Cargo Commander is Moon in videogame form, with Sam Rockwell’s role taken by a bearded, blue-collar chap who owns a “fuck you!” button, and Kevin Spacey replaced by a sound system that only knows one song.
Deep space is the setting for this two-man indie creation, which features our hirsute hero collecting boxes of precious cargo from long-abandoned segments of spacecraft. In each sector of space, it’s the player’s job to use the giant magnet located on your vessel to attract massive containers, investigate them for interesting pieces of cargo to issue back to Cargo Corp, and get out before a wormhole messes with the magnetic field and sends everything tumbling back into the void.
It’s possible to survive in space for a limited time, but Beardo the Bearded (that’s pretty much what I’ve settled on calling him) always has to get himself back inside the home base or a container to replenish his oxygen levels.
Container exploration consists of quick-paced 2D platforming, with an emphasis on traversing each “block” rapidly, so as to retrieve as much cargo as possible. Beardo owns a useful metallic drill which can be used to get inside containers while floating in space, or for burrowing through walls and floors when inside the metallic constructs. The same device doubles as a big iron fist, for punching through unidentified crates and pushing back aliens.
Yep, sometimes there are pesky mutants laying in wait for you; all of whom are eager to meet the game’s weapon set. Beardo can repel the alien menace with his default nailgun, trusty six shooter, shotgun, or self-trigger mines fired from something called a Mag Shooter (this last one is also useful for blowing holes in walls, and yourself). Individually, the alien mutants aren’t much of a threat, but if you fail to destroy their spawn points it’s easy to find yourself swarmed and gnawed to bits.
After you’ve gathered enough bits of interesting cargo in a given sector of space, you’ll get to chance to grab a sector pass. Manage to retrieve it, and you’ll have a couple of options: keep inviting more waves in an attempt to beat the high score, or end your work day and travel to another area to start the process all over again.
Each sector appears to randomly generate incoming containers and cargo types, possibly based on some kind of algorithm behind the name it has been given. That is, if you use a sector pass and type in “Moon” (as I did), you’ll get a sector that’s the same each time you play it, but original when compared with all the others out there.
There’s a neat little touch to this procedural permanence. The corpses of other players who’ve died at some point in the level will be positioned where they fell, and can be looted for extra supplies.
As your Riker-a-Like locates and salvages unique cargo pieces, he rises through the Cargo Corp. ranks and gains certain privileges. These take the form of a permanent upgrade station for your home base (so that you can buy ammo and gun improvements from the safety of your HQ) and other unlocks like the ‘Journey Mode’. This is essentially a survival mode that immediately blows up your base, and forces you through an endless series of containers until the inevitable conclusion.
Cargo Commander also possesses a subtle narrative about your estrangement from a wife and son, both of whom are under the impression that you have some sort of easy desk job. Periodically, you can sell bits of cargo to pay the (ever-increasing) delivery fees for packages that are being sent from home. As far as game stories go this one is applied with a pretty light touch, but it offers just enough details and space-isolation to invite that comparison with Moon made in the introduction (hopefully this game doesn’t end quite the same way).
Controlling the Mighty Beard in his transition between space and not-space can be a bit of a fiddly process at times. Each container has its own idea about which way is ‘down’ for the purposes of gravity, so you’ll sometimes find yourself entering one from ‘below’ only to discover that’s actually the ceiling. The problem is, the controls will also switch on you, so pressing up to enter the container will now cast you back into space. There’s a finesse to it, which can often evade you in the midst of a rapid dash back to your home base.
Semi-procedural generation of container layouts can bring the odd strange or annoying moment too. Like when a cargo box is blocked off by indestructible walls, or a whole host of monsters rushing on top of you the second you set foot inside an area. Still, it’s nothing that a good old mash of the “fuck you!” button (yes, that really is a thing) can’t fix.
Cargo Commander takes a simple concept (grab the glowing blue boxes, dummy) and houses it within an addictive and responsive structure. Whether you’re working towards the rank that will grant your guy some shore leave, trying to knock a rival off the high-score table, or setting a new best score in the recently created “IMCOOL” sector, it all drives the same urge to whack the magnet control one more time. Space may be lonely, but it’s never boring.
Cargo Commander should be drifting onto Steam sometime in November. Price TBA.