Have You Played… Cargo Commander?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Cargo Commander [official site] is a 2D action game about exploring procedural space wrecks, collecting the valuable materials that sit inside, and returning to your own ship to escape before everything gets sucked into a black hole. That sounds fun enough, but it was full of neat details that make it stick in my memory years later.

For example, you discovered those space wrecks by turning on a magnet and having them crash into your ship. To get inside, you needed to strategically remove walls from your own vessel and leap across the vacuum of space to get onboard them, and then deal with the shifts of orientation as you moved between wrecks clanged together at all different angles.

It also, long before it was trendy to do so, had a kind of ambient multiplayer, letting you compete for high scores with other players on the same generated worlds and sharing death locations so you could stumble across the corpses of your friends.

My favourite part might have been the messages you received between salvage operations from your daughter back home, which covered the entire experience in melancholy.

I read a couple of years ago that the game’s creators would have made more money if they’d spent the development time “washing dishes”, and that’s a real shame. Cargo Commander isn’t an outright classic like other platformers with similar ideas, such as Spelunky, but it belongs in the same conversation as games like Rogue Legacy and it deserved more success.

From this site

22 Comments

  1. Crimsoneer says:

    God, I loved this. What a fantastic idea and execution.

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    Harlander says:

    I remember seeing – I think it was – Scott Manley’s video of this and thinking “this looks pretty neat” before forgetting about it forever. Oh well.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Go get it. It’s still well worth it. The gameplay and visuals are holding up very well. I keep it installed and return to it periodically for quick bursts of play. Its structure is perfect for it.

      And it has infinite replayability. You can either try for top scores vs other players in popular systems, or infinitely generate new systems. This has all the ups and downs of procedural generation. Some systems are difficult. Some easy. Some boring duds. Some offer the perfect difficulty and interest curve. Which all fits thematically within the game, adding to the sense of the protagonist’s working class, blue collar space job.

      And it has the best “F” key in gaming. Spam it in appropriate circumstances.

    • Flopdong says:

      Its definitely worth picking up. There isn’t really anything else quite like it, so it doesn’t feel dated at all

  3. groovychainsaw says:

    I’ve had this in my library for years (after a humble bundle I guess) and if I’d known the genre I’d have played this much sooner. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    I think it probably would have sold at least 10x as many copies with any name other than cargo commander, which makes it sound like a forklift truck simulator or parcel delivery game (which, you know, maybe people want that, but still…).

    I (much too belatedly!) suggest Derelict Defiler. Or Escape the Black Hole. Or Space Raid. Or Cargo Infiltrator. All optionally with an exclamation point.

    • Monggerel says:

      I’d add Graveyard Orbit to the list of better titles. It’s a hat trick really: a relevant technical term (a graveyard orbit is what decommissioned satellites end up sent on if they can’t re-enter the atmosphere), edgy enough for Trent Reznor, and it fits what little plot the game has. Throw in some Diablo-guitars as background music and turn up the darkness and add in some heavy colour contrast and you got yourself an indie darling.

      Wait, no, that’s Salt&Sanctuary. Shit.

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    FhnuZoag says:

    Oh jeez, I’ve been trying to remember the name of this game for literally years.

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    cpt_freakout says:

    I’d never seen this and you make it sound very interesting. One more for my backlog it is!

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    G-Lord says:

    Cheers for reminding me, I got that game in a bundle years ago and it remained on my “to play” list ever since.

  7. Jalan says:

    Gets incredibly repetitive far too quickly (and yes, before anyone makes note of it – I understand that’s a bit of the point of games like it).

    Has a lot of quirky charm, just not enough of it to help you forget the very tedious task it puts you toward of collecting junk in the sectors. At the very least, if there weren’t so much junk to collect, it’d be easier to tolerate doing the same thing over and over again in a (barely) different set of containers, but the list of junk is needlessly huge.

  8. chuckieegg says:

    It looks just like that Heat Signature game that RPS is always preaching about in a completely neutral fashion.

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    EasyStar says:

    Agreed with anyone that says its a bit repetitive.

    but..

    that theme song <3 <3 link to youtube.com

    good on its own, so much more so in the context of the game.

  10. Jalan says:

    I glanced over this earlier, but the messages you receive from home are from your wife and son, Graham. The gradual slide into hate in the son’s drawings as his father is continually not at home with him was something I found to be a rather amusing touch.

  11. JonasKyratzes says:

    This game’s narrative deserves a lot more attention. Its evocation of the loneliness and sacrifice of a working-class father is superb, if brutally depressing. Very few games ever touch on such themes.

    • jonahcutter says:

      Agree. The letters from home mentioned in the article along with the farcically callous notices from your corporate managers are simple things, but they really evoke the pressures working class guys like this endure on a daily basis.

  12. ButteringSundays says:

    “the game’s creators would have made more money if they’d spent the development time “washing dishes” ”

    An artist, struggling? *clutches pearls*

    I don’t think many niche indie games make their devs millions do they? I’d hope that wasn’t their expectation…

    • Flopdong says:

      I don’t think they expected millions, but i think its fair to hope for enough money to make a living.

      • Jalan says:

        Attempting to (at least) recoup the costs of making the game seems like something a lot of indie developers shoot toward, with anything else after that being a welcomed bonus.

        • Snowskeeper says:

          “Costs of making the game” typically includes food, rent and bills.

          • Jalan says:

            I realize that (and didn’t say it was otherwise), my comment was more toward the “they expected millions” bit of Flopdong’s comment.

  13. Dinges says:

    I have and found it to be pretty great. It is quite forgetable tho. But definately worth picking up during a discount.

  14. Neurotic says:

    It is indeed a brilliant game. Highly recommended!

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