Monday, May 09, 2011

Cargo: The Quest For Gravity Review

Cargo: The Quest For Gravity, developed by Ice-pick Lodge and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Variety of machines to build using free-form construction or predefined blueprints, oddly unique theme and resource collection, believable physics, import custom music and define dance moves for naked midgets
The Not So Good: Really vague objectives with little direction in a linear story mode, tedious mini-games, limited methods of generating fun
What say you? Part vehicle design game, part weird action-adventure, this unique title offers a distinctive setting with limited long-term variety: 5/8

Personally, there have not been enough games that feature vehicle design intended to force naked midgets to have fun. This is really an untapped niche of computer gaming that's been ignored for far too long. Thank goodness for Cargo: The Quest for Gravity, an amalgam of various genres (I think) where you harvest “fun,” gathered by causing excitement in the form of undue harm to the aforementioned naked midgets, and then use that fun to capture floating landmarks. Why are they floating? Because the Earth's gravity has gone missing, of course. It makes total sense! So come along with me as we build some helicopters out of spare parts, drag naked midgets behind us, and reel in Big Ben from the stratosphere. Sounds like a normal Saturday afternoon to me.

Cargo: The Quest For Gravity features whimsical graphics that fits the odd theme of the game well. The cartoon setting is filled with bright colors with varied, detailed textures. The various landmarks that drop in from orbit are easily identifiable and add another element of peculiarity to the game. The game’s vehicles are composed of steampunk parts that further increase Cargo’s odd nature. The main protagonist has a very detailed model, whereas the rest of the characters are less so, especially the disjointed “gods” (or whatever they are) confined to hanging tracks. As for the sound design, Cargo has fanciful music that obviously works quite well in this game. The voice acting ranges from acceptable to painful (a product of the game’s non-English heritage), although I found the buddy sayings to be consistently amusing. Overall, the odd nature of Cargo shines through in the game’s graphics and sound design.

Cargo: The Quest For Gravity has you grounding the world’s landmarks by using “fun,” generated by making naked midgets enjoy themselves. The game’s story mode traverses four seasons on a single map, and you’ll spend about two hours in each setting. This mode features scripted, linear events (seriously reducing replay value) and very unclear objectives: Cargo lacks a minimap or on-screen icon to show objective locations, and the directions are poor at best. “Swim to a volcano and turn them on” means “build a submarine near a crack in the ice and search underwater for drowning midgets and then carry them to two different underwater volcanoes you can’t see because of the short draw distance and perform two mini-games.” I was terribly confused most of the time, and I did not enjoy any of the mini-games, which I found tedious and annoying. The laborious cutscenes can be skipped, but ultimately the story mode is not that enjoyable. Cargo also has a sandbox mode where you are given an unlimited amount of vehicle parts and can build to your heart’s content. While the construction aspect of Cargo is enjoyable, there is no goal in the sandbox mode other than to make a bunch of crazy ass flying machines. Cargo has an online high score list to track who has generated the most “fun,” but lacks cooperative multiplayer. You can import your own music (one minute selections) and then customize the dance moves the naked midgets will use while they have their “fun.” The restricted nature of the story mode, however, makes Cargo a single-play experience.

There clearly isn’t enough fun in the world (even when most of it is floating in the stratosphere), so it’s up to you to make some. How so? By forcing naked midgets called “buddies” to have fun and excitement, which makes them explode into a bunch of flowers (obviously) and awards you points. There are several ways of doing this: the first is to simply kick them using the right mouse button. Also, you can collect musical notes and then play a song they can dance to. Or, you can attach buddies to your vehicle and do stunts. Earning “fun” lets you bring down objects from orbit to make more buddies (and advance the level) or purchase new parts for your vehicles. You can also pick up and throw debris into sinkholes to make more buddies to kick around for “fun”. Cargo requires you to balance using “fun” between construction and objectives, so there is a small amount of planning here.

Vehicle design is the strongest feature of Cargo. “Fun” can be used to purchase new parts from the “gods,” or you can find them scattered around the map in crates. There are basic cockpits that you then attach additional parts to, eventually (hopefully) forming cars, boats, helicopters, and submarines. Parts include engines, propellers, sails, balloons, wings, pontoons, platforms, tires, tails, crates, and joints to connect them all together. It’s initially a little confusing attaching things together correctly (joints must be used between most objects, and connections are only allowed at highlighted places), but with practice it becomes second nature. If you don’t want to actually design custom craft, you can choose from a number of predesigned blueprints to accomplish the various objectives Cargo throws at you. Impressively, Cargo features credible physics not matter how esoteric your craft may be. While the vehicle design is certainly enjoyable, the rest of Cargo: The Quest For Gravity has little in the way of replay value.

Cargo: The Quest For Gravity consists of two distinct parts: vehicle design and whatever you want to call the rest of the game (action-adventure-platformer?). The vehicle design half of Cargo is good fun, as the game allows you to create boats, submarines, helicopters, and cars using a wide variety of parts and almost complete freedom in your design specifications. It’s a bit confusing putting all the pieces together at first, but soon you’ll be adept at creating odd vehicles worthy of elegant air/sea/land travel. Cargo features good physics that result in plausible performance, an important aspect of the game. If you don’t feel like attaching various parts together, there are a number of pre-designed blueprints that can be used to quickly make a vehicle in a pinch. The point of the vehicles is to complete the game objectives and assist in generating “fun.” You can tow the naked midgets behind your vehicle, or kick them, or throw them off a cliff, or play a song they can dance to; any of these will reward “fun” you can spend on new vehicle parts or grabbing landmarks down from orbit. Problem is, you eventually run out of things to do because the methods of generating fun are limited. The linear story mode features frustrating mini-games (required to advance) that I did not enjoy in the least. The sandbox mode does give you an essentially unlimited amount of parts to design any craft with, but other than that, its inclusion has no point. While Cargo allows you to import custom music and then choreograph the dance moves for your songs, the game lacks cooperative multiplayer. Cargo: The Quest For Gravity is definitely unique and offers a couple of good ideas, but falls short of true gaming longevity.