As the father of an ever-growing/ever-distancing preteen, I know what it’s like to miss my kid; these days more than ever, actually. Yet my parental lamentations are meaningless compared to the dad you play in Cargo Commander. Whereas one or two days without father/child interaction is a seemingly infinite space of time for me, this dude is literally stuck in the middle of space. All alone. Constantly in peril. Giant containers full of aliens and co-worker corpses smashing into his ship, each one containing the prospect of coming one more step closer to seeing his family again. Or to his untimely death. You never know.
No, literally—you never know, because Cargo Commander is a rogue-like, meaning that every experience in this 2.5 D, pseudo cel-shaded actioner is randomly generated. The promise of big loot and family reunion might actually be hiding a gigantic yellow monster with many hitpoints, hell-bent on tossing you out the nearest airlock. Or it might contain the next bit of priceless cargo. That’s your job, though. You’re just a father trying to make a living in the depths of space, activating the giant magnet attached to your boxy-but-customizable spaceship to haul in abandoned cargo containers. When the containers arrive (or rather, smash violently into the side of your ship), you enter them and have a look about. What you find, where you travel to find it, and whether or not you make it back to your ship before a wormhole swallows it all up dictates whether or not you get to go home again. Your employer, Cargo Corp, has made you a promise, though: reach Level 12 and you get to take a holiday to see your family. Or was that Level 16? They keep on changing it.
I’ve been delighted by the premise, the visuals, and the experience of Cargo Commander ever since I first booted it up. Any game with something called a Fist Cannon scores at least one point right off the bat with me, let alone allowing me to upgrade said Fist Cannon, plus all of my other weapons, armor and ship with laser sights, control panels and all other manner of accoutrements. But be wary: this is a game in which you’ll die a lot in pursuit of that next, elusive level. I know I did, but it wasn’t without an immediate return to see what was around the next corner. Addicting? Yes, it is. I stopped playing to write this review, but I’ll be back at it again before I go to bed. That’s gotta mean something good, right?
Although, meaning might not be CC‘s strongest suit. There are twinges of casual here, which is by no means a bad thing. But just the idea of endless space, traveling throughout the cosmos (even naming and exploring your own galaxy) is so grand that when you’ve spent all your time upgrading, only to lose practically all of it at the end of each day, or get caught up in the ever-lengthening grind to the next level, the entertainment spends quickly, so to speak. You can only go through so many containers, searching for that one piece of cargo you need to obtain the next level, so many times before you become frustrated you’re not advancing faster. That and a horrible crash to desktop after a marathon session might’ve left me a little jaded.
Such charm, though. And quirk, too, which I love. There’s an eerie country tune playing on the ship’s PA system, and with a press of the F key your bearded conscript bursts into an on-demand stream of curses that would’ve made Richard Pryor blush. Is it necessary? No. Will it keep Cargo Commander from getting a console release? Yes, unless it’s removed. But does it punctuate why it’s good to be a PC gamer living on the rough side of the tracks? My goodness, yes. We PC gamers like to talk about how good it is to be one of us. We’re right, and Cargo Commander offers solid reasons as to why.
Publisher: Digital Tribe Games
Developer: Serious Brew
System requirements: Windows XP/Vista/Win 7/Mac OSX 10.5.8, 2.0 GHz CPU, 2 GB RAM, DirectX 9.0c-compatible graphics card, 120 MB hard-drive space
ESRB rating: Not rated
Release date: Available now