Cargo Commander, from developer Serious Brew, is fundamentally a 2D platformer that combines the loneliness of outer space with the continual quest to acquire various types of loot. Destructive environments and the stomach-churning zero-gravity of space movement make for an experience that's one of the more unique and memorable of the platforming genre. While there are bits of a narrative that can be discovered from emails during the game's course, the majority of gameplay revolves around exploring cargo containers in space and scavenging them for supplies and valuable loot while also surviving against hostile aliens.
Players begin their career as a Cargo Commander in a perfectly square space station that functions as their home for the game's duration. The space station contains all the necessary tools for a successful career, including a computer for checking email and changing levels (known as sectors in the game), an upgrade bench for buying new equipment and upgrading the commander's armor and weapons, magnet control for attaching additional cargo containers for exploration, and even a coffee machine when in need of that extra boost of caffeine.
As players begin each day in space, they are given a defined number of loot items to gain and eventually a key that rewards access to additional sectors. If players die in the process of collecting the loot, they begin a new day and try again to acquire the specified loot. As cargo containers are brought crashing into the space station through use of the magnet, their exteriors are covered, requiring players to drill into them before seeing what treasure or trap is waiting inside. Once players enter inside a container, the 2D platforming aspect of the game takes control and tasks players with collecting loot items and dodging the attacks of enemies while fleeing for safety.
Each container houses loot items that vary in rarity and value in addition to hostile alien creatures that complicate the process. After a short time, the cargo containers start to break apart as a result of violent wormholes which require players to grab the loot and rush back to the space station before their supply of oxygen is depleted. The entire process of drilling into cargo containers, frantically searching for loot, battling violent alien creatures, and finally rushing back to the space station is both a thrilling and extremely-gratifying experience.
Loot and other forms of currency in the containers can, in turn, be spent on upgrades for the commander character that range from reinforced armor to extended oxygen while in space. The catch is that the upgrades are reset upon each day or after your character meets their fate, which creates a roguelike atmosphere of gameplay. As players advance in levels, which is determined by the amount and rarity of loot earned, they are rewarded with upgrade points that are replenished each day. More advanced upgrades include improvements to the space station, one of which is that it can auto-repair itself after losing walls from crashing containers.
Beyond collecting loot, players can travel to other sectors that are simply just different leaderboards based on their given names. The only interaction that players have online is the competition of leaderboard scores and the discovery of other dead commanders within containers. It's unfortunate that the game did not include an actual multiplayer component as cooperative loot collecting would have been an absolute blast. After awhile, the leveling system and loot collection become repetitive as the gameplay, never evolving beyond the core mechanics. Day after day, players continue with the same menial task as aliens become stronger and loot more difficult to acquire. Without convincing a couple of friends to compete for the highest score of loot collection, the platforming entertainment of Cargo Commander becomes more mundane than engaging.
The presentation of Cargo Commander shines in nearly all of its aspects, from the pixel-shaded visual appearance, or the outstanding sound effects, to the lack of any sound while floating about in space. The most impressive graphical element is the destructible environments of both the commander's space station and cargo containers. Either using his drill or planted explosives, it's a thrill to tear apart any surface that is between the commander and his hunger for more space loot. In regards to the game's sound, details like the volume of the station's radio music becoming dimmer as the player floats further into space is a brilliant touch. The only downside with the presentation is that the game's environments of cargo containers never vary that greatly and after awhile can become just as mundane as the gameplay.
The elements of a 2D platformer, space, zero-gravity, destructive environments, and loot collection combine for an experience that is both entertaining and addictive for the beginning hours. As additional levels are gained and higher scores earned, the gameplay experience never quite evolves beyond its initial premise. Players that have a group of friends for online leaderboard competition will undoubtedly discover more value with the end game. 2D platformer and space enthusiasts are sure to find something they'll enjoy in Cargo Commander, while those seeking a more varied game will have to look elsewhere among the stars.
Cargo Commander is available now for Windows PC and Mac.
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