Mento's May Madness More: #26 - Cargo! The Quest for Gravity

May the Twenty-Ninth

The game: Ice-Pick Lodge's Cargo! The Quest for Gravity

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.

The Buddies enraptured by song. Music is another method to raise a lot of fun quickly, but it means running around collecting the musical notes scattered around the archipelago.

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.

This three-piece band often comes by to drop cryptic hints about what you should be doing next. Then, often, one of the floating God machine masks immediately shows up and spells it out for you. For a game so obfuscatingly bizarre, it really tries to make itself clear.

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.

8 Comments
9 Comments
Posted by TopSteer

I've been intrigued by this game ever since I saw the quick look, especially the creating vehicles part and I do plan to at least try to play it someday.

I swear I must be the only person that enjoyed the gameplay in Nier since I've only seen everybody else call it mediocre or worse. Sure the combat's not the most sophisticated but I really enjoyed the various magicks. Hell, maybe I'm just easy to please.

Posted by Hailinel

Cargo's Quick Look is like a fever dream in video form. That the complete insanity actually starts making sense after a while is bizarre in itself.

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Posted by Mento

@hailinel: I suppose the whole fun/buddies/gravity dynamic doesn't ever make sense, really, but from a purely mechanical standpoint the game's easy enough to pick up. That sort of thing is an interesting weakness video games have in comparison to other media, which generally don't have to rely on the consumer being totally in step in order to keep things going. A video game that's utterly inexplicable from its presentation to its core gameplay will just drive its players to frustration (and GameFAQs). I suppose that Myst-inspired weird arty FMV adventure game trend in the 90s found that out the hard way.

@topsteer: Nier's a fine game but it's nothing special until you begin to factor in everything surrounding it. I tended to think of its gameplay as just a mechanism to keep the insanity rolling along. I loved it, but I can understand why some (well... most) people didn't.

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Posted by Hailinel

@mento said:

@hailinel: I suppose the whole fun/buddies/gravity dynamic doesn't ever make sense, really, but from a purely mechanical standpoint the game's easy enough to pick up. That sort of thing is an interesting weakness video games have in comparison to other media, which generally don't have to rely on the consumer being totally in step in order to keep things going. A video game that's utterly inexplicable from its presentation to its core gameplay will just drive its players to frustration (and GameFAQs). I suppose that Myst-inspired weird arty FMV adventure game trend in the 90s found that out the hard way.

@topsteer: Nier's a fine game but it's nothing special until you begin to factor in everything surrounding it. I tended to think of its gameplay as just a mechanism to keep the insanity rolling along. I loved it, but I can understand why some (well... most) people didn't.

The funny thing about Myst is that if you know the trick to it, you can beat the game in about five minutes.

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Posted by Video_Game_King
Edited by Hailinel

Otherwise, it's all learning new languages and bases and shit? (I haven't played Myst; just heard some horror stories about it.)

Not really? The game is really just a puzzle-adventure game that throws the player into the world without any sort of exposition and asks them to parse things out for themselves. This means a lot of reading books in the library for clues (and even then, it's not clear what clues you should be looking for until you've explored the world enough to understand the context) and poking at obvious puzzles until you understand what the puzzle actually is before you can go about solving it. Despite the use of FMV characters, there's actually very little character dialog in the game; you understand most of the background by, once again, reading books you find, and understanding the context of the environments you come across.

It is a game that demands patience, a willingness to experiment, and a lot of note-taking. The first PC edition actually came bundled with a notebook.

Or you can just cheat and see the ending in a few minutes.

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Posted by Video_Game_King

@hailinel said:

Or you can just cheat and see the ending in a few minutes.

If you ever see me blogging about Myst, know that I'm doing this out of sheer idiocy :P.

Posted by BeachThunder

I really need to get around to playing this. I think we can all derive fun in knocking our little naked buddies around. Wait, what did I just say 0_o