'll want to outfit it to carry as many of the Buddies as possible, as driving them around becomes the easiest and most reliable source of income. While fun can be spent on ship parts, it's also needed to bring larger landmasses back down from the sky. Each one of these landmasses expands the map a little and brings with it various boons and, occasionally, more troubles.
I really don't know what to think about Cargo. In a sense, it's like nothing I've ever played before. It has an unrepentant weirdness and an infectious sense of chaos that greatly enhances its sense of open-world fun. On the other hand, the game is also absurdly linear for what it is, and much of the "open-world"ness just boils down to grinding for that sole currency so you can afford the next landmass and continue with the game. Buddies will also find creative ways to end their own lives, which is often annoying as you're dependent on them for their valuable merriment. It starts becoming something akin to a strategy game where you need to react quickly to anything that might interfere with or diminish your income. The ship-building mechanics are neat but perfunctory, at least so far (I've barely scratched the surface), as are the often squirrelly controls for the vehicles and on-foot movement. I also had problems keeping a framerate that didn't drop so low that it felt like I was watching the game through a View-Master, but the nature of PC games is such that I can never tell if any technical issues are mine alone. Safe to say they probably are but it's worth saying that I was able to run everything else I've covered this month without a hitch, or at least a hitch of this extent.
But hell, a game like Cargo! The Quest for Gravity doesn't come around every day. Sometimes a game is worth playing in spite of its so-so gameplay just because the presentation around it is so curiously, pleasingly insane. See also: NieR and Psychonauts.
The verdict: Yeah, I'll come back to it at some point. Someone needs to stop those pernicious penguins.